By Tom Burkart

Most every gearhead wants power and speed. Cars that can hit 60 MPH in less than 6 seconds are an adrenaline rush — one that drivers of humdrum clone sedans will never understand.

And yes, having a big V8 engine and two doors will make you feel macho on the throttle. But can you get that for under $40,000, or less than $600 a month in car payments? Yes, but barely. Muscle cars have tiny cabins, limited practicality, high-dollar insurance premiums, and a big tendency to acquire tickets and meet with accidents.

Can you get that speed in a more useful, discreet shape? Oh yes. Yes indeed. The hot hatchback has become a HyperHatch in recent years – with power off the charts and fun-to-drive models now available from about a dozen automakers.

Let’s take a look at the quickest, most playful, and coolest hatchbacks available in America for 2017.

10. Honda Civic Si

How far has Civic come in just two years? Even the 1.5T in the Civic Sport looks the business, boosts the business, and handles the business.

Honda Civic Si

Photo courtesy of Honda

A ground-up redo of the Civic line brings a racy new coupe with the Si-exclusive rear wing, a five-door hatch (Civic Sport and Type R only) and a fastback sedan available as the Sport or the Si. All sexy, and all affordable at under $30,000.

The Si is the best of the bunch for backing up its giant front intakes with good power. Around 6.2 seconds from 0 to 60 MPH might make the new Si a hero when it arrives in showrooms in May 2017.

Photo courtesy of Honda

9. Fiat 500 Abarth

No hot hatchback list would be complete without the delightful Abarth 500. It’s the Cinquecento tuned to the max! This machine is seriously tiny in length, but curiously, it’s pretty wide and tall. This layout makes the Abarth 500 a riot on throttle as the body moves wildly in corners. The front end and its sticky differential keep the front tires in charge. Of everything.

CRD Fiat 500 Abarth 1

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The nose has a good grip, and can clip apexes with accuracy, and also lets you control the tail. A bit of trailing throttle around corners or when braking is the key to the Abarth’s back end. Once in motion, the Abarth 500 will hang its rump around fast corners even without the handbrake.

Screeching tires will be perfect complements to the Abarth 500’s best-in-class exhaust note. Bella machine!

CRD Fiat 500 Abarth 3

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8. MINI Cooper S

The new MINI Cooper S and its hopped-up John Cooper Works trim line are crazy fun. They are wider, more potent, and more BMW-like than ever before. This is a car that will run faster lap times than most 3 Series sedans.

2015 MINI Cooper S Hardtop 4-Door 7

Photo courtesy of

The new MINI Cooper is available in three-door and five-door models. Its outside looks are almost too evolutionary for some tastes, however. Inside, upgraded materials and tech have a modern and cool feel. Go easy on the options and upgrades to keep pricing around $40,000.

2015 MINI Cooper S Hardtop 4-Door 21

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7. Subaru WRX

The new WRX is tweaked for 2017 with new tech, wheels, and bumpers to enhance what has become a seriously grown-up package these days. It’s almost like if the Evo had, in fact, kept evolving since its 2007-ish refresh. The 2018 model is the culmination of 10 years of cabin roominess, premium feel, road refinement, and tech upgrades.


Photo courtesy of Subaru

The 2018 model’s new touchscreen adds CarPlay and Android Auto to a compelling four-door sedan.

Stick or CVT automatic are offered for the WRX in its pricing, which starts above $25,000. The stick will nearly match the Subaru WRX STi (#2 on my list) to 60 MPH with a big clutch drop – scooting under 5 seconds easily and with a boxer growl.


Photo courtesy of Subaru

The CVT is for auto-only folks. It runs a different engine tune that’s slower and sounds less like a Subaru. Paddle shift is sharper than any CVT you’ve tried, but still lags notably versus the Golf R’s DSG.

6. Ford Focus ST

The ST ranks high on this list for being fun and attainable. Pricing less than $30,000 is totally do-able for a car that feels a world above any Corolla, and perhaps even the Toyota 86, for how frisky it is to drive.

CRD Focus ST 1

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Just over 250 ponies scoot the ST to 60 MPH in the high 5-second range. The exterior of the ST is seriously aggressive – and in the right colors does a great RS impression. It mostly looks far cooler than any standard Focus hatch or fleet Focus sedan on the roads. The color of this sexy front-wheeler as seen in the photo is dubbed “Tangerine Scream.”

