For those of you who want the looks and performance of a hot hatch without the fuel bill, diesel hot hatches are the answer. While not quite as potent as their petrol-powered brethren flat out, diesel hot hatches offer plenty of poke in-gear and are incredibly robust, making them the ideal choice for high-mileage drivers.
Below, we have listed the best diesel hot hatches in 2017 for you to consider if you are in the market for a new car. And remember, we can remap most new engines to produce even more power and torque (typically 30-40% more on a turbo-diesel).
Ford Focus ST TDCi
The Ford Focus ST TDCi is a stylish, well-equipped hot hatch that offers plenty of performance. It comes with 5-doors as standard but for those of you who need even more space, you can get it as an estate. Whichever body you go for, however, you get the same 2.0 TDCi engine with 185 PS (182bhp) and 400Nm (295 lb-ft) of torque.
The official 0-62mph time for this car is 8.1 seconds, which isn’t great for a diesel hot hatch but it makes up for that with a 31-62mph time of 6.9 seconds. The reason for that slow acceleration figure from 0 is the gearing, and the way the engine produces its power. That maximum torque figure of 400Nm only becomes accessible at 2,000rpm. The Golf GTD, for example, produces its maximum torque from 1,750rpm. However, when on boost, the Focus ST TDCi certainly goes well and it handles as well as its petrol brother too.
Volkswagen Golf GTD
The Volkswagen Golf GTD is faster than the Ford Focus TDCi both off the line and when rolling. That may come as a surprise when you learn that the Golf GTD produces less torque than the Focus ST TDCi, but its 380 Nm (280 lb-ft) of torque is available from just 1,750rpm which means the car is simply more responsive from low revs.
The Golf GTD also has a much plusher interior than the ST, which may swing the Golf in your favour if you plan to spend lots of time in your car. The Golf GTD is available with something that the Focus isn’t available with too - an automatic gearbox. The DSG gearbox in the GTD is a wet clutch 6-speed and it’s outstanding. It can handle a remap no problem, and it’s very reliable compared to the dry clutch 7-speed found in older VAG performance cars. We would stick with the 6-speed manual though, since it’s slick enough.
SEAT Leon FR 184 (with the Sports Styling Kit)
The SEAT Leon FR is available with the same engine as the VW Golf GTD. It also shares the same gearbox, chassis setup and running gear. In fact, it’s the same car, except for the fact that the Leon undercuts the Golf by several thousand pounds. The Leon can also be had with a ‘Sports Styling Kit’, which cements it as a true diesel hot hatch.
The Sports Styling Kit is thoroughly recommended. The standard Leon FR looks like any other Leon with bigger alloys. The Sports Styling Kits adds side skirts, a chunky rear bumper with diffuser and a dual-exit exhaust and a new front bumper. It transforms the FR into a diesel Cupra look-a-like. The Leon, like the Golf, is also available as an estate if you need more space and it comes loaded with kit as standard, including full LED headlights, cruise control, sat-nav, Bluetooth, DAB and sports front seats.
Audi A3 184 2.0 TDI Quattro
If you like the idea of a GTD but you want an even plusher interior and the reassurance of all-wheel-drive, then consider the Audi A3 2.0 TDI Quattro. This car uses the same engine as the GTD and FR, but it also has Quattro AWD, which reduces the 0-62mph time and provides much-needed grip for winter roads, and the A3 is also available as a saloon.
The only downside to this model is that it doesn’t look that sporty. The powerful diesel engine is only available in S Line trim but even with bigger alloy wheels and sporty bumpers, the A3 doesn’t have the same road presence as a GTD or the FR 184 with Sports Styling Kit. The upside to the Audi is that it has better residuals than the Golf and the Leon, and it has a nicer interior. The quality inside is better, and the A3 is also available with Audi’s ‘Virtual Cockpit’, which makes the analogue dials in the Leon and Golf look outdated.
BMW 1-Series 125d
The BMW 1-Series 125d has more power and torque than any of the other hot hatches on our list. The 2.0TD engine produces 224bhp and 450Nm (332 lb-ft) of torque, with maximum torque available from just 1,500rpm. This makes the 125d incredibly responsive at low revs, and perhaps best of all, it’s rear-wheel-drive so you can get the back end out if you want to.
The BMW 1-Series 125d also looks the part. It is only available in M-Sport trim, so you get 18” M Sport double-spoke alloys, side skirts and a sporty front bumper as standard. The official acceleration figures for this car are as follows: 0-62mph happens in 6.3 seconds, while 31-62mph happens in 5.4 seconds. The latter is 1.5 seconds faster than the Focus ST TDCi, and the former is 0.5 seconds faster than the Audi A3 2.0 TDI Quattro, and that’s despite the Audi’s AWD advantage. So, if you want outright performance, the 125d is best.
Renault Megane dCi 130 GT Line
The Renault Megane dCi 130 GT Line is as sporty as you get for a diesel-powered Megane right now. The 1.5 dCi engine produces 128bhp and a healthy 236 (lb-ft) of torque, which is the same as VAG’s standard 2.0 TDI engine. However, this car can only get from 0-62mph in 10 seconds flat, which is slow compared to the other cars on our list.
Don’t write the Megane off just yet though. This is the only car on our list that is an all-new model released in the last year, which makes it better from a tech point of view. GT Line models get a stunning 8.7” portrait touchscreen display which makes those in the other cars on our list look outdated, and the sports seats which come as standard on GT Line models are exceptionally comfortable. GT Line models also get a lower suspension than Dynamique models and bigger alloy wheels. These combine to give the Megane a sporty stance.