Hot hatches under £15k | Six of the Best

A new 150hp Cupra Leon costs £30k – we can do much, much better than that

By PH Staff / Saturday, 26 November 2022 / Loading comments

Vauxhall Astra VXR, 2014, 43k, £14,995

That Vauxhall has committed to a fast future is certainly a good thing, even if the ultimate ambition of the GSe badge seems fairly modest for the moment. Cars like the Astra VXR, and the reputation they earned, deserve replacement, not just to be fondly remembered when plucked from the classifieds. After the rowdy first generation, the second Astra VXR was a more mature offering, taming a punchy 280hp with a HiperStrut front end, limited-slip diff and assured damping. It wasn’t the most exciting hot hatch out there in an era of greats, but it was fast, looked superb (still does in fact, with the optional Aero Kit) and offered really competitive value. That last point still stands as well – this Astra VXR has only covered 40,000 miles, and is £14,995. Let’s hope for future fast Vauxhalls this good, too.

BMW M135i, 2013, 69k, £14,889

More of a hatchback GT than a true pocket rocket (and far from the most commodious five-door), the M135i remains hard to ignore if you need performance with some practicality. And what’s a roofbox for if not adding space to a car that’s too good to swap for a bigger boot? In combining a lusty straight-six, understated (if gawky) styling, rear-wheel drive, a standard manual and an affordable price, the M135i became a cult classic not long after its 2012 launch. A decade later it looks as smart a way as any to spend £15k on a hot hatch, with more power than anything else here and a wealth of aftermarket bits out there to calm its more wayward tendencies. This one looks like a real treat; Estoril Blue is common but the Oyster leather is rare, the auto is a great gearbox and it’s never been serviced outside the dealer network – lovely.

Audi S1, 2015, 47k, £14,990

Sure, a fast Ford could have made the cut here, but we all know how good a Focus or Fiesta ST are for not much money. Less well known, still, is just how good the Audi S1 is. It was a tough sell new, because it cost as much as the big hot hatches while offering less room than the smaller ones, thanks in part to the multi-link rear end (unique to the S1 in the A1 range) robbing boot space. And while residual strength means the S1 isn’t a bargain, it’s eminently recommendable. The standard manual gearbox was slick, it was more agile than the kerbweight suggested, and – being a fast Audi product – the S1 was nicely appointed inside and out. Only, unlike a lot of fast Audis, it was genuinely good fun to drive as well. This Sepang Blue five-door looks really smart for seven years and 50k of use, and it’s yours for £14,995.

Renaultsport Clio 200 Cup, 2011, 29k, £12,990

This SOB had to have a classic in and, while the old Clio 200 will seem like a recent memory to most, the c-word is now firmly hanging around one of the great Renaultsports. It’s easy to see why: in combining the time-honoured pocket rocket recipe of a revvy 2.0-litre up front, a manual gearbox and not much weight with modern innovations like Renault’s PerfoHub (and improvements over the 197), the 200 nailed the hot hatch brief. Earlier Clios now will feel really old, given they’re based on a car from 1998, and the later turbo R.S. just didn’t deliver the same kind of raw thrills. All of which will explain why good 200s are climbing, with the best Williams, V6s and Trophys out of reach for many. This full-fat car (with the kit of the standard model but the Cup chassis) benefits from both the Recaro seats and less than 30k miles – it costs £12,990.

Peugeot 308 GTI, 2016, 36k, £14,600

A bit like the Astra, the Peugeot Sport 308 GTI could hardly have launched at a worse time. The Mk7 Golf GTI was a great all-rounder, the Megane was never better than in its twilight years, and the Civic Type R announced its return in emphatic style. Even with two-tone paint, the 308 GTI struggled to be noticed. But it was properly good, taking what Peugeot Sport had learnt from the 208 GTI 30th and RCZ R to make a feisty French hot hatch like they used to: stylish (in one colour, at least), seriously quick (with 270hp from just 1.6-litres, and only 1,200kg to shift), and simple with it. 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’s gone on sale this month. The hatch range kicks off at £33,170. And here’s a 280hp variant of the old model for, basically, £20,000 less. Though it feels like the values of the previous Leon Cupra have really shored up of late (this one is already past 80,000 miles), the appeal of a secondhand hot hatch is plain to see as prices for new ones keep climbing. The old Leon Cupra was a corker, too, if usually playing second fiddle to the Golf GTI – getting rid of the Cupra trademark yellow didn’t help. Subdued but stylish inside and out, the Cupra was powerful (perhaps a bit too powerful for its own good), engaging to drive and easily modified. There would be many less entertaining ways to spend £13,750 on a hot hatch, even if this five-door, grey SEAT doesn’t necessarily look it.

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