Light Brigade
MOTOR Magazine Australia|November 2020
Ditch the back seats and dial to 11. Two of the fiercest hot hatches in the world butt heads, but which is more fun?
James Taylor

YES, YES, OKAY. LET’S get the price out of the way first. There is a $11,000 difference between these two, which is a fair slug of cash by any measure. But more than any other hot hatch pairing in the world today, these are kindred spirits. Both the new $63,900 Mini John Cooper Works GP and the $74,990 Renault Megane RS Trophy-R have binned their back seats to save weight, waved goodbye to ride comfort with ruthlessly focused suspension set-ups, and somehow squeezed 220kW+ through their front wheels only. They’ve also squeezed their production run down to a limited series, in the Megane’s case to 500 cars worldwide (and just 20 for Australia) and a less exclusive 3000 for the Mini (65 for this great Southern land). And both are once-in-a-lifecycle cars – this is the third Mini GP in 14 years (officially, it’s called the GP3), and the third fully committed Megane; the first was 2008’s plastic-windowed R26R, the second 2014’s 275 Trophy-R. The Renault holds the Nürburgring Nordschleife lap record for front-wheel-drive production cars at 7min 40.1sec, and the Mini GP3 too has lapped it in under eight minutes. That’s quicker than a BMW M2. So if you want the most hardcore hot hatch on sale today, one that’s closer to a sports car than a shopping car, these are the two hottest in the world right now. Which offers the hardest hit?

The Mini GP comes out swinging, from the moment its turbo 2.0-litre four-cylinder fires up with a guttural smoker’s cough, adding a couple of hacking fuel-pop exclamation marks from its stubby twin exhausts. There’s something of the cartoon character about the GP3, from its hooped boot spoiler to its giant aero side spats, flaring from the body like the wings from Hermes’ sandals. Fashioned from carbon fibre recycled from BMW i3 and i8 production, with a raw matt finish that makes them look like they constantly need a good clean, they enable the GP to sit on wider tracks without altering the standard bodyshell. Deliberately, no attempt has been made to blend them visually; the wheel arch pressings of the base car’s shell beneath jar unashamedly with the aero shrouds.

On the move, the Mini feels as purposeful as it looks from the get-go, fizzing down the road with the energy of a rattled Coke can. The suspension is unyieldingly firm, the driver’s seat slapping you on the back like an overly rowdy mate who’s had a few too many pints. The regular Mini JCW, from which this car is a mutant evolution, is available with adaptive dampers but the GP rides on passive, track-focused shocks. You need a firm grip on the steering, which pulls at cambers, torque-steers under power and occasionally multiplies the effect of both at the same time. No wonder our Georg Kacher found the GP3 eye-openingly twitchy on the autobahn where he clocked an indicated 281km/h, 15km/h beyond its quoted top speed – it feels a handful at a third of that pace. But in terms of outright grip, at sub-Georg speeds at least, it’s ultimately tenacious. Even on these rollicking roads of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire – natural hot-hatch habitat – you’d have to be trying really hard for the Mini to get properly bent out of shape. Most corners disappear on fast-forward, the steering wheel there to hang on to as much as steer with, while the grippy tyres and mechanical locking diff take care of business.

Its 225kW engine, closely related to that of the BMW M135i/M235i xDrive, albeit with a new turbo and intake system, is as flexible as it is brawny, deploying its 450Nm from only 1750rpm. First flattening of the throttle, on a slip road in the wet in this case, is enough to make you giggle and blurt expletives (while also tightening your grip to keep the thing in a straight line). It really is ballistic. There’s a hot-rod feel to the GP, the appealing sense of a car with an engine that’s too much for it.

If the Mini feels purposeful, like swinging a baseball bat, swapping into the Megane feels like picking up a carbon fibre tennis racquet. The thing that gets you first is the sense of lightness. The Megane is the larger car and is actually 60kg or so heavier than the Mini, but it feels the other way around. Depending on which options are ticked, the Trophy-R weighs a full 130kg less than the Megane Trophy it’s based on, helped by a NACA-ducted carbon bonnet, titanium exhaust and sundry other dieting measures. It doesn’t have plastic rear windows like the original R26R but they are made from thinner glass, saving a kilo. Renault Sport has also deleted the four-wheel steering system fitted to regular hot Meganes to cut 32kg, the weight saving around a ’Ring lap outweighing the system’s dynamic advantages.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM MOTOR MAGAZINE AUSTRALIAView All

PORSCHE PANAMERA

Does Porsche’s long-distance tourer benefit from batteries?

