Opel Astra VXR, 2014, 43k, £14,995
That Vauxhall is committed to a fast future is certainly a good thing, even if the ultimate ambition of the GSe badge seems quite modest at the moment. Cars like the Astra VXR, and the reputation they’ve earned, are worth replacing, not just to be fondly remembered when pulled from the classifieds. After the rowdy first generation, the second Astra VXR was a more mature offering, taming a punchy 280bhp with a HiperStrut front end, limited-slip differential and assured damping. It wasn’t the most exciting hot hatch in an era of the greats, but it was fast, looked great (in fact still, with the optional Aero kit) and offered really competitive value. That last point still stands – this Astra VXR has only done 40,000 miles and costs £14,995. Hopefully future Vauxhall Rapids are as good.
BMW M135i, 2013, 69k, £14,889
More of a GT hatch than a real pocket rocket (and far from being the roomiest five-door), the M135i remains hard to ignore if you need performance with a bit of practicality. And what good is a roof box if not adding space to a car that’s too good to replace with a bigger one? Combining a vigorous straight-six, understated (if clunky) styling, rear-wheel-drive, standard manual, and affordability, the M135i became a cult classic shortly after its launch in 2012. A decade later, it looks as smart as any way to spend £15,000 on a hot hatch, with more power than anything else here and a slew of spares to assuage its finicky tendencies. This one looks like a real treat; Estoril Blue is common but Oyster leather is rare, the car has an excellent gearbox and has never been serviced outside of the dealer network – lovely.
Audi S1, 2015, 47,000, £14,990
Sure, a fast Ford could have made the cut here, but we all know how good a Focus or Fiesta ST is for not a lot of money. What is even less known is the quality of the Audi S1. It was a tough new sell, as it cost as much as the larger hot hatches while offering less space than the smaller ones, in part thanks to the space-robbing multi-link rear (unique to the S1 in the A1 range) starting. And while residual resistance means the S1 isn’t a bargain, it’s eminently recommendable. The standard manual gearbox was smooth, it was more nimble than the suggested curb weight, and – being a fast Audi product – the S1 was well appointed inside and out. Only, unlike many fast Audis, it was also a lot of fun to drive. This five-door Sepang Blue looks really smart for seven years and 50,000 uses, and it’s yours for £14,995.
Renaultsport Clio 200 Cup, 2011, 29k, £12,990
This SOB was bound to have a classic and, while the old Clio 200 will seem like a recent memory to most, the c-word is now firmly clinging to one of Renaultsports greats. It’s easy to see why: combining the age-old pocket rocket recipe of a revvy-front 2.0-litre, manual gearbox and low weight with modern innovations like Renault’s PerfoHub (and improvements over the 197), the 200 nailed the brief hot hatch. Older Clios will now feel really old, given that they’re based on a 1998 car, and the newer turbo RS just didn’t offer the same kind of thrill. All of this will explain why good 200s climb, with the best Williams, V6s and Trophys out of reach for many. This fat-packed car (with the standard model’s kit but the Cup chassis) benefits from both Recaro seats and under 30,000 miles – it costs £12,990.
Peugeot 308 GTI, 2016, 36k, £14,600
Much like the Astra, the Peugeot Sport 308 GTI could hardly have been launched at a worse time. The Mk7 Golf GTI was a great all-rounder, the Megane never looked better than in its twilight years, and the Civic Type R heralded its return in style. Even with two-tone paint, the 308 GTI struggles to get noticed. But it was really good, taking what Peugeot Sport had learned from the 208 GTI 30e and the RCZ R to make a spirited French hot hatch like before: elegant (in one color, at least), very fast (with 270 hp from just 1.6 liters, and only 1,200 kg to change), and simple with. You could only have a manual, the suspension was passive, and the traction control was on or off. With huge Alcon brakes, wider tracks and more negative camber, the 308 was a serious hot hatch. At £14,600 it should appear on any shortlist.
SEAT Leon Cupra, 2015, 83k, £13,750
That’s not a typo at the top; a new 150hp Cupra Leon estate costs £30,875 – it goes on sale this month. The hatch range starts at £33,170. And here’s a 280bhp variant of the older model for, roughly, £20,000 less. While it looks like the values of the previous Leon Cupra have really strengthened lately (this one has already passed 80,000 miles), the lure of a used hot hatch is evident as the prices of new keep increasing. The former Leon Cupra was also a corker, if usually playing second fiddle to the Golf GTI – getting rid of the trademark Cupra yellow didn’t help. Understated yet elegant inside and out, the Cupra was powerful (perhaps a little too powerful for its own good), engaging to drive and easily upgradable. There would be plenty of less entertaining ways to spend £13,750 on a hot hatch, even if this gray five-door SEAT doesn’t necessarily look it.