Each has five doors, FWD, sells for around $20K, and is fun to drive – but which will be crowned the winner?

Here’s the scenario – you want a car, but it has to be the right car. It’s gotta be practical and comfortable, but it can’t be a complete snooze-fest behind the wheel either. You don’t want a crossover, and a sedan isn’t gonna cut it. What you want is a hatchback, something with a little zest and personality, but something that won’t break the bank. Thankfully, there are plenty of options out there, but which to choose? To help you decide, we’ve gathered six of the top contenders and put them head-to-head in the following comparison article. Let’s get ready to rumble.

To keep it all apples-to-apples, each of the entries in our comparison comes packaged in a five-door body style, gets standard FWD, and is instilled with at least a hint of sportiness. Each is also tagged with an MSRP around the $20,000 mark. With criteria like that, we decided to include the Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Hatchback, Hyundai Elantra GT, Mazda 3 Hatchback, Mini Cooper Hardtop Four-Door, and Volkswagen Golf GTI.

While all six of these hatchbacks are solid choices in their own right, the question remains – which is the best? Read on for our take.

Continue reading for the full comparison.

Styling And Exterior Features

While not necessarily the most important consideration in this segment, styling is still a factor that many car buyers weigh heavily in their decision, while exterior features are usually nice-to-have’s that can tip the scales one direction of the other.

Ford Focus ST

2015 Ford Focus ST High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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The Ford Focus is a solid-looking hatchback, with aggressive styling and pointed features front to back. The headlights are narrow, while the broad front grille is an ST-specific design sporting a black honeycomb insert. In the front bumper corners are fog lights, while wheel sizing is at 18-inches as standard with a Rado Gray finish.

Further exterior features include automatic headlights with halogen lighting, LED daytime running lights, and an ST-specific rear spoiler. Options include HID headlights and heated side-view mirrors.

Read our full review here.

Honda Civic

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback
- image 688675

The Civic is much more technical in its appearance, with a wide variety of angles, cuts, and extraneous features and lines. The profile is almost more coupe-like in the way the roofline slopes into the rear, and the whole thing gives an air of futuristic design.

Standout features include LED daytime running lights, a black mesh lower grille and double-decker upper grille, LED C-shaped taillights, dual-center-mounted exhaust tips, a power moonroof, and standard 16-inch wheels. You can also get 18-inch alloys if desired. Extra underbody aero is offered higher in the range.

Read our full review here.

Hyundai Elantra GT

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT High Resolution Exterior
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While bringing a fresh face in the segment, the Hyundai Elantra GT is still somewhat conservative in its appearance. Not that it’s necessarily boring to look at, as it’s still got a rather refined style to it, seen prominently in the front end with shapely headlights, a very large grille divided by chrome slats, and optional check mark-shaped corner fog lights.

Additional exterior features include optional turn signals integrated with the standard heated side-view mirrors, available 17-inch wheels, a rear spoiler, optional automatic headlights, and a good amount of chrome trim.

Read our full review here.

Mazda 3

2016 - 2018 Mazda3 High Resolution Exterior Interior
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The Mazda 3 stands out thanks to its Kodo design language, which combines both aggression and refinement in a sleek little package. The headlights are narrow and thin, connected by a five-sided grille. A smaller lower intake is placed underneath. The profile seems to rise as you move towards the rear, completed by a roof-mounted spoiler on the hatch.

Standard features include halogen projectors and daytime running lights, a roof-mounted aero-friendly antenna, dual exhaust tips finished in polished metal, and large alloy wheels. Higher in the trim line, you get LED fog lights, a power sliding moonroof, polished trim, and a black metallic grille insert.

Read our full review here.

Mini Cooper Hardtop

2014 Mini Cooper 5-Door High Resolution Exterior
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The Mini is easily the biggest peacock in this list, bringing classic British styling in a more modern package. Depending on what you go for, there’s contrast coloring for the side view mirrors and roof, black lower cladding along the side skirts and fender liners, plus chrome surrounds for the headlights, front grille, and belt line, a polished, rounded gas filler cap, and a good deal of customization options.

Standard features include heated side-view mirrors, 15-inch silver wheels, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and automatic headlights. Options include LEDs for the front fog lights and headlights, roof rails, a panoramic moon roof, and a slew of mirror cap designs.

Read our full review here.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI High Resolution Exterior
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Per usual, the Golf GTI sets the standard when it comes to mating sportiness with restraint, as evident from the exterior package. The shape and design is clearly a Golf, but just a few tweaks here and there bring out the car’s more aggressive undertones. There is a long red accent that runs through the headlights and upper grille, while the lower grille is flat and narrow, bookended by additional horizontal lines in the corners. The wheels are large, five-spoke units, fitting neatly under the fenders. The character lines are all supremely straight and simple, and look good in a characteristically VW sort of way.

Standout features include bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic moonroof, and a subtle hatch spoiler.

Read our full review here.

Winner

2014 Mini Cooper 5-Door High Resolution Exterior
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2016 - 2018 Mazda3 High Resolution Exterior
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If you absolutely must stand out from the crowd, then the Mini is the obvious winner in this department. Its combination of unique styling features and practically endless customization options make it the favorite for showing off and upping curb appeal.

