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The hot hatch batch: meet the icons of the electric era

Hot hatches are fast becoming an endangered species... here's the new batch carrying the torch into the digital age

Published: 09 May 2024

If your stance on hot hatches is resolutely old school – unless you’re cocking a wheel, slamming through a second to third shift and feeling lightheaded on the fumes then what’s the point? – Mini’s got you. However, if you’re an EV convert with a hot hatch itch to scratch, then Mini could also be the way to go. You’re looking at the all-new one – complete with dinner plate sized OLED touchscreen in the middle of the dash – and the big news is all three- and five-door hatches regardless of power output now wear the rascally Cooper badge, while the range is cleaved perfectly in half between EV and petrol.

Be honest, would you spot it as an all-new car? Let’s file it under evolutionary, although Mini has probably paid a marketing consultancy millions to develop a name for this new design language: ‘Charismatic Simplicity’. Essentially, Mini has taken as many bits as possible off the old car, so there’s no more chrome, no black plastic around the wheelarches, super short overhangs and flush doorhandles and the results are... slippery.

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Photography: John Wycherley, Olgun Kordal. Renders: Andrei Avarvarii

 

This one here is the £34.5k Cooper SE (S for more bhp, E for electric) with the larger 54.2kWh battery for 250 miles of range, plus a 215bhp motor for a 0–62mph sprint of 6.7 seconds. It’s also in range topping Sport trim which adds purely cosmetic JCW goodies – roof spoiler, side skirts, front splitter – but no tweaks to the suspension. Feeling less zesty? You can order the £30k Cooper E with a 40.7kWh battery, 190 miles of range, 181bhp and 0–62mph in 7.3.

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In petrol’s corner we have the Cooper C and the Cooper S. The entry level C has a 156bhp three-cylinder engine, while the S is given a more spirited 204bhp four-cylinder – good for 0–62mph in 6.6. Both are a big fat chunk cheaper, starting from £22,300 and £26,700 respectively, which rather rains on the EV parade. Still, it’s no secret that electric variants cost more, just rarely is it in such stark relief with identical looking, equipped and powered siblings.

Naturally, the Mini range won’t stop here. A new full fat, wider arched, stiffer sprung JCW model will follow and keep things fair and even, with a petrol version arriving first, in late 2024, and electric following in 2025. Expect both to hover around the 250bhp mark and stick with front-wheel drive, leaving space for a crackers, 300+bhp JCW GP to bring up the rear.

 

Want your 5 with a bit more va va voom? You won’t have to wait long until Renault runs it through the Alpine filter, massages all the right places and produces this icy cool, mini hot hatch upgrade, as previewed by the typographically awkward A290_β concept last spring. A June 2024 debut is confirmed for the production model, rumours suggest its reveal will coincide with the A424 hypercar’s full WEC debut at Le Mans.

Full disclosure – yes, the blue car on the rear angle above is a photorealistic render, not an official shot of the finished car... but hear us out. We know that the A290 will be based on the same AmpR Small platform as the Renault 5 and employ much of the same bodywork and componentry, we have the A290_β concept to riff off, and we’ve been studying the shots (in the image gallery) of a prototype cold weather testing, meaning we can build a solid picture of the finished form.

Vents ahead of the rear arches, a deeper diffuser, pointier front splitter and chunkier side skirts are all present and correct, along with a reinterpretation of the battery indicator on the bonnet. You’ll get 19in wheels as standard and a choice of three specifically developed Michelins, all marked with A29: Pilot Alpin 5 winters, Pilot Sport EV for max range and Pilot Sport S5 for maximum performance. Overkill? Absolument.

Like the R5 it’ll only use a single motor on the front axle – expected to be an adapted version of the Megane E-Tech’s 215bhp, although there is speculation (mainly by us) that a 268bhp version could follow. Hello torque steer. The battery will stay at 52kWh, so expect the R5’s 248-mile range to be chipped away at.

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What is confirmed, by the fact that they’re bursting through the camouflage above, is the concept’s spotlight style LEDs will adorn the front end and herald the A290’s arrival in your rearview mirror. They’re a sop to Alpine’s rallying roots along with an ‘X’ signature graphic for the headlights. Inside, think R5 with firmer seats, more blue and an entirely new steering wheel complete with a manettino-style mode switch, including an ‘OV’ overtake boost button that will help snaffle that last parking space in the supermarket car park.

 

There’s something about the VW ID.GTI concept that just looks right. Which is fortunate because it's a whisker away from the production car we’ll see in 2026, says VW, a year after the cooking ID.2 goes into production. Relief! The GTI badge lives on in the electric era, but hang on a minute, aren’t fast electric VWs badged GTX these days? I’m confused.

You didn’t think VW was going to just throw away all that juicy GTI heritage over something trivial like the combustion engine becoming obsolete, did you? Truth is, it reckons GTI and GTX can live happily side by side, with GTI applied to hot front-drive EV hatchbacks, and GTX reserved for bigger, more powerful, all-wheel-drive SUVs and saloons. Which all feeds into TG’s recent scoop that the ID.3 could be given the boot when the next-gen electric Golf (and Golf GTI) arrive in a few years’ time.

Back to the ID.GTI which, almost 49 years after the MkI Golf GTI was revealed, is trying hard to channel its very great grandad’s spirit. Note the protruding front chin spoiler, tartan seats, the 20in wheels designed to ape the original’s steelies and the dimpled golf ball finish to the wheel centres and rotary dial on the interior console. Select ‘Vintage’ mode for the 10.9in digital cockpit ahead of the driver and it’ll present you with the instrument panel from the original GTI.

It's trying hard to channel its very great grandad's spirit

Looks dinky, doesn’t it? And yet at 4.1m long, 1.8m wide and 1.5m tall it’s actually bigger than both the Alpine, Mini and the MkI Golf. This is a proper five-seater with a 500-litre boot – not sexy, but significant.

Performance data is still a mystery, but VW has confirmed it’ll be front drive and get the electronic, front locking differential that debuted on the GTI and GTI Clubsport, no less. When VW revealed the ID.2all concept in March 2023 it quoted a single motor 223bhp power output and 280 miles of range. Seems a little rich for the runabout model, our money’s on that being a preview for the GTI’s potency.

And what of actual driver connection to go with the zap of torque? More clues from VW: the driver will be able to configure the drive, running gear, sound experience (fake engine noise?) and simulated shift (fake gearchanges?) points. Apparently the ‘I’ in GTI now stands for ‘intelligence’ as well as ‘injection’. Consider us ‘intrigued’.

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