Used car buying guide: Cheap hot hatches

Cheap hot hatches: three words that will get all driving fans hot under the collar. Here we look at five cars that define the genre and are also now very affordable. In our latest buying guide, and for less than £1500, you could have all sorts of fun…

Cheap hot hatches

The Peugeot 306 GTi-6 was once a standard setter (Picture © Peugeot)

Cheap hot hatches: The bargain basement – Peugeot 306 GTi-6
What you’ll pay: £1000 – £2000
What you’ll get: Dependent on age, condition and history
The 306 GTi-6 is such a hoot to drive that having more fun for less money would surely have to involve activities that are not appropriate for discussion in a hot hatch buying guide. For £1500, often less, you can bag a car with a sweet-revving 2-litre, four-cylinder 16-valve motor that kicks out 167bhp and has six gears with short ratios to keep it buzzing away. That may not sound like much but in 1996 it was a standard setter, accelerating from 0-60mph in 7.9 seconds and driving with a delicacy that no other hot hatch could match.

Cheap hot hatches: Look out for…
Today, examples of the 306 GTi-6 are few and far between. So do your homework before you buy one and check for paperwork evidence of frequent cambelt changes. Electrical items, including the airbag, alarm, windows and mirrors can all play up, the air conditioning can leak and the clutch should not be slipping when pulling away.

Cheap hot hatches: The big bruiser – Ford Focus 2.5 ST

Cheap hot hatches

It’s not just the paint job that makes the Focus ST stand out. The engine’s good too (Picture © Ford)

What you’ll pay: £6000
What you’ll get: 2007 Focus ST-2, 65,000 miles
The Focus ST is not terribly pretty to look at and its interior is hardly the last word in luxury, but there are five things to love about it: the five cylinders lurking beneath the bonnet. Unlike any other hot hatch in this price range (Volvo’s C30 T5 doesn’t count and an Audi RS3 would have to be a write-off to cost this little) the ST has a five-cylinder engine which gives it a unique, big, brawny character.

The 2.5-litre lump has a distinct sound and plenty of power, with 222bhp and a hefty 236Ib ft of torque from just 1600rpm. It’s flexible, pulling enthusiastically from low in the rev range and zipping the ST past slower traffic with ease.

We found 2007 models with under 65,000 miles for sale at Ford franchised dealers for less than £6500; haggle and that will fall to £6000.

Cheap hot hatches: Look out for…
The early, pre-2008 engines could split their cylinder liners and there was a recall for faulty driveshafts. The clutch, brakes and suspension bushes can wear quickly, so check them all carefully or your bargain fast Ford could suddenly start costing a fortune.

Cheap hot hatches: Race track special – Renault Mégane Renaultsport 230 F1 Team R26

Cheap hot hatches

F1 by name, two F1 drivers in the promo pic. Ok Renault, we get the message Picture © Renault)

What you’ll pay: £6000 – £7000
What you’ll get: 2007 F1 Team R26, between 60,000 and 70,000 miles

The Renaultsport Mégane was launched in 2004 but it took until late 2006 for things to get really interesting. This was when the engine was tuned to 227bhp, the suspension was improved and a limited slip differential was added. The result was one of the most fun hot hatchbacks money could buy.

Today, you’ll buy this because you prioritise the thrill of the drive over creature comforts or stylish design. The Mégane does not have the robust, luxurious feel of a Golf GTI. Nor is it as mechanically sophisticated as the Impreza WRX. But that doesn’t matter: it does the most important thing of all for a hot hatch, it puts a big smile on the driver’s face. And a budget of around £7000 buys a tidy 230 F1 Team R26.

Cheap hot hatches: Look out for…
Only view cars with a full service history, and be mindful that at 72,000 miles the cambelt and auxiliary should be changed, which is an expensive job. Also check on the remaining life of the Brembo brake discs and pads, and the tyres, as you can expect them to have led a hard life.

Cheap hot hatches: All-weather hero – Subaru Impreza WRX

Cheap hot hatches

Impreza is more impressive than it looks (Picture © Subaru)

What you’ll pay: £8000
What you’ll get: 2008 WRX with 40,000 miles from a Subaru dealer
By the middle of the Noughties, the Subaru Impreza’s rallying antics at the hands of heroes such as Colin McRae and Richard Burns was a dim and distant memory. Rallying had fallen out of favour and the Impreza had morphed into an ugly looking hatchback that was as irrelevant as an ice stall on a winter’s day. But there was one version that was spectacularly good fun to drive, if you could look beyond the undesirable styling: the Impreza WRX.

With a 2.5-litre, horizontally-opposed four-cylinder turbocharged engine, permanent four-wheel drive and a manual gearbox, it can cover ground at an impressive rate regardless of the weather conditions. And where front-wheel drive hot hatchbacks with similar power to the Subaru fight a losing battle with the laws of physics, spinning tyres in a cloud of smoke, the WRX just gets its head down and charges for the horizon. Subaru dealers offer approved-used 2008 Impreza WRX models for about £8000, and with just 40,000 miles on the clock.

Cheap hot hatches: Look out for…
You’ll have to be prepared for distinctly average fuel consumption (27mpg at best), and the cars need regular oil changes for the engine, transmission and differentials, as well as a cam belt change at around 45,000 miles. Also check for worn suspension bushes, which can sound and feel like something is knocking beneath the front of the car.

Cheap hot hatches: The all-round performer – VW Golf GTI (MkV)

Cheap hot hatches

After losing its hot hatch mojo, VW got it back with the Golf MkV (Picture © Volkswagen)

What you’ll pay: £9000
What you’ll get: 2008 GTI with 58,000 miles
Before 2004, the Golf GTI had a reputation as something of a laughing stock. Its spongy suspension soaked up speed bumps and the smart cosmetic appearance of the interior disguised all manner of problems lurking underneath.

Word must have filtered back to Volkswagen’s boardroom that all was not well with the Golf GTI. P45s were issued, new talent was promoted up the slippery pole and the fifth generation GTI marked the moment VW’s hot hatch got its mojo back.

The 2-litre turbo engine was a cracker, there was an expensive independent rear suspension system and the ride and handling set the class standard. VW hasn’t lifted off the throttle since. You can pick up a MkV GTI from Volkswagen’s approved used car programme for under £10,000. The version to hunt for is a manual gearbox, as it’s bulletproof (the control unit for the DSG automatic version can fail) and good fun too.

Cheap hot hatches: Look out for…
Ask whether the follower for the camshaft of the high pressure fuel pump has been replaced. And make sure that during the test drive the turbocharger kicks in hard at 2000rpm. If it doesn’t there could be a split diaphragm in its pressure release valve.

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