Despite mid-size and much larger SUVs dominating Australian roads – accounting for nearly 50 per cent of all new cars sold in 2020 – there is still much to be said for the humble hatchback. Offering ample performance from higher-spec variants, enough space to comfortably carry four or five people including some luggage, and offering the best in manoeuvrability for inner city dwellers, it’s no wonder car manufacturers continue to release new models each year.
But with such great choice for prospective car buyers, which hatchback models are the ones to genuinely consider spending your money on, and which should avoided at all costs? We’ve put together this list of what we consider to be the 10 best hatchbacks available to buy in Australia right now. Whether you’re after a performance-focused hot hatch, an eco-friendly electric tarmac chomper, or something a little more refined to get you around the CBD, there’s something for everyone and every budget.
Volkswagen Golf R (Mk8)
Fuel Economy: TBC
Price: From $56,000 Drive Away (estimated)
Due for launch in the latter half of 2021, and taking inspiration from the rather excellent Mk8 Golf GTI, the Volkswagen Golf R is often regarded as the absolute pinnacle for hot hatches. Headline features include a 235kW/315hp unit under the bonnet and four-wheel drive complete with a ‘Drift’ mode. After all, the Golf R is perfectly suited to the track, so should you find yourself free from highway restrictions, it’s a car you can certainly have a lot of fun in.
But despite its fiery personality, the Golf R is still a perfectly acceptable family hatchback. Being based on the ‘regular’ Golf in terms of design (aside from some changes to the bodywork to accompany its sporty credentials) there is ample room for five adults, with an ergonomically-friendly driving position, surrounded by digital displays and seats that keep you secure.
It’s only when you put your foot down on the right pedal that you realise it’s no ordinary Golf, with a claimed 0-100km/h time of 4.6 seconds, making it not far off the performance of much more expensive supercars.
- Drift mode is very fun – you could be fooled that it was a rear-wheel-drive car.
- Very premium interior and still a very practical car.
- Somewhat sedate aesthetics.
- The price jump from the GTI to the R isn’t in step with the performance increase.
Hyundai i30 N (PD N)
Fuel Economy: 8.8L/100km
Price: From $48,565 Drive Away
When Hyundai introduced the i30 N in 2018, it most definitely marked a changing of the guard for the South Korean manufacturer. No longer was it a car brand associated with older souls who simply wanted a well-made, affordable car to get them from A to B. The i30 N is for true driving enthusiasts, who want to get from A to B as quickly, and with as much fun, as possible.
Not a huge amount has changed with the car since its inception, but that’s no bad thing. The i30 N can have its driving settings changed to some 190 different configurations, leaving you, the driver, to trial and error the absolute best setup for your personal style. Its 206kW engine may not offer as much power as the Golf R above, but somehow provides a more lunatic style of driving.
On quality roads, it’s a quality prospect. If things become bumpy, the Hyundai can suffer a little, but a tweak of the driving settings can help to alleviate some of its woes. Although, it’s fair to say Hyundai has built this thing with the track in mind, which, like other track-focused cars, do come with their obvious compromises. Get it onto a motorway, however, or some sublime country roads, and you’ll be hard-pushed to wipe the smile from your face.
- Gearbox is a gem.
- Lots of fun for the money.
- Large turning circle and aggressive idle creep can make it difficult in traffic.
- Does it look hot hatch-y enough?
Mercedes-AMG A45 S 4-Matic+ (W177)
Fuel Economy: 8.4L/100km
Price: From $93,600 Drive Away
If it’s outright power you’re looking for, and you like to engage in a game of Top Trumps with your mates, the Mercedes-AMG A45 S 4-Matic+ not only wins for the length of its name but its power output and 0-100km/h time. The four-cylinder turbo engine sitting beneath the hood gives out some 310kW of power, making it capable of hitting the magic 100km in under 4-seconds. Not bad for a car that will likely spend the majority of its time around suburban streets.
It’s not as capable a performer if you have a family of four to lug around, however, since backseat room isn’t the best in class. But if you snap up one of these for yourself to enjoy, you’re going to have a riot. The ride has been set up to allow the Mercedes to stick to the roads with absolute precision, especially when taking corners at speed. While this can mean it can feel firm around town, the driving experience when heading out onto backroads more than makes up for it.
All that power and performance does come at a cost though, and the Mercedes-AMG is by no means ‘affordable’, at least not when compared to some other cars on this list. But when you factor in the German marque’s exceptional automatic gearbox, quality of interior, and that potent engine – not to mention bragging rights for the badge – you start to see where your money is going.
- Refined and very sporty, like a proper AMG should be.
- Enormous amount of equipment.
- Pricey. Can you justify almost six figures for a hatchback?
- Much less practical than others in the segment.
Toyota GR Yaris (GXPA16)
Fuel Economy: 7.6L/100km
Price: From $56,200 Drive Away
The Toyota GR Yaris represents something of a revolution for the hot hatch sector. It was designed and built with a goal in mind; to be the base model that would inspire a rally version to compete in the WRC. This means it was built entirely from scratch, as opposed to taking the standard Yaris, installing a mad turbo, some nice wheels and some new bumpers.