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to my eye, the best-looking entry here is the Mazda 3. The lines are curvy but not overly done, blending just the right amounts of refinement and aggression in a single, slick package.

Interior, Cabin Comfort, And Convenience

Let’s face it – with the amount of time you’ll be spending inside the cabin of your new hatchback, it’s critical that it offers a high degree of comfort and coziness.

Ford Focus ST

2015 Ford Focus ST
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Inside the Focus ST, the look and layout is predominantly composed of vertical lines and shapes, particularly in the air vents and center console layout. There are the odd bits of polished metal-look trim here and there, while the seats offer a good amount of side support. The steering wheel has a flat bottom, and mounted high on the dash is a trio of gauges.

Interior and convenience features include hill start assist, rear heater vents, ST-badged kick plates, aluminum pedals and an aluminum shift knob, and a 4.2-inch LCD screen, while options include leather-clad Recaro buckets, a carbon fiber shifter, dual-zone climate control, heated seats, and 10-speaker audio.

Honda Civic

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback High Resolution Interior
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The Civic gets an interior that matches the body panels in terms of a technical look with lots of geometric shapes. Color schemes include black on black, plus a black on ivory two-tone, as well as a digital readout behind the three-spoke steering wheel. There’s an electronic parking brake located on the center console, a wide, horizontal dash, eight-way adjustable seats, a moonroof, aluminum pedals with rubber inserts, and ambient lighting.

Options include heated seats, dual-zone climate control, available navigation, and premium audio with a 75-watt subwoofer.

Hyundai Elantra GT

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT High Resolution Interior
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Dominating the cabin space in the Elantra GT is a tall center stack that stretches into the dash via two parallel silver risers, topped by vertical vents. A digital infotainment screen is sandwiched in between, while a digital climate control layout is underneath. More silver vertical shapes were added to the steering wheel, while additional silver trim can be found in the door panels and central tunnel.

Standout features include standard a six-way adjustable drivers seat, cloth upholstery, a cooled glove box, Bluetooth support, six-speaker audio, and complimentary SiriusXM radio, while there’s also an available 7.0-inch navigation screen, aluminum pedals, leatherette upholstery, heated and ventilated seats, dual-zone climate control, and a rearview camera that hides away under the Hyundai badge.

Mazda 3

2016 - 2018 Mazda3 High Resolution Interior
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The Mazda offers a handsome interior layout and design, with a streamlined approach that doesn’t clutter the controls or features. The upholstery is offered in a two-tone color scheme, there’s a large tachometer placed centrally in the gauge cluster, the upholstery gets contrast stitching, and an infotainment screen is mounted high on the dash.

Features include cruise control, which is adjusted via buttons on the steering wheel, a push-button starter, keyless entry, a six-way manually adjustable driver’s seat, six-speaker audio, and a 7.0-inch display screen. Higher trims throw in nine-speaker audio, Bluetooth audio streaming, leather upholstery, a leather steering wheel, leather for the shifter, and app support.

Mini Cooper Hardtop

2014 Mini Cooper High Resolution Interior
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Once again, we find the Mini standing out for its unique design approach. Front and center on the dash is a large, circular surround for the infotainment screen and controls. Below this, you’ll find knobs and switches for the climate control, which get a nice metallic finish and orange lighting for function identification. Further ambient lighting is in the foot wells and door panels, while the steering wheel has thick hand bolsters.

Standout features include app support, a parking assist, navigation and real-time traffic readouts, a touch controller with a handwriting recognition feature, adaptive cruise control, a heads-up display, and even further options for customization.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI High Resolution Interior
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Volkswagen is known for offering up cabins that aren’t necessarily all that flashy, but exceed when it comes to fit and finish. Such is the case with the GTI, which isn’t terribly remarkable when it comes to look and layout, but definitely a smart and handsome bit of kit nonetheless. Horizontal surfaces pervade throughout, including with the vents and console-mounted touch screen. The central tunnel is well equipped with additional buttons and storage, while splashes of color can be found in the trim. The steering wheel gets a flat bottom and thumb-length controls.

In terms of features, the Volkswagen Golf GTI gets a rear backup camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a premium stereo from Fender, plaid upholstery for the seats, ambient lighting for the door trim accents, and a digital driver’s information screen in the gauge cluster mounted between the left-hand tachometer and right-hand speedometer.

Winner – Mazda 3

2016 - 2018 Mazda3 High Resolution Interior
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While I can’t deny that the look and layout of the Mini is exciting, my money would go to the Mazda. The look is refined and elegant, finding a nice middle ground between the screaming Mini and relatively monotonous Volkswagen. It looks and feels upscale, and will be attractive for some time in the future without trying too hard.

The Civic comes in second place thanks to its engaging cabin arrangement and high-tech features, but loses ground to the Mazda due to a lack of polish and refinement.

Practicality And Efficiency

Compact hatchbacks are a happy compromise between small exterior dimensions and a large interior space, so with that in mind, we’ll go through each entry and check out things like seating capacity, passenger volume, and available cargo room. In addition, a small car usually brings respectable fuel economy as well, so we’ll list MPG figures for each entry at the end of each section.

