The hot hatchback (or simply "hot hatch") is an informal term used (largely in the United Kingdom) to mean a certain type of high performance car based on a standard family runabout. Originally these cars were all front-wheel drive hatchbacks, following the pattern set by the seminal 1970s designs of the VW Golf and the Fiat 128.

The first hot hatch in the modern sense was the Golf GTi Mk 1 of 1977, square-edged design by Giorgetto Giugiaro. This car was based on the standard Golf, but included an 1800cc fuel injected engine, which was later increased to 2 litres. Compared to the standard car's 1.3 litre engine, these cars had relatively very much higher performanace, and the front wheel drive chassis gave good handling and safe drivability. The Golf was a runaway success, opening up a whole new market for sporty cars that were also practical everyday transport, as well as making significant inroads into the traditional sports car market. Although designs such as the Vauxhall Chevette HS existed prior to the Golf, and were high-performance hatchbacks, having the more traditional rear-wheel drive tends to exclude them from the category as generally recognised. The HS was intended to homologate the model for rallying, and as such sold only to enthusiasts - it was not really a suitable family car in this form, unlike the GTi which was quiet and refined when it needed to be.

Following the success of the Golf, other manufacturers rapidly copied the concept, with the Vauxhall Astra GTE Mk 1 in 1980, and the Ford Escort XR3i in 1981 being the biggest sellers apart from the Golf itself. Other manufacturers also joined in, with the Lancia Delta, Fiat Uno Turbo, Alfa Romeo Alfetta and others. By the tail end of the 1980s, most Japanese manufacturers joined in too. The Golf itself went through three updates in this period, and also started the trend for convertible variants which competed with the traditional sports car even more than in hard top form.

By the end of the 1990s, all European manufacturers included high performance variants of their cars in their ranges, and this type of car has become by far the biggest market segment for sporty cars.