What makes a great car? Some would say it's a car that not only performs well enough to thrill enthusiasts but also possesses enough creature comforts and practicality to be embraced by the masses. Most of the best-selling cars of our time (see Honda Accord and Toyota Camry) focus only on the latter while being roundly ignored by automotive enthusiasts. Enter the "Hot Hatch." Small but not subcompact, these sporty three- to five-door machines such as the Volkswagen GTI have many virtues that enable them to check every box in the "fun to drive" column without ignoring the "practical to own" column as well.
1. Hot Hatches Are Quick
Notice I didn't say they were properly fast, because after all we are still living in a world where the Bugatti Veyron exists, but a car that is quick off the line and lets you feel it in your guts when you step on the throttle is just plain fun. Many Hot Hatches these days are equipped with 2.0 Liter Turbocharged engines, which is ample power when you're not driving an Escalade. These cars jump off the line and feel very fast—and fun—to drive.
2. Hot Hatches Are Affordable
With sales of luxury cars and powerful pickups driving the market higher and higher, the average price of a new car is now over $30,000, and that's still a lot of money for a humble writer like myself. The Hot Hatch is here to save the day yet again with many models starting under $20,000. You can usually get yourself the aforementioned turbocharged engine for around $25,000 and you don't start flirting with more than $30k until you've fully loaded the model with every performance feature, interior upgrade, and available technology the dealer has to offer. Keep in mind those are new-car prices. Spend a little time on Craigslist or eBay and you'll find some great deals on used Hot Hatches.
3. Hot Hatches Are Practical
So these cars are quick and fun to drive, relatively affordable to own (especially if you pick up a good used model), and it turns out they are spectacularly functional and practical cars too. Unlike traditional sports cars they do have a back seat, and if you get a five-door model you'll find that said back seat is actually quite roomy. You and your friends will be able to make that trip into the city or down to the beach pretty comfortably. And while you're at it, you won't spend too much on gas. Most Hot Hatches register very respectable gas mileage, however you do want to take into account that some of those turbocharged engines expect to be fed premium octane. As far as storage is concerned, did we mention these are hatchbacks? Open up that rear hatch and you've got more than enough room for groceries. Fold down the rear seats as well, and we've seen Hot Hatches pull out of the Home Depot parking lot loaded up with enough home improvement supplies to ruin your whole weekend.
When it comes to finding a car that lets you do just about anything, it's hard to compete with the Hot Hatch. Equally at home on the freeway, in the grocery store parking lot, and even on weekends at the autocrossing track, the Hot Hatch acquits itself admirably wherever it goes. If you've never taken one for a test drive, go do it this weekend.