Ford Focus ST

2015 Ford Focus ST
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The Focus offers seating for five, with two up front and three in the back. Passenger volume is capped at 90 cubic feet. Cargo volume is 23.8 cubic feet with the rear bench up, but fold the bench down and that space expands to 43.9 cubic feet.

Mileage is rated at 22 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 25 mpg combined.

Honda Civic

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback High Resolution Interior
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Seating in the Civic is set at five. Passenger volume is between 94.8 cubic feet and 97.2 cubic feet depending on the trim level you go for. Cargo volume is set at 25.7 cubic feet with the rear bench up, and 46.2 cubic feet with the rear bench down.

The Civic’s fuel economy is rated at 20 mpg in the city, 39 mpg on the highway, and 33 mpg combined when equipped with a six-speed manual transmission. Go for the continuously variable transmission instead, and those numbers are bumped up to 31 mpg in the city, 40 mpg on the highway, and 34 mpg combined.

Hyundai Elantra GT

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT High Resolution Interior
- image 704910

The Elantra GT seats five, and offers 96.1 cubic feet of passenger volume. Cargo volume is set at 23 cubic feet with the seats up, while folded down, there’s 51 cubic feet for stuff.

Mileage for both the automatic and manual transmission is rated at 24 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway, and 27 mpg combined.

Mazda 3

2016 - 2018 Mazda3 High Resolution Exterior Interior
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The Mazda 3 puts two up front and three in the back for five passengers total. Total passenger volume is set at 96.4 cubic feet, while cargo volume is 20.2 cubic feet. Fold down the rear seats and that figure expands to 47.1 cubic feet.

As for fuel economy, the most efficient option is the automatic transmission, which offers 28 mpg in the city, 37 mpg on the highway, and 31 mpg combined. However, go for the manual gearbox, and you’ll only lose 1 mpg in the city, making for 27 mpg city, 37 mpg highway, and 31 mpg combined.

Mini Cooper Hardtop

2015 Mini Cooper S
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The Mini seats five adults behind its four doors. Mini did not list exact figures for passenger volume, but did give rear cargo volume as 13.1 cubic feet, while total cargo volume with the seats folded comes in at 40.7 cubic feet.

As for fuel economy, the Mini will return 25 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway, and a combined 28 mpg, according to fueleconomy.gov.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI
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Like every other entry here, the Volkswagen Golf GTI seats five. It also offers 93.5 cubic feet of passenger volume, while rear cargo volume is rated at 22.8 cubic feet. Fold down the rear bench, and you’re looking at 42.3 cubic feet.

Fuel returns look like 24 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, and a combined figure of 27 mpg.

Winner

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback High Resolution Exterior
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While there are certain models that stand above the rest in certain areas, be it for city fuel mileage or passenger volume, practicality and efficiency is about shining in all those categories at once. With that in mind, the Honda Civic looks like the outright winner in this category. It offers a very generous 46.2 cubic feet of space in back with the rear seats down, all while returning an impressive 34 mpg combined, not to mention a whopping 40 mpg on the highway. And given the model’s history, it shouldn’t be a surprise the Honda walks away in this respect.

Safety

All of these latest models are quite safe, coming equipped with a wide range of features to help them protect their passengers in a collision. However, with the advent of new semi-autonomous technologies, some models are considered even safer than others. This section spotlights those new features where applicable, as well as looks at collision ratings from the two major evaluative bodies – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS.

Ford Focus ST

2015 Ford Focus ST
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In addition to the usual lineup of airbag systems, three-point safety belts, tire pressure monitoring, and electronic stability control, the Focus ST also offers integrated blind spot monitors in the side-view mirrors, a rearview camera, and something called the Personal Safety System, which use sensors to determine the occupants’ size and weight, as well as the severity of the collision, activating certain safety systems as needed. It should be noted that systems like these are commonplace across the segment.

In terms of crash protection, the NHTSA gives the 2017 Focus five-door hatchback five out of five stars in frontal crashes, five out of five stars in side impacts, and four out of five stars in rollovers, with a five out of five star rating overall. Meanwhile, the IIHS has not yet rated the Focus hatchback.

Honda Civic

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback
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The Civic gets a nice lineup of optional safety features, such as a multi-angle rearview camera with available guide lines, available automatic braking, available lane keep assist, and available automatic high beams. These are all complemented by equipment like a full airbag system, electronic stability control, ABS, EBD, and brake assist, each of which is standard equipment.

In collision tests, the NHTSA gave the 2017 Civic five-door hatchback five out of five stars in frontal crashes, five out of five stars in side impacts, and five out of five stars in rollover tests, plus five out of five stars overall. The IIHS has not yet rated the Civic hatchback, but did give the 2017 sedan its Top Safety Pick designation, with its top “Good” safety ratings in every crash worthiness test. The headlights, however, were rated as “Poor.”

Hyundai Elantra GT

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT
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Standard safety features on the Elantra GT include a driver’s side blind spot mirror, electronic stability control and traction control, ABS, EBD, braking assist, a full airbag system, and a tire pressure monitoring system. A rearview backup camera is offered as an available option.

