SUPPOSE you’re about to sink half a million quid into a nice house. There’s a sizeable swimming pool, a huge kitchen with an AGA cooker, and an enormous dining room – but the entire upper floor is out of action because it’s been filled with scaffolding to make the building a bit stiffer.
Not only would it make a particularly bad episode of Grand Designs but chances are you’d walk away from the deal after a particularly shirty conversation with the estate agent. Which is pretty much how I felt after trying a new breed of car for the first time. Ladies and gentleman, meet the extreme hatchback.
The souped up supermarket chariot in question was the first iteration of the MINI Cooper’s more aggressive sibling, which I spent a couple of hours at the helm of last week. The MINI Cooper S John Cooper Works GP has the name, spec and credentials to really get dyed-in-the-wool driving fanatics frothing at the mouth, but in the real world it’s a deeply frustrating set of wheels.
It’s hard not to get addicted to the instant whallop of the supercharger – unlike a turbo, the power’s always there the second you need it – and the steering is pin-sharp and effortlessly talkative. It is huge fun to drive.
But you get all that with a regular MINI Cooper S anyway – and without the big sacrifices the GP asks you to make. I’ll forgive the ride being harder than Bear Grylls, but glance in the rear-view mirror and where the back seats should be is a single strut brace, literally pulling the two sides of the car together to make it tauter.
It makes it childishly good fun on a track day, but in the real world having a two-seater hatchback is a pointless as our imaginary house full of scaffolding. Same goes for the old Renault Megane R26R too, which eschews back seats for a roll cage. Brilliant at Brands Hatch, but no so great for giving your mates a lift. Then there’s the Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari, which did have back seats but was a still essentially a £30,000 Fiat 500. All of these cars have one problem; the Toyota GT86, which is far more fun for less money.
I love hot hatches because they give normal people the chance to embarrass sports cars while doing the school run – a Golf GTI has all the fun and feistiness you could ever ask for, and it has five doors, lots of seats, a big boot and a sensible starting price. Stripping out seats and asking silly money is why extreme hatchbacks, for all their Nurburgring lap times, don’t work in the real world.
Give me a Fiesta ST any day. For under 18 grand you get 182bhp, sublime handling, a revvy engine that howls with delight every time you put your foot down – oh, and there’s room for you and four of your fellow car nuts. Now that’s what I call a hot hatch.