CRD Focus ST 12

Photo courtesy of

5. Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Mitsu sadly had to retire the iconic Lancer Evolution after the 2015 model-year in the U.S. market — for perhaps the last time. Unlike its name implies, there won’t likely be any further tweaks to its rally-bred turbo platform.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution GSR1

Photo courtesy of

Luckily, they brought in a ton of 2015 models before the lights went out. This means that even in mid-2017, you can still find a brand-new Evo to make your own.

Stick or TC-SST automatic are part of the final Evo offering, with most enthusiasts going for the less-lux stick shift model over the optioned up autobox.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution GSR3

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The final edition wore an extra deep body kit and some design tweaks for its run-out special.

FUN and FAST are standard in all Evos.  But how about comfortability? Not really, in my opinion.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution GSR12

Photo courtesy of

4. Honda Civic Type R

The Civic Type R is coming to USA. Not “eventually.” SOON! By June 2017, this car will be dropping jaws in Honda showrooms nationwide.

Honda Civic Type R USA5

Photo courtesy of Honda

This is a seriously track-honed beast of a car, one whose 306 HP promises a 5.2-second sprint to 60 MPH, making it the quickest Honda of all time.

The FWD nature of the Type R keeps it focused. The limited-slip differential is tuned for extreme traction, so expect wild torque steering…. In a fun way.

Honda Civic Type R USA9

Photo courtesy of Honda

Taming the Type R should be half the fun. Lacking AWD means the record-setting Nürburgring Civic Type R works harder, corners flatter, and revs higher than any of its rivals on this list.

3. Volkswagen Golf R


This is an unforgettable machine. One whose EA888 2.0-liter turbo engine will go down in history as one of the best ever. This machine is robust on throttle, and so torquey at all times, and yet thrilling to rev up to the redline.

CRD Golf R 2

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Just 292 ponies and 280 pound-feet of torque are down versus the top two hatches, but the Golf R has more tricks up its sleeve beyond its on-paper power, like real world overboost, a snarling launch, and adjustable DCC dampers. On the major pluses for the Golf R is its availability in stick shift or twin-clutch automatic. This is one of the only cars at the top of the list to offer an autobox – and I think it happens to be the best in the world.

This DSG is so instantly superior to other transmissions. It rockets the Golf R out of corners and around slow traffic like a machete chop. It’s just instant, seamless, and endless power. Lightning fast upshifts make the DSG a half-second quicker than the manual, but also $2,000 pricier above Golf R’s $36,000 base.

CRD Golf R

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2. Subaru WRX STi

Oh, the WRX STi. How those letters bring giddy goosebumps to the back of my neck. The Subaru WRX STi is capable of 4.5-second sprints to 60 MPH, hangs on around corners like a bulldog, and creates a sensory heaven for the driver.

Subaru STI

Photo courtesy of Subaru

Your hands on this wheel that’s alive with feeling, power, and sharpness. Rapid? Wrist-flick on the heavy helm is all you need to get the WRX STi ready to boogie.

The STi letters on this turbo boxer denote a totally different engine versus the standard – and nearly-as-quick – regular WRX. They also mean performance mods throughout the grip, drivetrain and aero setups. This is the WRX’s hardcore legend of an older bro for good reason.


Photo courtesy of Subaru

The WRX and WRX STi have light facelifts and tech updates inside for the 2018 model-year, yet keep pricing below $40,000 fairly easily.

1. Ford Focus RS

The Focus RS instantly slides into first place in any hot hatchback ranker. How? By sheer power and torque-vectored AWD! Drift mode means Focus RS can actually get slidey… on command! Tap the drive modes, crank the wheel, and floor the throttle in first or second. The next moments are a blur of laughter, adrenaline, and tire smoke. Keep your foot buried on the gas and hang a few of the tastiest doughnuts ever.

2017 FORD FOCUS RS Stealth Grey

Photo courtesy of

This laser on wheels has 350 HP and a twin-clutch rear axle that enables 4.7-second sprints to 60 MPH with savage in-gear power. The six-speed manual  transmissionand giant, overstuffed Recaro seats are seriously necessary. Without them and the fat flat-bottomed steering wheel… you would be in the back seat by the first hard corner!

Here is a car that’s truly adjustable on drive modes, and truly rear-biased with its torque split. The 350 pound-feet of torque come on instantly from the 2.3-liter EcoBoost. The engine is a dream with standard sport exhaust popping from out back. A cold-air ram intake up front gives the Focus RS that deep burble and growl of the best rally rockets.

2017 FORD FOCUS RS Stealth Grey

Photo courtesy of

The Ford Focus can do all this while still managing to accommodate seating for five with fold-down seats! Focus RS is the hot hatch king for 2017. ‘Nuff said.