In crash tests, the NHTSA gave the Elantra GT four out of five stars in frontal crashes, five out of five stars in side impacts, and four out of five stars in rollover tests, plus five out of five stars overall. Meanwhile, the IIHS has not yet rated the Elantra GT hatchback, but did give the Elantra sedan its Top Safety Pick+ designation with its top “Good” ratings across the board.

Mazda 3

2016 - 2018 Mazda3 High Resolution
- image 706720

The Mazda 3 comes with safety features like a full airbag system, three-point safety belts, ABS, EBD, Hill Launch Assist, traction control, stability control, and a rearview camera.

The NHTSA has given the 2017 Mazda 3 five-door hatchback five out of five stars in frontal collisions, five out of five stars in side impacts, and four out of five stars in rollover tests, plus five out of five stars in overall crashworthiness. The IIHS has given the 2017 Mazda 3 hatchback its Top Safety Pick+ designation, with its top “Good” ratings in each of the crashworthiness tests, plus an “Average” rating for the headlights.

Mini Cooper Hardtop

2015 Mini Cooper S
- image 706736

The Mini Cooper Hardtop gets an eight-airbag system as standard, plus features like automatic headlights, brake drying, emergency braking preparation, emergency braking assist, a post-collision safety system, stability control, traction control, and a rear-view camera.

Both the NHTSA and IIHS have yet to give the Mini Cooper Hardtop five-door hatchback a safety rating.

Volkswagen Golf GTI


The VW Golf GTI gets the usual safety features, such as high-strength steel construction, ABS, a tire pressure monitoring system, stability control, EBS, and airbags, but it also includes an automatic post-collision braking system, and an intelligent crash response system that shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and activates the hazard lights in the event of a crash. There’s also a blind spot monitor, rear traffic monitor, adaptive cruise control, and parking assist as available options.

Crash ratings from the NHTSA include four out of five stars in frontal crashes, five out of five stars in side impacts, and four out of five stars in rollover tests, with five out of five stars awarded for the overall rating. The IIHS has given the 2017 Volkswagen GTI four-door hatchback its Top Safety Pick designation with its top “Good” ratings in each crashworthiness category, but a “Poor” rating for the headlights.

Winner

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback High Resolution Exterior
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Once again, we find the Honda taking the lead in safety with the Civic. Not only does it post superb crash test ratings and evaluations, but also its large suite of standard and available safety technologies makes it the top pick if staying safe in a collision (or avoiding a collision altogether) is your number one priority.

Engine, Drivetrain, And Speed

Now we’re getting into the fun stuff. If you care about putting a smile on your face from behind the wheel, this is probably where you’re gonna start. Each entry offers roughly similar specs in terms of powerplant configuration and drivetrain layout, but rest assured, there are some clear winners and losers when it comes to making speed in this segment.

Ford Focus ST

2015 Ford Focus ST
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The Ford Focus ST comes equipped with an all-aluminum turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine mounted in the nose. This powerplant is mated to the same six-speed manual transmission as can be found on the hot-to-trot Focus RS model, with the ST producing a sizable 252 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 270 pound-feet of torque at 2,500 rpm. Properly applied, it’s enough muscle to motivate the ST from a standstill to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, while top speed is rated at 154 mph.

Honda Civic

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback
- image 706726

The Civic is motivated by a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine, with all-aluminum construction and a single-scroll TD03 turbo pumping out 16.5 psi of boost. There are dual overhead cams, 16 valves, and direct fuel injection. A few different tunes are offered, but the most powerful is on the Sport trim level, which is rated at 180 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 177 pound-feet of torque between 1,900 and 5,000 rpm. Both an automatic continuously variable transmission and a six-speed manual are offered for the gearbox. The CVT can also be had with paddle shifters. Redline is set at 6,500 rpm.

As for acceleration figures, Car And Driver says the Civic can hit 60 mph in roughly 6.5 seconds, and go on to a top speed of 125 mph.

Hyundai Elantra GT

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT High Resolution Drivetrain
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Under the hood of the Elantra GT you’ll find a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine with dual overhead cams and variable valve control. This engine also sports an aluminum engine block, direct fuel injection, and comes with either a standard six-speed manual transmission, or an optional six-speed automatic with Shiftronic control. Output at the front axle is rated at 173 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 154 pound-feet of torque at 4,700 rpm. Car And Driver estimates a 0-to-60 mph time of around 6.3 seconds, plus a top speed of 125 mph.

Mazda 3

2016 - 2018 Mazda3 High Resolution Drivetrain
- image 706722

The Mazda 3 is equipped with a few different engine options, but the most powerful is a Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder with dual overheads cams, variable valve timing, four valves per cylinder, direct fuel injection, and all-aluminum construction. Output is rated at 184 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 185 pound-feet of torque at 3,250 rpm. Redline is set at 6,500 rpm. Gearbox options include both a six-speed manual, as well as a six-speed automatic with a manual shift mode.

Despite this prodigious amount of output, Car And Driver rates the 3’s 0-to-60 mph time at a surprisingly slow 7.4 seconds, while top speed is set at an electronically limited 132 mph.

