The daddy of all hot hatchbacks is the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Introduced in 1976, Volkswagen shoehorned a 1.6-litre engine into its popular family hatch and boasted of its 110mph top speed.
It’s a shame, then, that today the Volkswagen Golf GTI is such a lardy number. Sure, it’s fast – and you can buy the even hotter Golf R, which is quicker off the line than a Porsche Cayman – but it lacks the roguishness of the original.
What’s this got to do with the Mini John Cooper Works I’m reviewing here? Well, if you want to relive your youth in a hot hatch, to drive something that will make you giggle like a 17-year-old discovering handbrake turns for the first time, the Mini JCW is the car you should buy.
If the Mini Cooper S is the carmaker’s sporty model, the John Cooper Works is its ballistic one. It starts at £23,050 and if you’re eager with the options list that could easily rise to over £30,000. While that may sound like a lot of money for a Mini, it’s not when you factor in rival performance hatches. And the Mini is sure to make you laugh more than its bigger, more grown-up German cousins.
This isn’t a car for the family man; not unless you have another, more sensible motor for doing the day-today stuff. Sure, there are rear seats, but you’ll soon get fed up trying to fit a child into them. And don’t even think about a buggy in the boot.
But if practicality isn’t high on your list of priorities, the interior is excellent. A lot of manufacturers make their interiors premium, but so many remain a little dull. In the Mini, flashes of red hint that you’re in something special, while the sports bucket seats hold you in place while you attack B-roads in typical hot hatch manner.
The Mini JCW feels like an old school hot hatch. It loves bends, devouring them without a hint of body roll. Plant the throttle and it’ll overtake in a way drivers of 80s hot hatches couldn’t dream of, accompanied by lots of noise.
It’s not all talk though. While no one’s going to buy a new Mini JCW and use it as a track car, it was brave of Mini to let me out onto the Goodwood circuit. Not because I’d start driving like a 17-year-old again and stick it in a hedge (the JCW does have that effect), but often taking even the most technically competent hot hatchback on track reveals its flaws.
Yet while the JCW’s natural habitat is obviously a twisting country road, on track this fastest of Minis is equally composed. It seems to find an infinite amount of grip, egging you to push harder and harder in the corners. It also looks good with its 18-inch alloy wheels, the additional air intakes, and JCW badges dotted around the bodywork.
In short, it matches the hot hatch ethos of the 1980s – the GTI finally has a worthy successor.