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Car group tests

MINI JCW vs Vauxhall Corsa VXR & Ford Fiesta ST

228bhp MINI JCW has raised the temperature in the hot hatch market, but can it see off Vauxhall and Ford rivals?

The fierce battle for hot hatch honours is reaching boiling point. In an effort to hold high-performance bragging rights and secure more sales, manufacturers are turning up the wick on their hottest pocket rockets.

Best hot hatchbacks

One of the most eagerly anticipated arrivals is the MINI John Cooper Works, which is the most powerful model yet from the British brand. Based on our reigning Car of the Year, the racy newcomer packs a 228bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine, uprated suspension and more muscular looks.

With prices from £23,050, it isn’t cheap, but the JCW promises scorching acceleration, sparkling driving dynamics and upmarket appeal. 

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Best superminis

However, it’s not the only souped-up supermini making its debut. The Vauxhall Corsa VXR has finally been treated to the same mid-life facelift as the standard car, but there’s more to this refresh than a cosmetic nip and tuck.

Featuring more power than before, plus the option of a Performance Pack upgrade, the £20,395 car looks to have pace and price on its side.

Hot hatch test: VW Polo GTI vs MINI Cooper S & Peugeot 208 GTi

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Setting the benchmark for our pair of newcomers is the Ford Fiesta ST. It features the brand’s Mountune engine upgrade, and looks tough to beat with its power, poise and price tag. The heat is on...

MINI John Cooper Works review

Vauxhall Corsa VXR review

Ford Fiesta ST review

Click the links above for individual reviews, and scroll down to see which hot hatch comes up trumps...

Head-to-head

Badges

John Cooper Works logo is a nod to the famous Formula One race team that started tuning the original Mini in the early sixties. The Mountune name dates back to 1980, but didn’t begin its association with Ford until the late eighties. Meanwhile, the VXR can trace its roots to Vauxhall’s VX Racing British Touring Car Championship squad of 2003.

Styling

The Fiesta and Corsa are given muscular makeovers courtesy of their racy bodykits, larger wheels and lowered suspension. However, the MINI goes one stage further. You can have contrasting roof and door mirror covers, distinctive body decals and several alloy wheel options.

Gearboxes

All three of our cars get a six-speed manual box as standard, but only the MINI is available with an auto transmission. The six-speed Steptronic system promises quicker acceleration, plus it’s linked to the sat-nav, so can anticipate gearchanges.

Verdict

1st place: Ford Fiesta ST

The Fiesta ST has landed yet another knockout blow to the competition. With its brilliant combination of razor-sharp handling, muscular performance and unrivalled value, the fast Ford sets the bar high in the hot hatch market. Few cars at any price are as rewarding to drive, while the racy looks and generous kit list further boost its appeal. A firm ride is a small price to pay for such excellence.

2nd place: MINI John Cooper Works

MINI’s JCW is more powerful and upmarket than ever, plus it now boasts new levels of refinement. And while some of its predecessor’s raw charm is missing, the brand new model is fast and engaging to drive. A cramped cabin and high purchase price count against it, but the MINI still manages to effortlessly combine desirability and driving fun.

3rd place: Vauxhall Corsa VXR

When it comes to bold looks and on-paper potential, the racy Vauxhall Corsa VXR takes some beating. However, the case for the hot hatch unravels once you’re on the move. Sure, it’s a very fast car, but it just lacks the finesse and feedback that mark out the best pocket rockets on the market, while the stiff ride compromises the Corsa’s abilities as a daily driver.

Other options for similar money…

New: Peugeot 208 GTi 30th

Price: £21,995Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl, 205bhp

Hardcore version of capable 208 GTi boasts more power, stiffer suspension and limited-slip diff for a thrilling driving experience. It’s not quite as engaging as the Ford and it’s expensive to buy, but the 30th edition is a return to form for Peugeot.

Used: SEAT Leon Cupra 280

Price: £19,995Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 276bhp

SEAT Leon Cupra long-termer - front cornering

Our hot hatch champ is now a second-hand bargain. For less than the cost of a MINI JCW, you could get a 2014 SEAT Leon Cupra 280 DSG with under 7,000 miles. Agile handling and blistering performance are matched by great looks and practicality.

Key specs:

 Ford Fiesta ST-3 MountuneMINI JCW autoVauxhall Corsa VXR 1.6 Turbo
On-the-road price/total as tested£20,144/£20,444£24,380/£27,600£20,395/£22,135
Residual value (after 3yrs/30,000)£8,984/44.6%£12,288/50.4%£9,606/47.1%
Depreciation£11,160£12,092£10,789
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£852/£1,704£1,015/£2,031£1,023/£2,047
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,906/£3,176£1,983/£3,305£2,202/£,671
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost30/£382/E/£130TBA/£487/G/£13030/£375/I/£225
Servicing costs£550 (3yrs)£299 (5yrs/50k)From £15pcm (3yrs)
    
Length/wheelbase3,982/2,489mm3,850/2,495mm4,021/2,510mm
Height/width1,468/1,764mm1,414/1,727mm1,479/1,713mm
Engine4-cyl in-line/1,596cc4cyl in-line/1,998cc4cyl in-line/1,598cc
Peak power212/5,700 bhp/rpm228/5,200 bhp/rpm202/5,800 bhp/rpm
Peak torque320/1,600 Nm/rpm320/1,250 Nm/rpm280/1,900 Nm/rpm
Transmission6-spd man/fwd6-spd auto/fwd6-spd man/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel48 litres/foam44 litres/sealant45 litres/sealant
Boot capacity (seats up/down)290/974 litres211/731 litres285/1,090 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,163/421/N/A1,275/410/N/A1,278/437/N/A
Turning circle/drag coefficient10.1 metres/0.33Cd11.0 metres/N/A10.6 metres/N/A
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (60,000)/1yr3yrs (unltd)/3yrs3yrs (60,000)/1yr
Service intervals/UK dealers12,500 miles (1yr)/781 Variable/14820,000 miles (1yr)/404
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.25th/27th*30th/11th*29th/20th*
Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars91/86/65/579/73/66/479/77/71/4
    
0-60/30-70mph6.4/5.4 seconds5.7/4.6 seconds6.5/5.7 seconds
30-50mph in 3rd/4th2.5/3.5 seconds2.4/3.3 seconds2.5/4.0 seconds
50-70mph in 5th/6th4.3/5.9 seconds4.8/6.2 seconds5.1/6.3 seconds
Top speed/rpm at 70mph139mph/2,600rpm153mph/2,200rpm143mph/2,900rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph44.2/32.0/8.1m48.1/35.6/9.1m44.0/32.8/8.3m
Noise levels outside/idle/30/70mph64/47/60/69dB70/43/59/68dB60/45/61/69dB
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range33.4/7.3/353 miles32.1/7.1/311 miles28.9/6.4/286 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined35.8/58.9/47.9mpg39.2/57.6/49.6mpg28.5/45.6/37.7mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined7.9/13.0/10.5mpl8.6/12.7/10.9mpl6.3/10.0/8.3mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket195/139g/km/22%203/133g/km/21%226/174g/km/29%
    
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/cameraSeven/yes/£200/noSix/yes/£260/£255Six/yes/£450/£1,300**
Auto gearbox/stability/cruise controlNo/yes/yesYes/yes/yesNo/yes/yes
Climate control/leather/heated seatsYes/no/yes£325/£1,075/£215£395/£1,045/£1,045^
Metallic paint/xenons/keyless go£495/yes/yes£475/LEDs/£215£545/yes/yes
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/BluetoothYes/yes/yes/yes£595/yes/yes/yesApp/yes/yes/yes
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