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One of the things that distinguishes Canadian drivers from our American counterparts is our fondness for a good hatchback.

Maybe it’s a distant after-effect of Canada’s colonial history, but hatchbacks have always resonated with drivers here almost as much as they do in Europe. The combination of value, practicality and joyful handling simply can’t be beat.

Hot hatches, the sportiest examples of the genre, offer fun that SUV owners can only dream of. In terms of capability, hatchbacks don’t give up much to compact SUVs either; most SUVs are crossovers, little more than beefed-up hatchbacks riding on taller suspension.

The hot-hatch landscape is changing. Old favourites like the Subaru Impreza WRX 5-door are no more. Interesting new contenders – from Hyundai and Kia – are entering the market, while class veterans are moving up into higher price brackets. The Honda Civic Type R, Volkswagen Golf R and Ford Focus RS all cost over $40,000, so we’ve left them off this list. You don’t need to spend that much to have a fun, capable car.

If you’re on a budget and need one car to do it all – commuting, cargo-hauling and the occasional blast along a winding road – these are the hot hatches you should be considering.

Mini John Cooper Works

The MINI John Cooper Works.

  • Price: $34,890
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbo I-4
  • Gearbox: 6-speed manual or 6-speed auto

Despite the fact it keeps getting less and less “mini” with each generation, the range-topping Mini Cooper JCW still offers serious performance. The stiff suspension and chassis mean it’s well suited to the occasional track day but might be a little too stiff for daily use by all but the most committed drivers. If you can live without the full 228 horsepower of the JCW, the Cooper S will likely be a better daily driver for most people. It has 189 horsepower, starts at $27,390, and is available in 3- and 5-door models.

Hyundai Elantra GT Sport

2018 Elantra GT.

  • Price: $26,999
  • Engine: 1.6-litre turbo I-4
  • Gearbox: 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Hyundai is trying to beat the Germans at their own game. The new Elantra GT Sport is meant to go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, offering similar performance at a lower price. The company boasts that the new Elantra’s handling was fine-tuned on the Nurburgring circuit in Germany, just like all the big-time sports cars from Porsche, BMW and others. The GT Sport gets independent rear suspension and a 201-horsepower turbocharged engine. We called it the the first world-class hot-hatch from Hyundai, offering a composed ride, a sweet-shifting manual gearbox and plenty of turbo-lag-induced driving fun.

Hyundai Veloster N

The 2019 Hyundai Veloster N.Mark Hacking/Handout

  • Price: TBD
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbo I-4
  • Gearbox: 6-speed manual

For Canadians, the Veloster N will be our first taste of Hyundai’s new in-house performance division. The company poached Albert Biermann, long-time engineering boss of BMW M, to oversee development and named this new sub-brand “N.” Clearly, the South Korean company is inviting comparison to the Munich brand. Unlike the Elantra GT Sport, the Veloster N won’t have four doors (making it somewhat less practical), but it will have an electronic limited-slip differential and a larger motor: a 2.0-litre unit making 275 horsepower. Pricing should be announced when it goes on sale in 2019.

Mazda3 Sport GT

The Mazda3 Sport.Morgan J Segal

  • Price: $25,100
  • Engine: 2.5-litre I-4
  • Gearbox: 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic

We suspect Mazda is about to unveil an all-new Mazda3 at the Los Angeles auto show at the end of November. If you can’t wait for that, the current 3 is still a contender for best-in-class honours when it comes to performance and handling. The top-spec GT model comes with a bigger 2.5-litre non-turbocharged engine. The ride is a bit on the stiff side, and it’s not the most spacious for rear-seat passengers, but the Mazda3 always manages to hit a sweet spot between performance and practicality that makes it a perennial favourite.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

The Volkswagen Golf GTI.

  • Price: $30,595
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbo I-4
  • Gearbox: 6-speed manual or 6-speed dual-clutch automatic

It’s still the hot-hatch benchmark, evolving with the times through seven generations. Since the first GTI was introduced in 1976, it has grown bigger and heavier. The feeling of lightness and simplicity is gone, but the GTI has evolved into a more luxurious machine. Thankfully, the Tartan cloth seats and golf-ball gear knob are still there. With 220 horsepower, understated looks and crisp steering response, it’s still the most refined hot hatch out there. The all-wheel drive Golf R is nice, but rather expensive at $42,065.

Honda Civic Hatchback Sport

The 2018 Honda Civic Hatchback.Honda

  • Price: $26,526
  • Engine: 1.5-litre turbo I-4
  • Gearbox: 6-speed manual or CVT automatic

The old CR-Z, which was discontinued in 2016, was tragically underrated. Its demise means Honda now only has one model that could be considered a hot hatch. In truth, the Hatchback Sport is more lukewarm than hot. The 1.5-litre motor is tweaked to provide 180 horsepower, a modest increase over the regular 174. While CVTs (continuously variable transmissions) have gotten better, they’re still not conducive to driving thrills. So, we’d recommend opting for the six-speed manual in this case. The Civic Type R is plenty hot, but the $41,090 price and Fast and Furious looks are not.

Kia Forte5 SX

The 2017 Kia Forte5 SX.

  • Price: $29,895
  • Engine: 1.6-litre turbo I-4
  • Gearbox: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

There’s an all-new Forte coming in 2019, but so far, only the sedan has been unveiled. For a hatchback, you’ll have to look at the 2018 Forte5. It’s the Kia counterpart to the Hyundai Elantra GT Sport. It has the same motor, with the same 201-horsepower output. The Forte5 is slightly more expensive, starting at $29,895, and – unlike the Hyundai – has no manual-gearbox option. In a face-off against the Honda Civic hatch, the older Kia lost – but just by a hair.

Ford Focus ST

The Ford Focus ST.

  • Price: $32,298
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbo I-4
  • Gearbox: 6-speed manual

The full-fat Focus RS costs more than $50,000, and frankly, this ST model will be a better choice for most people anyway. Deeply bolstered Recaro seats help you pretend you’re at the track, even when you’re stuck in traffic. Generating 252 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, its engine is the most powerful in this group. Behind the wheel, there’s a real sense of connection to the machine. In fact, we found it even better as a real-world performance car then the old Shelby GT500, simply because the full range of the ST’s power and ability are usable on public roads. If you want one, get it while you still can. The next Ford Focus won’t be coming to North America at all, let alone in ST trim.

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