Mini Cooper Hardtop

2014 Mini Cooper High Resolution Drivetrain
- image 532475

Mini offers two versions of the Cooper Hardtop four-door, with the fastest being the S model, which is equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine with dual Vanos and Valvetronic valve control and direct fuel injection. Output is rated at 189 horsepower between 4,700 and 6,000 rpm, while torque is rated at 207 pound-feet of torque at 1,250. All that output is routed through either a six-speed Getrag manual transmission, or a six-speed automatic gearbox, with the former clocking in with a 6.6-second 0-to-60 mph time, and the latter clocking in with a 6.5-second 0-to-60 mph time. Top speed is rated at 146 mph for the S model.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI
- image 706734

Making the Golf GTI go is a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder powerplant with dual overhead cams, an aluminum head, cast iron block, four valves per cylinder, and variable intake and exhaust timing. Total peak power comes in at 210 horsepower at 4,500 rpm, while peak torque is rated at 258 pound-feet. A six-speed manual is offered as standard, while a little extra will get you a dual-clutch six-speed automatic with a manual shift mode. Wind it out, and Car And Driver says you’ll hit 60 mph in 5.6 second, while top speed is electronically limited at 126 mph.

Winner

2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI
- image 706698
2015 Ford Focus ST
- image 706740

If you’re a fan of hitting the strip for Wednesday night drag racing, then what you’re gonna want is the Volkswagen GTI. It’s the quickest to 60 mph, and with that turbo 2.0-liter under the hood, there’s a ton of room for upgrades if you feel as though you need a bit more.

The Ford Focus ST is another excellent choice for straight-line speed freaks. While slower to 60 than the VW, the Ford offers the most power and torque in this comparison, not to mention the highest top speed. And clearly, given the ST is only offered with a six-speed manual ‘box, the Blue Oval product was produced with the enthusiast buyer in mind.

Chassis And Handling

Small cars are great or a lot of things, from finding a parking spot on a crowded city street, to saving a few bucks at the pump. And when it comes to performance, less mass sometimes equals more fun in the bends as well. With that, lets take a look at what makes these models turn, as well as what other reviewers say about their personal impression behind the wheel.

Ford Focus ST

2015 Ford Focus ST
- image 706716

To put all that turbocharged power to good use, the Focus ST’s standard outfit starts with a MacPherson strut suspension in front, complete with sport-tuned settings. In back is a Control Blade (essentially a more advanced trailing arm) independent set-up and stabilizer bar. Making it point is an electrically assisted steering set-up, plus a torque vectoring system. Helping it stop are four-wheel disc brakes. Covering those brakes at standard 18-inch wheels wrapped in a summer-spec tire. Optional equipment includes more high-performance compounds for the tires, which are also in 18 inches in diameter.

Back in 2015, Motor Trend got a stint behind the wheel of the ST, and found it eager to understeer due to its prodigious amount of torque. However, if you don’t overcook it, Motor Trend contends “the ST’s balance and poise is second to none. It feels flat, planted, and secure at anything up to 10 tenths, at which point that understeer, or lift-off oversteer, comes into play.”

Honda Civic

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback
- image 706727

The Civic employs a MacPherson strut front suspension, plus a tubular stabilizer bar, while in back is a multi-link set-up with a solid stabilizer bar. The steering uses a variable-ratio electrically assisted rack and pinion, while the brakes are power assisted with ventilated discs in front and solid discs in back. The wheel sizing varies between 16 and 18 inches in diameter, while the tires are an all-season compound.

While admitting the Civic isn’t a full-fledged “hot hatch,” Autoblog is satisfied with the way the Civic performs when you throw it a few corners, saying, “Steering and suspension adjustments make the Civic hatchback feel a bit more connected to the road than the sedan. The steering feel is good, with the variable rack tightening up at higher speeds while remaining light enough in parking lots. We were impressed by the amount of grip provided by the Sport’s 18-inch wheel-and-tire package. There’s more than enough performance from the Sport to put a smile on your face on a nice, twisty road.”

Hyundai Elantra GT

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT High Resolution Exterior
- image 704952

Keeping the Elantra GT shiny side up is a MacPherson strut suspension in front, as well as a torsion beam in the rear. Hyundai will also outfit your car with stiffer “sport-tuned” suspension if desired. The steering is motor-driven, while the brakes use discs at all four corners. The standard wheels are steel units measuring in at 16 inches, while you can also option in 17-inchers if desired.

Roadshow tested out the 2016 model, noting that the various drive modes alter the steering, but don’t do anything for the how the car really feels when cornering. When equipped with the optional suspension and larger wheels, the reviewer notes that “the Elantra GT feels tight, responsive and well put together. The chassis gives the Hyundai a decent level of seat-of-the-pants feel and a firm ride,” later adding that the steering “can’t back up its ‘sport-tuned’ claims, but Hyundai seems to have nailed the sporty feel of the Elantra GT down.”

Mazda 3

2016 - 2018 Mazda3 High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 639281

The Mazda 3 uses a MacPherson strut and stabilizer bar suspension set-up for the front, with a multilink and stabilizer bar in the rear. The steering is electronically powered with variable levels of assist, while the brakes use vented discs in front and solid discs in back. The wheels are 18 inches in diameter and made from aluminum, while the tires are an all-season compound.

