Hyundai has suddenly become very hard to overlook as a purveyor of affordable performance cars, and the i20 N rally-inspired supermini is the main reason why. This car is a simpler and more direct attempt at a classic hot hatchback than the bigger i30 N is. Being smaller and lighter helps, of course; but it also uses a conventional limited slip differential in place of an active one, a punchy but not domineering 1.6-litre turbocharged engine, a six-speed manual gearbox in place of any clever twin-clutch gearbox, and good passive dampers rather than adaptive ones.
The results are really very effective indeed. This car has the carefully honed, extra-purposeful character of a genuine rally-stage exile. Its body control, high-speed precision and composure and steering precision are all of an order you rarely find in a car this size, and its ground-covering pace is greater than you’d expect of a car with only 201bhp to put to use.
The i20 is impressively roomy and well-equipped, too, given the strides its maker has taken these last ten years in drawing level with the best small cars that Europe can offer. If the i20 N has a fault, it may only be that it’s too grippy, precise and composed; and some may want a fast supermini that takes itself a little less seriously.
3. Caterham 170 S & 170 R
This may not be a hot hatchback, nor really anything like one – but no discussion of the affordable driver’s car firmament ought to omit one of the true and enduring champions of having fun on a budget: the Caterham Seven.
Representing the entry-point to ‘Seven’ ownership, the 170 is the lightest that the company has ever built. Using the latest version of the 660cc three-cylinder Suzuki petrol engine that the company first adopted for the Seven 160, the car’s model-nomenclature-defining power-to-weight ratio rises to ‘170’ by dint of the fact that the car itself weighs just 440kg, and also conforms to Japan’s ‘kei’ car class criteria. It can be yours for less than £25,000 – with an option or two – if only you’re prepared to do up the car’s bolts yourself as a kit, which for many is part of the fun.