interior

As well as great pace and fun, a top hot hatch needs to feel special – so we rate our three contenders’ cabins.

You don’t buy a hot hatch unless you drive for pleasure. And if spending time in your car is a choice not a chore, it’s crucial that the interior is spot-on. As with any performance machine, a decent hot hatch needs to have a great driving position which puts all the controls in the perfect place. Plus, the seats have to be supportive in corners.

But hot hatch owners will no longer accept a stripped-out cabin devoid of all luxuries. Today, the class leaders blend decent build quality with sporty detailing and enough comfort to make every journey a treat.

As you would expect from a VW Group product, the Ibiza’s cabin is robustly put together, and has a simple yet attractive design. In the Bocanegra, the seats benefit from unique upholstery, while carbon-effect trim is liberally scattered around the cabin.

As good as the SEAT’s driving position is, though, the layout simply doesn’t offer the same sense of personality you find in the MINI. What’s more, the seats aren’t as supportive as the Renault’s figure-hugging items. It’s not all bad news. The Ibiza’s flat-bottomed sports steering wheel is a pleasing touch, and it features a capital ‘B’ – for Bocanegra – in the middle of the centre spoke.

The SEAT also scores on passenger space in the back, and has a virtually identical luggage capacity to the Clio – so both models are far more practical than the MINI. However, when it comes to character, the British contender edges clear. The lovely blend of retro-inspired charm and modern quality, for which the brand is famous, gives the Cooper S cabin a wow factor that its rivals can’t match.

Excellent fit and finish throughout adds to the appeal, plus the driving position is superb. While the seats don’t appear overly sporty, they are supportive and comfortable.

As with any MINI, the Cooper S offers a huge range of interior options. But these can’t make up for the cramped boot. With the rear seats in place, you have 160 litres of space – that’s 128 litres less than in the Clio.

The French hatch can’t match the special feel you get from the MINI, but it’s certainly more luxurious than the stripped-out Cup version. Unlike its cheaper brother, the standard Renaultsport 200 comes with a soft-touch dash, split-fold rear seats and climate control. It also features cruise control, heated mirrors and curtain airbags.

But while the seats are comfortable and reasonably supportive, they don’t have the range of adjustment you find in the MINI. As a result, the Clio’s driving position isn’t as low as you expect from a performance model. While optional Recaro sports seats and carbon-effect dash inserts can add exclusivity, the Renaultsport’s interior is too similar to a standard Clio’s.

Ratings SEAT 4/5 the Ibiza doesn’t only score on quality; it’s practical, too. There are plenty of cubbies and the boot is as big as the Clio’s. The Bocanegra additions – including the flat-bottomed, B-badged steering wheel – add some exclusivity, but don’t justify the £700 premium over the Cupra. Some less prominent plastics feel cheap, too. Renault 4/5 A spacious interior and generous equipment make the Clio a strong contender. The layout doesn’t look as attractive as the MINI’s, yet this Renault features a soft-touch dash – unlike the stripped-out Cup model. A gearchange light is a nice motorsport-inspired touch, while the seats provide decent support.

MINI 4/5 With its massive central speedo, toggle switches and uniquely shaped dash, the MINI oozes character. Build quality is superb, too, while the driving position is spot-on and the seats comfortable. Other neat touches include mood lighting and a hidden storage area in the dash. However, practicality is limited by the small boot and tight passenger space.

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