Car And Driver got a chance to sling around in the 2017 Mazda 3 hatchback, and applauded it in a number of different areas, including the chassis and way it handled, saying, “The Mazda 3’s best qualities can’t be accounted for in braking distances or acceleration times. Instead, it’s the subjective elements that make the Mazda great: the obedience of the steering, the confidence-inspiring gearbox, the eager chassis, the upscale interior.” Later, the reviewer said, “This Mazda is the kind of car that brings out the best in the driver, even if it’s just on the daily commute. It’s so easy to drive well that it discourages lazy habits in favor of trying to perfect every shift and carve every corner.”

Mini Cooper Hardtop

2014 Mini Cooper 5-Door High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 554887

The Mini employs a MacPherson strut set-up in front, while the rear suspension is a multi-link, and the steering is an electrically assisted power set-up. If you’re interested, you can also get dynamic damper control as an available extra. The brakes are discs at all four corners, and the wheels and tires are 16-inchers as standard, but can be swapped for 18-inch units if desired. The tire compound is dry-weather performance rubber, but all-season rubber is a no-cost option.

Autoweek gave the 2016 Mini Cooper a go and praised its handling as one of the best you could have for the money, saying that its “small footprint, low center of gravity and light weight give it excellent handling characteristics, making this car fun to drive no matter which engine powers it. Even just zipping around town, it feels playful and engaging, and parking in tight spots is a cinch. Along curvy roads, the Cooper feels taut and tenacious, clawing for grip with rare enthusiasm.” The reviewer also went on to say that the compromise for the fun was a ride that was at times a bit too rough.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI High Resolution Exterior
- image 694758

The Volkswagen Golf GTI employs MacPherson strut-type front suspension with lower control arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers, and an anti-roll bar, while the rear uses a multilink with coil springs, telescopic dampers, and an anti-roll bar. The brakes are large vented discs in front and solid discs in the rear, while the wheels are standard 18-inch alloys with all-season performance rubber. The steering is an electromechanical set-up with variable assistance.

In 2015, Car And Driver gave the GTI a spin and enjoyed how it handled, remarking that “The GTI has been a sweet handler throughout much of its four-decade history. And particularly now that the hatch is built around MQB bones, we always marvel at how VW has utterly neutralized the car’s 61/39-percent weight distribution and allowed so much feel into the steering while simultaneously quelling torque steer.”

Winner

2016 - 2018 Mazda3 High Resolution Exterior
- image 639258

There are several excellent choices here if you plan on hitting the autocross with your hatch. The GTI and Mini are both solid, offering a good deal of response and crispness, as well as extra options if you wanna dig into the performance potential a little deeper.

That said, if handling is at the top of your list of priorities, the Mazda 3 has what you’re looking for. The zoom-zoom brand has established itself as the place to go for apex hunters and anyone with a penchant for heel-toe downshifts, and the Mazda 3 hatchback won’t disappoint, whether you’re tearing up a canyon road, or dodging cones in a parking lot.

Pricing And Options

So how much are we talking about here? What’s the damage?

Ford Focus ST

2015 Ford Focus ST High Resolution Exterior
- image 557971

The Ford Focus ST starts at $24,775, and comes with six different paint options. Other options include the 401A Equipment Group ($3,680), which tosses in extras like dual-zone climate control, HID headlights, Recaro bucket seats, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen, while the 402A Equipment Group ($5,680) adds the 401A gear plus stuff like a heated steering wheel, heated side-view mirrors, an 8-way adjustable power drivers seat, and interior ambient lighting. Inside, you can get a carbon fiber accent package, 10-speaker audio, and leather upholstery, while exterior options include a la carte HID headlights and heated side-view mirrors.

Honda Civic

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback
- image 706728

The Honda Civic hatchback starts at $19,700 for the base model LX, followed by the Sport model for $21,300, the EX for $22,800, and the EX-L Navi for $25,300. Heading the lineup is the Sport Touring model for $28,300. Standout features with each trim level include 18-inch alloy wheels for the Sport, a 7.0-inch display, Honda LaneWatch, and remote engine start for the EX, leather upholstery, satellite navigation, heated seats, and an eight-way power driver’s seat for the EX-L Navi, and Honda Sensing safety suite, a 540-watt stereo, and dual-mode paddle shifters in the Sport Touring. Many of these features are offered a la carte on lower trim levels as well. Seven individual colors are offered for the paint, while cloth and leather are offered for the interior upholstery.

Hyundai Elantra GT

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT High Resolution Exterior
- image 704952

The Elantra GT starts at $18,800 for models equipped with a manual transmission, while the automatic bumps up that total to $19,800. There are a few packages on the table, including the Value Edition Package ($1,650), which adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a sliding center armrest, front fog lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a power driver seat with lumbar support, keyless entry, push button starter, and automatic headlights. There’s also the Tech Package ($3,600), which requires a purchase of the Value Edition package, but adds a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with navigation and HD radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, the Blue Link Connected Car system, a rearview camera, aluminum pedals, ventilated front seats, under floor storage, and turn signals integrated with the side-view mirrors.

