We all know that the South African automotive market is infested with hatchbacks such the Golf, Polo, i20, Clio, the list is endless and most buyers who are interested in performance cars tend to purchase the faster variants of those models which are hot hatchbacks. There are various reasons which may include looks, affordability, reliability, maintenance and just the sheer driving experience and engagement of a hot hatch. Ever since VW perfected what a hot hatchback is with the Mk1 Golf GTi, there has been a rise in popularity of hot hatches and they have become a strong part of the car community. The simplicity of a fined tuned, front-wheel drive pocket rocket that you could bash around without a worry was joyful, until now. You see, nowadays hot hatches are becoming bigger, heavier and they require a lot of firepower to even things out and we have seen a wash of hot hatches having more power than a 1980s Ferrari 308 GTB.

So, we have devised a list of the most powerful hot hatches in South Africa. Please note that this list is ranked according to the horsepower/kilowatts claimed by the manufacturer on their respective models. This list includes hot hatch models produced from 2015 to 2020 and those that have prices and their arrival announced by the manufacturer.

  1. Renault Megane RS 280: 275 hp (205 kW)

What I like to call the “yellow mellow rocket” because the history of the Megane RS describes it as a driver-focused hatch unlike any of its counterparts. The new one, however, has received some mixed reactions as some say it has gone soft but only with the Lux model that comes with an EDC automatic transmission. On the other hand, the 6-speed manual “Cup model” is much more fun to drive as I’ve heard. The 1.8-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder petrol engine produces a nifty 275 hp (205 kW) and 390 Nm of torque going to the front wheels with a party piece of a four-wheel steering function. It does 0-100 km/h in 5.8 seconds and has a top speed of 254 km/h. It comes with a limited slip-diff, Brembo brakes and the chassis has been stiffened. All this for the price of R614 900.

  1. Volkswagen Golf 7.5 GTi TCR: 285 hp (213 kW)

This is the last hurrah of the Mk7 generation of the Golf GTi and the boys at Wolfsburg have made sure that this is the hottest GTi of its generation. This is a homologation of the TCR model racing version and it features some impressive specs. It is powered by a 2.0 litre turbopetrol 4-cylinder with 285 hp (213 kW) and 380 Nm of torque going to the front wheels and that allows it to sprint from 0-100 km/h in 5.6 seconds thanks to the 6-speed DSG. You get an electronically limited slip-diff, Dynamic Chassis Control and performance disc brakes. 300 units have been confirmed for SA and each with a price tag of R669 000.

  1. Mercedes-AMG A35 & BMW M135i xDrive: 302 hp (225 kW)

The rivalry between Mercedes and BMW is one that will go down in history as a never-ending competition that has produced some of the best models ever. Well, with these two cars, they are closely matched and have similar comments from car reviewers as being one-trick ponies for straight-line speed. Both are powered by the same engine configuration, 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder petrol engines producing the same 302 hp (225 kW) but with different torque outputs. The M135i produces 450 Nm of torque while the A35 makes do with 400 Nm. Both have the same electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h with different claimed sprint times of 4.8 seconds for the M135i and 4.7 seconds for the A35 AMG.

The A35 AMG, dubbed a baby AMG, has a platform specifically for it which houses a 4Matic all-wheel drive system that favours a front biased power delivery and that power is shifted on a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. The same story with the M135i as it sits on a front-wheel platform developed by Mini and the xDrive system sends all the power to the wheels but mostly the front and it shifts on an 8-speed automatic. The difference comes on pricing because you’d think similar specs will lead to a similar price point but the A35 AMG starts at R815 000 whilst the M135i xDrive starts at R705 000 which means that you have an obvious choice of purchase if you looking at value for money.

  1. Volkswagen Golf 7.5 R, Audi S3 Sportback & Honda Civic Type-R: 306 hp (228 kW)

The VAG squad are tied at number 7 alongside a Japanese hot hatchback that looks like a Victoria Secrets model if she were a car. Basically, the Golf and the S3 are the same cars underneath. They share the same platform, some components are the same and the engines are a tad similar. In the Golf, it is a 2.0-litre TSi 4-cylinder engine as well as the S3 with a 2.0-litre TSFi engine, and they both produce 306 hp (228 kW) and 400 Nm of torque. They have similar transmissions named differently, with the Golf having a 7-Speed DSG and the S3 with its 7-Speed S-Tronic DCT, and surprisingly enough the same four-wheel drive system we know as Haldex but both cars have it in different names. 0-100 km/h in 4.6 seconds for both cars with a top speed of 250 km/h which goes to say it’s only looks and interior that are different.

The Civic Type-R sets itself aside with a 2.0-litre turbopetrol 4-cylinder engine delivering 306 hp (228 kW) & 400 Nm of torque and all that sheer power is sent to the front wheels which are managed by a clever limited-slip differential, unlike any other front-wheel drive hot hatch. It sprints from 0-100 km/h in 5.8 seconds which is fair given that it only comes with a 6-speed manual and does a top speed of 272 km/h which is faster than the VAG boys. It held the record for thefastest hatchback to go around the Nurburgring for some time before being dethroned by the Renault Megane RS Trophy-R. The Civic Type-R starts at R741 900 which is expensive than the VAG cars which are easier to live with. The Golf 7.5 R and S3 are closely priced as the 7.5 R starts at R695 000 while the S3 is R700 198.