The result is something extraordinary, and the GR Yaris is genuinely one of, if not the, most exciting hatchbacks available to buy today. It’s incredibly light, introducing carbon fibre and aluminium, along with removing the rear doors completely. It also has a 1.6-litre engine up front, which happens to be the most powerful production three-cylinder in the world. It kicks out 191kW of power, which, while a whisker of the power offered by some others on this list, when combined with a light body and an incredibly 4WD system, you’re not exactly left wanting.
Inside you get all the mod-cons you could ask for, including a premium JBL sound system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with a slew of driver assistance technologies. The perfect hatchback? It’s definitely not far off.
- Sounds good, looks good, drives even better.
- Build quality is A+. It’s built on the same production line as the Lexus LFA.
- Lack of boot space and titchy rear seats mean it’s not very practical.
- A lot of money for a Yaris, even if it’s a special one…
Kia Picanto GT (JA)
Fuel Economy: 5.2L/100km
Price: From $20,990 Drive Away
If you’re on a budget but still want the most amount of thrills possible, look no further than the Kia Picanto GT. Often referred to as a warm hatch, as opposed to hot, the Kia does compromise in the power stakes compared to other similarly-sized rivals, but they also command much higher price tags. It’s a ‘this or that’ kind of scenario.
When we say it compromises in the power arena, we really do mean it. Its little 1.0-litre unit produces just 74kW, but the way it puts that power onto the road is enough to bring a smile to even the most cynical of faces – despite Kia not actually quoting a 0-100km/h time. Couple that with a manual-only gearbox and an incredibly pleasant exhaust note, and you’ll soon be happy you parted with such little cash.
Kia, like its other Asian manufacturer brethren, is now known for offering an awful lot of equipment as standard, and the Picanto GT is no different. You get an 8-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth and even wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Such features can cost a considerable amount extra with more premium manufacturers.
- Cheaps as chips + Kia’s industry-leading 7-year warranty = definition of fun on a budget.
- Refined build and interior that feel like a car three times its price.
- Truly more of a warm hatch than a hot one.
- Wish it came in a two-door variant…
Ford Fiesta ST (MK VII)
Fuel Economy: 6.3L/100km
Price: From $36,176 Drive Away
The Ford Fiesta ST can sometimes be credited as helping to revive the hot hatch market. Simple, fun and affordable, it combines all the elements favoured by those who enjoy taking corners at speed, as well as the odd day on the track. Simple it certainly is, with just one configuration available, which arrives with a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine delivering 147kW of power, along with a manual-only gearbox.
Those looking for something fun will find much to admire with the Fiesta ST too. The precise steering makes it not only a doddle to manoeuvre around town, but also makes tackling winding backroads something you’re going to want to do on a regular basis. It’s also adequately equipped as standard, with such features as Recaro sports seats, wireless charging for your smartphone and a B&O Play sound system.
And the last box: affordability. Coming in at under $40,000 drive away – changing the base colour and adding various packages will increase that to over the $40,000 mark – make the Ford Fiesta ST a serious bang for buck car.
- A lot of kit for the money.
- Handles better than virtually anything else in the segment.
- Firm ride and very sporty seats will rattle your bones.
- Rev hang can be a bit annoying.
Fuel Economy: 6.3L/100km
Price: From $42,641 Drive Away
The latest Mazda3 is a prime example of how much has changed when it comes to expectations of more wallet-friendly hatchbacks. While the likes of Audi and BMW have so often been the port of call for those looking for luxurious interior and exemplary styling, manufacturers such as Mazda – along with Kia and Hyundai – have really upped the ante and now make a far more viable proposition than in previous years.
The top-of-the-range Astina badged model brings with it a plethora of exclusivities as standard compared to other variants in the Mazda3 range, including a range of driver assistance packages, leather seats and LED headlights. In fact, the Mazda3 Astina is probably the more premium hatchback you’ll find for around this price, presenting a similar aesthetic to its far more premium German counterparts, for example.
But all that interior luxury goes to waste if the driving performance isn’t up to a similar standard. Fortunately, the Mazda3 G25 Astina offers much to admire. It makes use of a 2.5-litre 4 cylinder engine, making it more powerful than the rest of the Mazda3 range, with their 2.0-litre powered units. It’s supremely quiet for starters, handles well in corners and stops when you want it to, no dramas. For those looking for something like a Mercedes-Benz or an Audi, but who don’t want to spend upwards of $60,000, the Mazda3 G25 Astina is a worthy substitute.
- Straight-up luxurious and very reliable. There’s a reason Aussies love Mazdas.
- More kit than you’ll ever need.
- Mazda’s notoriously coddling engine management can be a pain.
- The Mazda3 is crying out for a proper Mazdaspeed version…
Fuel Economy: 6.7L/100km
Price: From $19,490 Drive Away
The MG3 has been a bit of an underdog since its launch in 2017. While its first couple of years on Australian shores weren’t exactly what you would call successful, the company’s fortunes have taken a serious 180-degree turn, and it now comfortably keeps up pace, in terms of sales, with other compact hatchbacks. The majority of that success can certainly be brought down to the price, with both models (there are only two trim level variants) setting you back less than $20,000.