Mazda 3

2016 - 2018 Mazda3 High Resolution Exterior Interior
- image 706721

There are four trim levels of the Mazda 3 Hatchback to choose from, starting with the base model Sport for $20,145. Following the Sport is the Touring for $22,245, then the Touring 2.5 for $23,445. At the top is the Grand Touring for $24,945. Go for the manual gearbox, rather than the automatic transmission, and you can take about $1,000 off each of those prices, although it should noted that the Touring model is only offered with an automatic transmission. There are eight individual exterior colors to choose from. Standard appointment includes a 7.0-inch display, Bluetooth integration, a rearview camera, and cloth upholstery, while higher in the range, you can get 18-inch wheels, automatic headlights, leather-trimmed seats, a six-way adjustable driver’s seat, nine-speaker audio from Bose, a full-color active driving display, and dual-zone climate control. Packages include the Premium Equipment Package ($1,600), the i-Activsense Safety Package ($1,100), the efficiency-oriented i-Eloop Package ($800), and the Appearance Package ($1,750).

Mini Cooper Hardtop

2014 Mini Cooper 5-Door High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 554887

When it comes to the Mini Cooper Hardtop four-door, there are two trim levels to choose from – the base model Cooper, and the faster, more powerful Cooper S. The base model Cooper starts at $21,905, and comes with a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine that produces 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque, while the S gets a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder producing 189 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. Standard appointment includes 12 different metallic and nonmetallic paint options, three different trim colors, three different hood stripes, seven mirror cap designs, and 12 different wheel designs. Packages include the Cold Weather Package ($750), the Technology Package ($2,000), the Sport Package ($2,000), the Premium Package ($1,800), the Fully Loaded Package ($5,500), the JCW Exterior Package ($3,250), the JCW Interior Package ($600), and the Mini Seven Edition Package ($2,500).

Suffice to say, there are a ton of options to customize your Mini – if you’ve got the money.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI
- image 706732

The Volkswagen Golf GTI starts at $25,595 for the base model S trim level. Moving up, there’s the 4-Door Sport for $27,995, followed the SE for $30,890, and the range-topping Autobahn for $34,095. Standard features include a Driving Mode selector, plaid cloth seating, and VW Car-Net App-Connect infotainment. Meanwhile, the 4-Door Sport gets a 220-horsepower engine, upgraded differential, and better brakes, as well as bi-xenon headlights and keyless entry. The SE also comes with keyless entry, while adding leather upholstery and Fender Audio, while the Autobahn tosses in Dynamic Chassis Control, a 12-way adjustable power driver’s seat, and the Discover Media touchscreen nav system. There are six exterior paint options, available 18-inch wheels, optional satin silver side-view mirror caps, and a slew of accessories for extra utility as well.

The Intangibles And Model Summary

Most cars take more explanation than just a collection of numbers and equipment. In this segment, we take a quick look at each model and the mindset they bring to the table.

Ford Focus ST

2015 Ford Focus ST
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Ford is certainly no stranger to creating an enthusiast’s car, and the ST is an excellent example of that. It combines all the regular hot hatch cues, like a stylish exterior, solid power output, and relatively nippy handling. Add in the fact you can only get it with a six-speed manual, and the ST’s target audience should become pretty clear – essentially, this is a hatchback muscle car. While the interior and refinement are both somewhat lacking, speed lovers should probably start here. Anyone looking for coddling need not apply.

Honda Civic

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback
- image 706730

The Civic has been around since the ‘70s, and the current tenth-generation vehicle is a perfect demonstration of Honda’s commitment to that history. In many ways, this thing is a compact segment measuring stick, setting the pace all the other entries must match. Per usual, the latest model Civic exudes the same old traits as previous generations, offering bulletproof reliability, comfort, practicality, safety, and even a little splash of fun if you know where to look.

Hyundai Elantra GT

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT High Resolution Exterior
- image 704954

If making every dollar count is the goal, then the Elantra is where you want to start. But despite this budget-minded approach, the Elantra GT still delivers on a number of fronts, and you can still get yours in a variety of trim levels and appointment with all of the good stuff as the competitors. It’s absolutely worth consideration against more established rivals, and a solid choice for the segment regardless of its cheaper connotations.

Mazda 3

2016 - 2018 Mazda3 High Resolution Exterior
- image 639254

The Mazda 3 looks great and turns like a superstar. The brand’s zoom-zoom philosophy is alive and well with the 3, and while it might not offer the sort of raw muscle offered with the Focus, it’ll surely catch the Blue Oval’s product in the bends. There’s suppleness to the way this thing handles, and Mazda’s engineers clearly spent a good amount of time making it behave like a proper sporty hatchback should. Pair those handling chops with a lovely cabin space and sharp exterior, and the 3 is a scorcher of a choice, albeit one with less comfort than some of its rivals.

