Hot hatchbacks are all the rage in the UK, and not just because it’s nearly summer. Consumers are looking to downsize their car wherever possible these days, but still retain the comfort and power offered by the bigger, more luxurious models. When renting a car or taking out day insurance, people want a sporty number that’s nippy on the straights – so just what makes a hot hatchback, hot?
There are plenty of elements that need to be included in a hatchback for it to be ‘hot’ – big wheels, 200bhp+, a quick 0-60 and let’s not forget the dashing features. But if it’s not fun to drive, and trust us when we say there’s plenty out there that aren’t, then it’s back to the drawing board.
If you think the new Mini Cooper S looks a lot like the old model, you’re not the only one, but there’s a good reason. Mini hold their core values in extremely high regard, and as a brand they feel these are best translated through the Cooper’s design. So, if it’s not for the looks, then what makes the new Mini Cooper S so attractive?
Under the Bonnet
As always, the answer can be found under the bonnet. The new S is mighty powerful for a car its size, with the four-cylinder turbocharged engine pushing out 192bhp, and 0-62 in just under 7 seconds with the automatic gearbox. It only takes the manual gearbox 0.1 second more to reach 62mph, and although the speed is impressive, it’s the Mini’s energy efficiency that’s been turning heads.
Depending on the combination of tyres and wheels selected, it is possible to get CO2 emissions all the way down to 122g/km, which puts it in the category of the write-down allowance threshold. On the roads we doubt you’ll see more than 40mpg, but as hot hatchbacks go, the Mini Cooper S seems to be setting a new standard.
Cockpit and Interior
The first point of call, surprisingly, is the boot, which boasts 30% more room compared to the conventional mini. It’s also wider and longer than its predecessor, meaning there’s more room to be enjoyed inside too. As with all Mini models, the décor has quite a long way to come before it is able to compete with the likes of the Golf R or Astra VXR, with plastic dominating the cockpit. However if you’re looking to bypass the cheap inner shell and instead look towards the power underneath your feet, we’re sure you’ll be mightily impressed.
With optional Variable Damper Control, the new Mini Cooper S handles superbly, and stands out against some of the market’s better sellers. Whether you’re driving on soft or hard terrain, the suspension automatically adjusts too, without limiting the driving experience. Extremely fun to drive, the lack of aesthetic change with the Cooper S on the outside just reinforces the improvements made under the bonnet, meaning it is certainly one of the hottest hatchbacks around.
Last week saw the Motor Sport Vision Racing (MSVR) Media day at Brands Hatch. MSVR run a number of club series from the Trackday Trophy and Monoposto championship, up to the GT Cup championship and F3 Cup so it was good to head down to Kent again to see what was being planned for the coming season. It’s great to see the enthusiasm for club level motorsport and to hear that the race series are being well represented. You should never underestimate ‘Grass Roots’ motorsport as the action is just as good as any top level events and championships are just as hotly contested.
There were a number of cars filling the pit lane to represent the race series under the MSVR banner and most took to the track too, including a very special car. That of the 1989 Lotus 101 as driven by Satoru Nakajima in that seasons Formula One championships. As a young boy growing up in the eighties the latter part of that decade within formula one was an era I remember fondly so it was great to see the Lotus on track sounding like a dream. A very big noisy and almost deafening dream, but a dream none the less. It was also one of the cars which made up my very first Scalextric so it had extra meaning.
Now some of you may recall that at last year’s MSVR media day I was taken around the Iconic Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in a Radical SR3 RS. Well this time I got taken around again but in two very different cars. The first passenger ride of the day was in a Porsche 997 GT3 which will contest in this seasons GT Cup Championships. This was a superb opportunity for a huge GT racing fan such as myself so to be able to experience for myself what it is like being in a car that I have seen in many top race series from British GT & Blancpain to endurance races such as the Nurburgring 24hr & Le Mans.
The weather was overcast and the track was damp but it was going to be a ride I would enjoy very much and my chauffeur, Nick Whale wasn’t in the mood for hanging around. The acceleration was phenomenal from the pit exit and we straight onto the tail of a pair of DB5 Aston Martins, which we made short work of on the Exit of Paddock Hill bend. Breaking into druids on the greasy surface the Porsche remained so stable and took it in its stride. On the exit of the hairpin it was clear how much power this machine had at its disposal. Just a dab of throttle and the super wide rear tyres were struggling for grip as the 997 started to wiggle its rear but Nick was always in control and told it who was boss. On the edge of its limits we sped through Graham Hill bend and along the Cooper straight towards Surtees and McLaren. The Porsche remained planted through the bends despite the lack of grip the tarmac was providing only squirming slightly as it chomped at the bit desperate to unleash the horses which would enable it to power down the straight quicker than a scorned child caught with its hands in the biscuit tin.
Down the pit straight I watched the speedometer rise as it just passed the 200kph mark as the brakes were applied for Paddock Hill bend again. The Porsche and Nick took it all in their stride. Smoothly through the bend, down the hill and back up towards Druids within the blink of an eye. By now we were catching the Green Lotus Evora GT4 and it wasn’t long before we had passed it with ease. I was loving this. However, it wasn’t long before a couple more laps had passed and we were heading back into the pits. All good things have to come to an end but I was very fortunate to have experienced my ride in such an awesome machine. I’d like to thank Nick Whale who manned the wheel expertly and the In2Racing team for letting me experience firsthand what their car is capable of.
That wasn’t to be the end of my on track excitement though. My second passenger ride of the day came in something a little less powerful, a little more affordable, but by no means any less exciting. I was to be taken out by Luke Caudle in a John Cooper Works Mini. Luke had won the JCW Mini Challenge class in 2010 so he knew what he was doing behind the wheel of this not so small Mini and he was keen to show me. We blasted out of the Pit lane onto what was now quite a busy circuit. There were 3 or 4 other Mini’s out along with a few BMW 3 Series from the Production BMW Championship, a few cars from the Trackday trophy contingent and some VW Golf’s from the VAG Trophy and Golf GTI Championships. This was of course no bother as the Mini was quick. Very quick. I knew it was not going to be any slouch but even I was surprised at how fast this car was. It certainly felt it too as Luke made light work passing the other cars on track. Passing round the outside at Druids or darting up the inside at Graham Hill, the other cars seemed to be disappearing rapidly in the rear view mirror. I was pretty sure Luke was having a great time as he cut the kerbs and power slid round bends on the damp track. It didn’t matter whether he was enjoying or not though because I was having a great time. Only my crash helmet could conceal a grin any Cheshire cat would be proud of.
Blasting down the Brabham straight just inches from the pit wall the car topped 110mph as like the Porsche it remained stable braking for Paddock Hill bend. Ok, so it may not have been as quick or as powerful as the 997 by heck the Mini Cooper was fun. With all the traffic on track that Luke was supremely carving his way through it was probably the nearest I would get to experiencing a race situation. One thing was certain, I’d never seen any mums drive a school run in a Mini quite like this, but it wouldn’t half make it more bearable. As like last time it was all over too soon but it was great to experience a few laps in the Mini and it was just as fun if not more so than the Porsche and the Radical’s I have been in round Brands Hatch. So thanks to Luke, the EXCELR8 team and the guys and girls from the Mini Challenge for letting me have a ride in their small but awesome race car.
It was a super day at Brands Hatch and another day I won’t forget. It’s great to be gearing up for the new motorsport season and I can’t wait for it to arrive. You could do a lot worse than check out some of the MSVR race weekends at circuits around the country. They offer a lot of great racing in a variety of cars with very reasonable ticket prices so check out their race calendars.