You are here

Speed Week: Mini Cooper S vs Renaultsport Megane Trophy-R

228bhp Mini battles Renault's ultimate hot hatch in an Austrian shoot-out

  1. Five minutes in the Mini JCW is enough. Five minutes, and I’m bathing in the warm glow of relief: this is an immeasurably better car than the last Mini to take John Cooper’s name in vain. And, I’m afraid, hairy-chested, ‘they don’t make ’em like they used to’ brigade, the rejuvenation is entirely thanks to technology.

    Heresy? No. Hot hatches are supposed to mainline frothy, accessible mischief, but the old JCW fizzed like Mentos dropped into Diet Coke. Messy and hyperactive, it torque-steered violently, and what it sorely lacked in suspension travel it over-delivered in power. So how the hell am I managing not to hopscotch across the road in this new car, which musters another twenty horses?

  2. Step forward, adaptive suspension. Cheekily, it’s a £240 option, but I promise it’ll be the best cash you spend on your JCW. The ability to dial in and out some extra cushioning to aid traction, or allow a bit of roll to relax the car on turn-in, is just what the JCW cried out for.

    It’s still super-lively under brakes – a hard stop downhill into the evil Rauch had me squinting out of both side windows like a tennis umpire’s gaze following serve.

  3. Some of the old Mini devilment remains, but I quite like the fact it’s still lurking there, trying to swap ends. Probably because I was surprised the brakes were even capable of standing the JCW on its hideously potted nose, actually. The last time I drove a Cooper S on track, the brakes lasted two laps of a modest, twisty circuit. The JCW brandishes beefier discs, not Rich Tea biscuits dunked in a cuppa. So it should, for £24,000.

  4. This one? Twenty-nine large, thanks to some extras you don’t want. The sports seats reek of showroom buzz, but after half an hour sat low- down in the chequered-flag-festooned cabin, the hard backrest and lack of lateral support alert the usual Mini form/function alarm bells. And small hot hatches just shouldn’t have automatic gearboxes. The six-speeder in this JCW is fine – polite around town and properly calibrated to punish with a rev-limiter buffer of shame if you’re slow on the upchange. But, come on, an automatic SuperMini? All Minis enjoy a great manual shift – slick, precise and ideally matched to the pedals. An auto with plastic paddles that won’t allow a cluster of grabbed downchanges without pausing for thought robs the JCW of a critical slice of up ’n’ at ’em character. It feels muzzled. Ironic, for such a gobby-looker.

  5. Two hundred and twenty-eight brake horsepower is adequate distraction. Funny how a hot hatchback, a Mini at that – surely the automotive distillation of youth – makes this Nineties kid feel old. Doesn’t seem long to me since VW Golf R32s and Scooby Imprezas hovered about the 220s.

    Fuel left over when the JCW has finished firing hydrocarbons at the exhaust for pop-bang fireworks delivers a barrel-chested 1,250rpm torque peak. Crikey, is the on-demand pace amusing. The sheer quantity of performance you can buy, showroom-fresh, in a supermini today beggars belief. This Mini will surge from 50mph to 75mph 0.8secs quicker than a standard Porsche 911 Carrera will.

  6. It takes a tad longer than five minutes to appreciate the delights of the Megane Trophy-R. First off, depress the pathetically nondescript RS button that lives above the driver’s right knee. Forget that, and the throttle defaults to eco-sog slumber, a paltry 250bhp meandering to those 19-inch Speedlines. Prod the button, and you’re on the business end of a bigger mood swing than Bruce Banner’s. Welcome to 271bhp and a pin-sharp throttle. ESC abandons ship.

    It’s odd the Megane has even retained a mild-mannered side when its spec list is so singular. There is no back seat (-20kg), no soundproofing (-21kg), no aircon (-6kg, and increasing by the minute, judging by my sodden back) and a pair of purposeful Recaros (-22kg). Pity Dieppe didn’t chuck a couple more kilos chopping down the notoriously lofty seat mounts.

  7. The Renault doesn’t look like a £38,445 car. The ancient cabin is cheap and dour. Its exterior is daubed in an unwelcome half-arsed paint-by-numbers sticker set. You have to go hunting for where the money you could’ve thrown at a Boxster or loaded M235i has been spent.

    You could drop to your knees and spy the Öhlins dampers, lightweight composite springs; spot the tread-bare Michelin Cup 2 tyres (complete with Do Not Drive in the Wet, You Idiot disclaimer), or peer at the carbon-fibre tailpipe collar, bearing the subtle insignia of Polish exhaust wizard Akrapovič.

  8. Or, you could stop scrabbling around on your knees, fumble past the web of harnesses and drive the knackers off it. The Trophy-R needs temperature, wants revs, demands interaction – but rewards you with one of the all-time great front-wheel-drive experiences.

    For me, the view backwards, over the strut brace toward the perma-filthy rear window (no wiper saves another kilo) and the other dieting isn’t the Trophy-R’s essence. The strip-down here isn’t as severe as it was in the wonderful old R26.R – no carbon bonnet, a full complement of airbags this time.

  9. No, the single most critical component in a hot hatch shorn of its Swiss Army knife repertoire is the mechanical limited-slip differential. It dominates the experience – the front axle is a mechanical Pied Piper, coolly dictating your trajectory to the rest of the car, managing power delivery with admirably little corruption to the electric steering. You aim the red strip atop the Alcantara wheel at the onrushing apex like a sniper scope. The Megane obligingly smears its cut-slicks onto the surface and forges through bends like Scalextric.

  10. What I love, and never tire of, is the ease with which the Trophy-R interprets your inputs into carrying massive speed, while remaining involving, exciting and gratifying. Eradicating the spectre of understeer means I’m left to crack on at max attack, enjoying how sweetly the gearshift in our lifer has ripened, and never allowing the engine’s hoarse exhalation to dip below 3,500rpm.

    Be in no doubt, the new Mini JCW is a cracking little hot hatch, and I’m so chuffed it’s learnt the lessons from its delinquent predecessor. But next to the truly special Trophy-R, it’s just a good version of a good car. Another year, and with a manual gearbox, it might’ve been the Speed Week dark horse. But it’s the biddable Renault that offers an authentic high-performance thrill to drivers of all abilities, and if I had five more minutes, I’d spend them in the expensive, stuffy, crass-looking Megane. The front-drive datum point, 2015.

What do you think?

This service is provided by Disqus and is subject to their privacy policy and terms of use. Please read Top Gear’s code of conduct (link below) before posting.

Promoted content