Mini Cooper Hardtop

2014 Mini Cooper High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 532582

Like a pair of designer sunglasses, the Mini is the choice for anyone with a style-conscious attitude and a little extra cash to spend. If looking good is your chief concern, then the Mini brings copious styling options to suit your tastes. It’s also a hoot in the bends, and packs a decent punch if you get the 2.0-liter S model. Thing is, it’s not cheap, especially if you get heavy handed with the options list, so be wary. Still, there are few cars out there with the sort of definitive flair that the Mini offers.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI
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Like the Civic, the Golf GTI has been around basically forever, and pretty much sets the standard as far as hot hatches are concerned. The styling, while a bit serious compared to the Mini, is handsome nonetheless, a theme that continues to the well-put-together cabin space. The mechanicals are all rock solid as well, offering both speed and handling if you want it, while in back, there is a ton of practicality. When it comes to all-rounders, the GTI does quite well for itself.

Conclusion

Compact Hatchback Battle Royal – Finding The Best In A Six-Model Slugfest
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So, with all that information, what’s the next step? How do you decide the right pick for you?

In the end, it really all depends on what you want as a consumer, and what you prioritize or consider important.

When it comes to style and presence, with something that’ll turn heads no matter where it goes, then the Mini is a good choice. While rather “cute” in its appearance, there’s no denying the aesthetics of this British-born icon.

If safety, practicality, and value for the money are more important than aesthetics, than the Civic is the one for you. Honda really knows what it’s doing with this compact standard-bearer, and although it’s not the cheapest option in the list, it’s arguably the best bang for your buck in terms of daily drivability and usability.

Or perhaps “bang for your buck” has less to do with practicality, and more to do with fun to be had behind the wheel. If that’s the case, then the Ford Focus ST will provide loads of thrills on any straightaway, while the Mazda will provide loads of amusement on a curvy road. If you plan on doing a little amateur racing, then these are the two options for you.

Tables And Graphs

Can’t be bothered to parse out all that info on your own? No worries – we’ve collected the important bits in the tables and graphs below.

Passenger Volume And Cargo Volume

Ford Focus ST Honda Civici Hatchback Hyundai Elantra GT Mazda3 Mini Cooper Volkswagen Golf GTI
Passenger volume (cu ft) 90 94.8-97.2 96.1 96.4 N/A 93.5
Cargo volume seats up/down (cu ft) 23.8/43.9 25.7/46.2 23/51 20.2/47.1 13.1/40.7 22.8/42.3

Fuel Economy

Ford Focus ST Honda Civici Hatchback Hyundai Elantra GT Mazda3 Mini Cooper Volkswagen Golf GTI
Fuel economy city/highway/combined 22/30/25 31/40/34 24/32/27 28/37/31 25/33/28 24/34/27

NHTSA Safety Ratings

Ford Focus ST Honda Civici Hatchback Hyundai Elantra GT Mazda3 Mini Cooper Volkswagen Golf GTI
Frontal impacts (stars) 5 of 5 5 of 5 5 of 5 5 of 5 Not yet rated 5 of 5
Side impacts (stars) 5 of 5 5 of 5 5 of 5 5 of 5 Not yet rated 5 of 5
Rollovers (stars) 4 of 5 5 of 5 4 of 5 4 of 5 Not yet rated 4 of 5
Overall (stars) 5 of 5 5 of 5 5 of 5 5 of 5 Not yet rated 5 of 5

Engine, Transmission, Power, Torque, And Speed

Ford Focus ST Honda Civici Hatchback Hyundai Elantra GT Mazda3 Mini Cooper Volkswagen Golf GTI
Engine Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder Turbocharged 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder or turbocharged 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder Turbocharged 1.5-liter inline three-cylinder or turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder
Transmission six-speed manual six-speed manual or CVT six-speed manual or six-speed automatic six-speed manual or six-speed automatic six-speed manual or six-speed automatic six-speed manual or six-speed automatic
Horsepower 252 HP @ 5,500 RPM 180 (174) HP @ 5,500 RPM 173 HP @ 6,500 RPM 155 HP @ 6,000 RPM or 184 HP at 5,700 RPM 134 HP @ 4,400 RPM (1.5-liter) or 189 HP @ 4,700 RPM (2.0-liter) 210 or 220 HP @ 4,500 RPM
Torque 270 LB-FT @ 2,500 RPM 177 LB-FT @ 1,900 RPM 154 LB-FT @ 4,700 RPM 150 LB-FT @ 4,000 RPM or 185 LB-FT at 6,500 RPM 162 LB-FT @ 1,250 RPM (1.5-liter) or 207 LB-FT @ 1,250 RPM (2.0-liter) 258 LB-FT
0 to 60 mph 5.9 seconds 6.5 seconds 6.3 seconds 7.4 seconds 7.7 seconds (1.5-liter) or 6.6 seconds (2.0-liter manual) or 6.5 seconds (2.0-liter automatic) 5.6 seconds
Top Speed 154 mph 125 mph 125 mph 132 mph 146 mph 126 mph

Starting Price

Ford Focus ST $24,775
Honda Civic Hatchback $19,700
Hyundai Elantra GT $18,800
Mazda 3 Hatchback $20,145
Mini Cooper Hardtop Four-Door $21,905
Volkswagen Golf GTI $25,595
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