If you're looking for a lot of fun in a compact, competitively priced package then a hot-hatch is probably the way to go.
> The market for feisty little motors has gone wild of late, with more choice from a range of marques that not only pack impressive power but also a range of optional extras that make the overall driving experience feel more 'premium'.
AOL Cars was lucky enough to attend the Society of Motoring Manufacturers and Traders' annual test day, where almost every manufacturer that sells in the UK gathers its line-up of vehicles for us journalists to drive.
The day gifts us the opportunity to hop in and out of a number of vehicles in a short space of time, allowing us to analyse the nuances and differences between the cars on offer.
Here is our top five pick of the hot hatches available on the day...
1. Audi S1 – 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine– 228bhp
There aren't many words to describe this than utterly brilliant. Not only does it look fantastic - which isn't exactly surprising from Audi - it drives tremendously well. The whole car feels at one with itself, from gear changes to acceleration, there are no delays it's just smooth and succinct. This car gives you a feeling of being completely in control; it is tight to the ground, handles impeccably well and is a hell of a lot of fun. The only real niggle we had was the gearbox – it felt very standard issue but that really didn't deter from the whole driving experience. Where do we sign?
2. Renault Megane RS 265 – 2.0-litre 16-valve turbocharged petrol engine – 265bhp
The French really do know how to produce compact little racecars. The Megane RS 265 was brilliant - it felt heavy yet controllable. All components: gears, steering and pedals felt typical of the French brand – all were functional but nothing particularly special. What was special was the way it took to the hill route of the Millbrook course. It knew what it was doing, did what you wanted it to do when you wanted it to and was a lot of fun doing it. The only real niggle is that it just isn't that attractive.
3. Volkswagen Golf R – 2.0-litre TSI – 294bhp
As the most expensive in our list, we would guess that you're surprised to see the Golf at number three in our Top Five, well we just didn't enjoy it as much as the other cars. We tried it out in both manual and automatic. The automatic side of things was, to put it bluntly, slow. There was intermittent power from the throttle and it was just too quick to change up the gears in a bid to save fuel. Not only that, it is a very hard ride with super stiff suspension. But, it is still fun to drive and, just look at it – we can't argue that it's a stunning motor.
4. Seat Leon FR – 1.8-litre TSI – 174bhp
Even though this machine was at the lower end of the power scale, of our five, it performed rather well. It was immediately apparent that it needed more power but there wasn't a delay in giving you the grunt it possessed, and it still sounded lovely doing so. It handled reasonably well; the gearbox was a tad 'notchy' and the brakes were way too powerful for such a small car, but it still felt good to drive. Steering was possibly a little too light, losing the feeling of being completely in control in the corners but it looks fantastic. But, as we say about most of the Seat range, the interior lets it down.
5. Kia Pro-Cee'd GT Tech –1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine – 201bhp
For the price, the Pro-Ceed GT is an impressive piece of kit - feeling much more expensive inside and out. It is just a shame that the mechanicals feel cheap. It feels as though each component is completely separate and not working at one with each other – which, naturally, affects the whole driver experience. The car felt too light, with a huge amount of body roll. It did feel skittish starting off, which could have been down to the fact it was a wet track. Lovely light gear box though and it really is a great looking car. Plus, you get a lot of tech for your money; 7" touchscreen sat nav with European mapping, reversing camera system, heated front seats and steering wheel, rain sensing front wipers and auto defog functionality.
Author: Danielle Bagnall