The hot hatch is 40 years old this year; I know this because I've just watched the
asking for people to vote for the best hot hatch ever. Besides making me feel ancient, this milestone is definitely cause for celebration. After all, it's a genre evolved to the point that ultimate examples of the current breed can lap the Nordschleife as fast as a 996 GT3. A shopping trolley fitted with a tuned engine, some sticky tyres and trick suspension now has the pace of a revered sports car from the previous decade. That is pretty mind-blowing progress.
No looker, but it's still a decent hot hatch
The video references the Golf GTI as the original hot hatch, and rightly so, but look deeper into the history books and surely it's the Mini Cooper that really paved the way for the genre? Hatch or no hatch, a decade before the Alfasud and Autobianchi A112 Abarth 100 Ti hit the market, it laid the foundations and provided the inspiration.
So what of the current Mini JCW? As Dan points out in the video, it's the B-segment that arguably provides the sweet spot, where price and performance are closest to being in perfect harmony. Here, below £25,000, the real hot hatch heroes duke it out. And the JCW just about scrapes into that price range, as long as you're either shrewd, or frugal, with the options.
Nobody can accuse it of being under-gunned in the engine department, either. Yes, the Mini has started to bulge in all the wrong places, and lacks those classic proportions of its predecessors, but it's still relatively small and light, and you still get a hint of the brilliant pants on the floor driving position and unobstructed vision through the upright windscreen. In standard trim the engine feels like all you'd ever need, particularly low down in the rev range. But, from delving round a few forums, it's also ripe for remapping, and owners that have taken the plunge seem to be achieving around 300hp. That's a pretty exciting proposition, provided you can keep it on the road... Watch this space on that.
Which brings me to the handling. Frequently described as go-kart like, Mini has taken this cliche and run with it, to the point where selecting Sport mode brings up the reminder that you're unlocking 'Maximum Go Kart Fun'. Now, for me, go-kart handling evokes ideas of plentiful mechanical grip, direct steering and undiluted feedback. But sadly, where our JCW is concerned, these are not characteristics found in abundance. It lacks adhesion to the road, doesn't feel particularly agile and there's never a reassuring build-up of force before the front end begins to push on. The
we drove recently was much better in every respect, but having been unable to try some non-runflat tyres means we can only guess that this is the missing piece of the puzzle in the quest to unlock its full potential. So, as it stands, I don't think this model will ever stand among the greats, or feature in any top 10 run-downs in future reflections. That's not to say that a focused, driver-centric GP version, with a power boost, styling based on the Challenge car, sticky rubber and stripped back interior wouldn't get pulses racing.
The JCW goes back next week. Just enough time for one last hurrah on the PH track day this Saturday at Goodwood. Ever the optimist, I'm hoping the tachometer will tick over the 10,000-mile threshold mid four-wheel drift around Madgwick. Either that or I'll have the arms of a flailing octopus and look of panic on my face as we skate, Bambi-like, across the Tarmac.
Car: Mini John Cooper Works
Run by: Danny Milner
On fleet since: May 2015
List price new: £31,945 (Basic list of £24,445 plus £750 for Rebel Green paint, £1,400 for Media Pack XL, £2,470 for Chilli Pack, £240 for variable damper control, £140 for run-flat tyres, £220 for sun protection glass, £215 for seat heating, £210 for Mini Yours fibre alloy interior, £590 for Park Distance Control, £150 for LED headlights, £590 for Harman Kardon hi-fi, £140 for intelligent emergency calling, £450 for head-up display)
Last month at a glance: Don't forget about the Mini in your hot hatch selection