The hot hatch segment is one of steady decline. The distinctly European small car mentality in the segment is surely to blame, with manufacturers like Volkswagen pushing through it here in the States. However, we’re seeing something of a resurgence (or death knell) thanks to cars like the Volkswagen GTI, Hyundai Veloster N, and Honda Civic Type R.
These three hot hatches mark either the end or the beginning of a new (or final) wave of hot hatches in America.
The Volkswagen GTI is a good car, but is it a hot hatch?
We’re starting with the king. The reigning champ, the Volkswagen GTI. Based on the Golf platform and VW’s ever-present MQB modular chassis, the 2021 Volkswagen GTI makes 220 hp and 258 lb-ft. That’s also the lowest on the list, but the GTI’s prowess has never been outright speed. Like the Honda Civic Type R and the Hyundai Veloster N, the sauce lies in the handling.
And boy, does the GTI handle. It handles like a perfect marriage, baby. Always right there when you need it and never, ever in your way. Sure, there’s some slight understeer, but the differential makes quick work of it. Then, of course, there’s also the fantastic interior; arguably the best here (with Android Auto and Carplay). You can find any flavor of Volkswagen GTI for right around $25,000 used and $35,000 or so brand new.
The Honda Civic Type R only gets better
That said, for just a hair more money, and some rather hairy looks, the Honda Civic Type R kicks the GTI off its throne. This is, without question, the best-driving front-wheel drive enthusiast car on the market right now. No one makes a shifter like Honda, and the standard manual transmission is the only option available here. As God intended. Oh, and you can check your understeer and torque steer at the door. 306 hp and 296 lb-ft mean nothing to the R’s phenomenal chassis.
Now, the interior is a little bit of a letdown compared to the GTI, but still very nice. Where the GTI is plush and comfy at any speed, the Honda Civic Type R is tied to the road with superglue, duct tape, and sheer John Wick will. You’ll feel it to be sure, but that’s what a hot hatch is for. The R also boasts just a hair more cargo space, by about 3 cubic ft. It’s the obvious choice, but it’s also $39,000 if you can find someone selling one.
A Hyundai Veloster N is the most interesting choice
That leaves us with the odd one out: the Hyundai Veloster N. Visually, it’s a mix of the Volkswagen GTI’s smoother looks and the darty fins and folds of the Type R’s sheet metal. Dynamically, it’s just as good as the GTI but not as harsh as the Type R (we think smaller wheels are to thank). That said, the interior is the worst here, and the connectivity left something to be desired up till the ’21 model year. But, it is certainly the most unique choice, and that’s its biggest strength.
The Hyundai Veloster N sits at a sort of Goldilocks point between the three, with pricing to match at $34,745 MSRP. Comfy sometimes, sporty sometimes. But everyone and their mother wants a GTI or a Type R. This is the less obvious choice, and for that we love it. As for what you love, well, that’s up to you.