Top 10 best pocket rockets 2022

Open gallery Close News by Richard Lane 9 mins read 22 September 2022 Follow @@_rlane_ Share

You can’t help loving a pocket rocket, can you?

In fact, a well-executed one is often just about the best way to have as much fun as it’s possible to have on a public road without being in any danger of upsetting the local constabulary, or you bank balance.

While the ability to travel reasonably briskly in a straight line is of some importance here, it’s keen handling and an effervescent character that really mark out the best pocket rocket – as well as its ability to provide the most amount of laughter for the smallest amount of money.

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So if you want a car that will spectacularly over-deliver on driver entertainment for minimum outlay, the pocket rockets included in this list are the ones we’d go for.

1. Ford Fiesta ST

With the release of an updated Fiesta ST, Ford maintains its grip on the top step of our pocket rocket top 10. A subtle visual makeover and some enhanced tech help add some extra showroom sparkle, but the Blue Oval has wisely not messed with the car’s compelling mix of affordable handling thrills, surprisingly big-hitting performance and everyday usability.

In pre-facelift the ST triumphed at the 2018 Britain’s Best Affordable Driver’s Car shootout, plus it also only narrowly missed out on a full five-star road test rating. It’s been a pretty good innings for the Fiesta ST so far, then, and there’s nothing in this nip-and-tuck that does anything to dull the fast Ford’s immense appeal.

That said, the old quirks remain. The three-pot motor, for instance, is plenty punchy enough and commendably smooth, but lacks some of that high-range feisty character youd expect from a hot hatch engine. The cabin is also typically plain and plasticky, while the ride on harsh B-roads can be excitably firm.

On the right roads and in the right conditions, though, there aren’t many other cars that offer such compelling pace and handling zest for as little money as the Fiesta ST. It’s a brilliant driver’s car.

Save money with new Ford Fiesta deals from What Car?

2. Hyundai i20 N

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 dual-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.


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The i20 is impressively roomy and well equipped, too, given the strides its maker has taken these past 10 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.

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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.

This Caterham has a character all of its own, with an unassuming but likable power delivery and engine note. The live rear axle and modest power outputs make for a less naughty, throttle-steerable dynamic character than some Sevens have. With just 86lb ft on tap, there isn’t enough torque here to move the driven rear axle around easily with power, and there’s more fun to be had in simply carrying speed rather than deploying grunt through the contact patches.

While this might not be the very best Caterham, it’s still be more fun than most other new cars you might get into for the same outlay and – depreciation considered – considerably cheaper to own overall too. It’s clearly not as usable as a hot hatchback nor as quick, but would more rewarding when the occasion to drive it did come along.

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