3 mins read
MOTOR Magazine Australia
Annual 2020

LORD of the RINGS

WE RIDE SHOTGUN WITH WORLD RALLY CHAMPION HANNU MIKKOLA IN THE ALL-CONQUERING AUDI QUATTRO A2

10+ mins read
MOTOR Magazine Australia
Annual 2020

LEXUS LC500 CONVERTIBLE

Enright’s not a big drop-top fan, but could he be a convert to the LC500?

5 mins read
MOTOR Magazine Australia
Annual 2020

FUTURE SHOCK

POTENT ELECTRIC AUDI CHARTS THE ROUTE AHEAD FOR QUATTRO’S NEXT 40 YEARS

7 mins read
MOTOR Magazine Australia
Annual 2020

DIVISION JOY

WHY THE ALL-NEW PORSCHE 911 GT3 ISN’T JUST ABOUT THE NUMBERS

10 mins read
MOTOR Magazine Australia
Annual 2020

DIRTY DEEDS

THE SPORT QUATTRO WAS AUDI’S ULTIMATE RALLY CAR AND THE TT RS IS ITS SPIRITUAL SUCCESSOR

9 mins read
MOTOR Magazine Australia
Annual 2020

ASSAULT AND BATTERY

WE SAMPLE THE SPARK ODYSSEY 21, THE 400KW MACHINE THAT’S PUTTING THE EXCITEMENT INTO THE EXTREME E SERIES

10+ mins read
MOTOR Magazine Australia
Annual 2020

AmpliTex: coming to a racetrack near you

A Swiss company is proving there is a cost-effective way to create a light, eco-friendly material that rivals carbon fibre

4 mins read
MOTOR Magazine Australia
Annual 2020

4 CORNERS

FOR THE FIRST TIME IN AUSTRALIA, WE GATHER THE FINEST QUATTROS FROM EACH OF THE FOUR DECADES OF PRODUCTION. OKAY, SO WE BENT THE RULES A TINY BIT...

10+ mins read
MOTOR Magazine Australia
Annual 2020

AUDI RS Q3 Sportback

Small, fast, fun, five-pot family hauler has more than one personality

3 mins read
MOTOR Magazine Australia
Annual 2020
RELATED STORIES

WATCHES - FAST TIMES

French Watch brand Bell & Ross’ collaboration with the Renault F1 Team revs up

3 mins read
Maxim
July - August 2020

FRANCE DEPLOYS $8.8 BILLION TO RESCUE AILING CAR INDUSTRY

France’s government is injecting more than 8 billion euros ($8.8 billion) to save the country’s car industry from huge losses wrought by virus lockdowns, and wants to use the crisis to make France the No. 1 producer of electric vehicles in Europe.

3 mins read
Techlife News
Techlife News #448

Can The Renault-Nissan Marriage Be Saved?

The automakers’ global alliance is fraying now that its architect, Carlos Ghosn, is out

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 20, 2020

Carlos Ghosn's Great Escape

The auto chief’s audacious flight to Beirut isn’t the end of his battle with Japanese prosecutors—or Nissan

7 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 13, 2020

The Hardest Fall

IT TOOK CARLOS GHOSN 20 YEARS TO REACH THE APEX OF GLOBAL BUSINESS—AND JUST A FEW MONTHS TO LOSE EVERYTHING

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
December 16, 2019

Carlos Ghosn Never Saw It Coming

The takedown of a globe-trotting CEO

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
February 04, 2019

Game of inches

The devil is in the detail when it comes to engineering for success in Formula 1

10+ mins read
Racecar Engineering
February 2021

Renault Readies The Kiger Compact SUV

After the launch of the new Nissan Magnite, Renault is getting ready to launch the Kiger compact SUV in India next year. Rahul Ghosh tells you what to expect

2 mins read
Auto Today
December 2020

More kicks per Kicks

The punchy 1.5-litre diesel may be gone now, but the Nissan Kicks still promises excitement with the arrival of a new 1.3-litre turbo petrol with class leading power and torque

3 mins read
Auto Today
November 2020

The Nik of time

The big Renault Range T-High continues to impress drivers with its blend of space, style and performance

8 mins read
Truck & Driver
Christmas 2020