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buying advice

€12k budget for your next car? These 4 hot hatches could give you serious power

Sometimes the best things come in small packages.

SINCE THE LATE seventies, hot hatches have represented a more affordable type of performance car. Beginning as an evolution of regular production models, the category has since developed into one that turns out impressively high-performance cars.

The beauty of many hot hatches is the often subtle styling that allows them to blend in with the traffic, while carrying enough brawn to earn nods from those in the know.

Who needs show-off sports cars when many of these will give you just as much real-world performance at a fraction of the price? Here’s our rundown of some of the best hot hatches you can buy for €12,000 or less.

1. Ford Focus ST (2005-2011)

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The Blue Oval has enjoyed a strong heritage for turning out Fast Fords, as they’re affectionately known. Since its arrival, the Focus has been one of Ford’s best-selling hatchbacks and it gave rise to an out-and-out performance model called the Focus RS.

But one step down from that, and at a more affordable price, is the Focus ST. It’s something of a halfway house in performance terms. It shared its 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine with the S40 from Volvo, which Ford still owned at the time, and it produced a decent 225hp. It came with a large rear spoiler as part of the ST body kit and unique 18-inch alloy wheels.

Inside, it featured Recaro sports seats, a six-speed manual transmission and additional instrument panel that housed turbo boost pressure, oil temperature and pressure gauges. Stiffer suspension added to its sharp handling.

These are well-built and generally reliable models, but with many having been modified by owners look carefully at non-standard examples. Another thing to look out for is the servicing history, including the timing belt as this is one of the weak points in the engine if not replaced at the correct intervals.

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2. Renault Clio RS 197 (2006-2009)

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Few modern hot hatches can rival the Renault Clio RS 197 for pure chassis finesse. Following on from the previous Clio RS 172 and 182 models, the 197 raised the bar once more.

Its looks were spot on, with just enough flair in the arches, including a neat vent in the front wheel, and a purposeful rear diffuser. The 197 used a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine developing, as the name would suggest, 197hp. Good enough for a 6.6-second sprint to 100km/h, BUT this car is about much more than outright pace.

Its chassis is sublime and steering as sharp and precise as anything from BMW’s M Division. Its interior was virtually unchanged aside from the Recaro sports seats. Not that it mattered, as the way this car drives more than makes up for a non-flashy cabin.

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3. Volkswagen Golf GTI (2004-2009)

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No list of hot hatches would be complete without including the Volkswagen Golf GTI. There have been seven generations to date, but some of the best value for performance is to be found in the MkV models, which brought back the red grille trim and tartan seats that first appeared on the MkI.

Mechanically it was a solid car, with a 200hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. It was also available with the DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission that enabled smooth, swift gear changes and set the standard for auto gearboxes for many years to come. There are hundreds of tuning sites and parts available for this model, so if you do feel like making it your own, there are lots of possibilities.

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4. MINI Cooper S (2006-2013)

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The second generation MINI Cooper S saw the hatch’s engine move from supercharged to turbocharged power. While the characteristic engine note changed, it remained a fun car to drive with plenty of power.

Its crisp throttle response and agile chassis added to the fun factor. It could hit 100km/h in 7.1 seconds yet could still manage to return reasonably good fuel economy when not being ragged. The Cooper S has distinctive looks – that bonnet intake scoop and twin centrally mounted exhausts add to its sporty image, and being MINI there are numerous colour and spec combinations to choose from. So it may be worth holding out for the right one that matches your taste.

Most Cooper S models came well equipped and were often sold with service packs meaning that many should have full MINI service histories.

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More: €8k to spend? Here are 5 of the best family hatchbacks out there>

More: €20k budget? Here are the premium cars you need to consider>

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