  1. BMW M135i F22: 322 hp (240 kW)

The facelift landed in 2015 and it looked way prettier with the new tech you got from other premium BMW models at that time. What makes this so special is that this is a rear-wheel drive hatchback that has 322 hp (240 kW) and 450 Nm delivered from a beefy 3.0-litre turbopetrol straight-six which also produces some of the best engine noises. Power is shifted on an 8-speed DCT and that allows it to do 0-100 km/h in 4.9 seconds with a limited top speed of 250 km/h. At that time of sale, it cost R560 243 but now you can get it in second hand for much less which makes it a bargain if you’re in the market for a unique hot hatchback which also comes in 3 doors.

  1. BMW M140i: 335 hp (250 kW)

This is a hot hatchback that I dearly respect and admire more than any other one on this list, except for the Golf 7.5 R because that one is actually my favourite. It came under the radar because not many people noticed it when it launched in SA and we were surprised to find out that it got a major engine boost. BMW fitted the new B58 engine, used on current M40i models, and it has a larger displacement and a bigger turbocharger which means more power. The 3.0-litre turbopetrol straight-six produces 335 hp (250 kW) and 500 Nm of torque with an 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual for purists. It does a faster 0-100 km/h in 4.6 seconds but the top speed remains at 250 km/h. It was priced at R652 802 but you can get a fresh one for around R500 000 because it’s no longer in production.

  1. Ford Focus RS: 345 hp (257 kW)

To my understanding, this car was admired mostly by petrolheads because we understood how much fun an overpowered, 6-speed manual four-wheel drive car can be. The Focus RS is the hardcore version of the ST first sold in 2016 but later saw its last sale in South Africa in 2018. The 2.3 litre turbocharged Ecoboost 4-cylinder which can also be found on the new Mustang, disgraceful, makes 345 hp (257 kW) and 450 Nm of torque. It can do 0-100 km/h in 4.7 seconds and despite it being all-wheel drive, it has drift mode that allows you to, uhm drift it but that’s not recommended if you’re not skilled especially on a racetrack. Tail sliding is made possible thanks to the torque vectoring system that allows oversteer and improves the handling. It started at R669 000 but I found one on AutoTrader with a price of just R400 000 and a mileage of just 60 000 km.

  1. Mercedes-AMG A45 4Matic: 375 hp (280 kW)

Funny how this car is perceived as a forex car because many of those traders go for it after making their first plentiful bucks. Anyway, what makes it so great is that it produces 375 hp (280 kW) and 475 Nm from a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder petrol engine that gives it the grunt to make an awesome exhaust noise and sprint from 0-100 km/h in just 4.2 seconds thanks to a 7-speed DCT gearbox. It is limited to 250 km/h. It comes with four driving modes: Individual, comfort and sport, the sport plus allows you to throw it around the racetrack and according to reviewers, it performs pretty well. Brand new it started at R737 314 but it has now depreciated to an affordable purchase, but not perfect if we mention maintenance.

  1. Audi RS3 Sportback: 394 hp (294 KW)

I was once inside this car as a passenger at the Kyalami Race Circuit for a hot lap and I just want to say how truly astonishing this machine is in a straight line and around bends. It grips so well and reassures you that it won’t easily swerve off the track thanks to the permanent Quattro all-wheel drive system. The engine is a magnificent 2.5-litre turbopetrol 5-cylinder producing 394 hp (294 kW) & 480 Nm of torque. The sprint time to 100 km/h is only 4.1 seconds with the top speed limited to 250 km/h. It comes with a 7-speed S-Tronic DCT gearbox and has a great interior with features such as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, MMI navigation and a 705 Watts Bang & Olufsen Sound System. All of this sets you back at around R895 500 which I think is still good for this package.

  1. Mercedes-AMG A45 S: 416 hp (310 kW)

The almighty hatchback that has created a new segment called the “hyper-hot hatchback”, because what kind of hatchback produces over 300 kW and is treated like any other car on the market. Mercedes-AMG went into works and made the most powerful 2.0-litre turbopetrol 4-cylinder making 416 hp (310 kW) and 500 Nm of torque which was then shoved into this innocent five-door family hatch and creating a monster. The numbers are crazy considering that it does 0-100 km/h in just 3.9 seconds and has a top speed of 250 km/h but can be raised to 270 km/h with the AMG Driver’s Package. The 4Matic+ system and the 9-speed Speedshift DCT contribute to all this insanity. How much is it? It starts at R1 055 000. So, in retrospect, it is the fastest, most powerful and most expensive hot hatchback available in SA.

Sources: Cars.co.za, Autoblog, CarMag SA, Wikipedia, Motor1, Top Gear