We’ve chosen the higher-specced Excite variant as our model of choice, which gets you alloy wheels, a six-speaker sound system and even a rear spoiler. Obviously these come standard on other hatchbacks, but they cost well over $20,000. There’s much to applaud inside too, with a quality that we’d say belies its price. It’s by no means a match for the majority of other hatchbacks on this list, but you always have to consider the price you’re paying. And in the case of the MG3, the brand has done an incredible job.
As for power, there’s just a singular 1.5-litre non-turbo petrol engine available, mated to an automatic gearbox (no manual option). Similarly to the Kia Rio, there is no 0-100km/h quoted time, which speaks to the MG’s lack of power. But, this is primarily aimed at inner-city drivers, and in this setting, there is much to like about the MG3. It’s smooth, nimble and provides very little in the way of fuss for you as a driver. Naturally, you’ll feel like you want more if you get onto the highway, and steep hills definitely aren’t its best friend, but for nippy driving around the CBD, you’ll actually have some fun.
- For the cheapest new car on sale in Australia right now, it’s surprisingly refined.
- Looks sporty and much more expensive than it actually is.
- Lack of power is a let-down, especially considering the MG brand’s history of performance cars.
- The old chestnut: how do you feel about driving a Chinese car?
Fiat Abarth 595 Competizione
Fuel Economy: 6.0L/100km
Price: From $37,016 Drive Away
For those who want fun, exhilarating thrills both around the city and out on open roads, the Fiat Abarth 595 Competizione definitely requires consideration. Those familiar with the Abarth name will know it’s essentially synonymous with speed and madness, and that’s certainly what you get here. Now the tuning company for Fiat, Abarth has taken the standard Fiat 500, removed its low-powered 1.2-litre engine and replaced with with a turbocharged 1.4-litre unit that delivers 132kW/179hp. When you consider the size and weight (or lack thereof) of the car, that means it goes like the clappers, with a claimed 0-100km/h time of 6.7-seconds.
Major changes have been made to the suspension and brakes too, so it will hold corners incredibly well when taken with speed, and actually stop when you press your foot on the brake pedal. You also get an incredibly satisfying sound from the exhaust when you decide you have a lead foot, too. You may feel a bit short-changed when it comes to the interior, with materials and finishes lacking in any sense of premium feel – although you get some nice leather seats. While this could be expected on the base Fiat 500, when you’re spending over $30,000 on a car (before options) it’s understandable if you wonder where your money is actually going.
But, for us, the driving experience more than makes up for it. If you’re looking for a hot hatch and don’t need to regularly cart around a car full of passengers, not a lot comes close to the Abarth 595 Competizione. You’ll be laughing and smiling throughout your drive, and probably even when you finally decide to take yourself home to bed.
- The ‘Record Monza’ exhaust sounds mad.
- No other car on the market has the same combination of tiny size and impressive performance.
- Quite expensive, considering what you get for the money.
- It’s an aging model, with typical idiosyncratic Italian build quality (despite not actually being built in Italy).
Tesla Model 3
Fuel Economy: N/A
Price: From $64,662 Drive Away
Tesla no longer warrants any form of introduction. Elon Musk’s company has more than done its fair share to popularise electric vehicles, with Tesla comfortably sitting at the top of the list of answers to the question “which car companies produce electric vehicles?”. While the powerful and ludicrously fast Model S is the one that first grabbed our attention, the Model 3 was bestowed the task of bringing electrification to the masses thanks to a lower price point. That’s not to say the Model 3 is ‘cheap’, however, as there are some hefty on-roads to pay in addition to the $60k starting price tag (for the base variant Model 3).
But the good news is Tesla does give you an awful lot for your money. You get an incredibly minimalistic, yet premium, interior with a huge touchscreen display to control pretty much all aspects of the car, not just the media or climate control. But it’s the autonomous driving technologies, driving range and speed that really sets Tesla apart from its other EV rivals. The base model gives you just under 450km of driving time, while the Long Range variant increases that to a virtually class-leading 580km. Tesla’s supercharger network is improving all the time around Australia too, so should you find it pretty easy (and quick) to recharge.
You can set the Model 3 to drive by itself on highways, as it’ll keep a good distance from cars in front and automatically keep you in your lane. You are required by law to be ready to intervene however, should anything go wrong. 0-100km takes 5.6-seconds with the standard model, but for speed enthusiasts, opting for the Performance edition will bring that down to a supercar-rivalling 3.3-seconds, although you will need to part with a nearly six-figure sum. If it’s an electric vehicle you’re after, Tesla really does rule the roost, with only select vehicles such as the Hyundai Kona EV putting up some sort of fight.
- This is the fastest car on this list by a country mile. It’s that simple.
- Very practical, especially when you consider running costs, etc.
- Tesla build quality leaves a lot to be desired.
- Having all the controls on one giant tablet isn’t for everyone.