The hot hatch is not something we often touch on. Between the supercars and off-roading beasts, they're the underrated battlers that don't often get the start they deserve.
It's a shame, really, as they're a fun drive and most of the time they're also an easy park, especially appreciated by someone who lives in the mean streets of Paddington. So when MINI reached out with a chance to test out the latest iteration of their John Cooper Works (JCW) performance range, this was the time to give the selection a good go.
Heading out into the hills of Adelaide, we were introduced to the 2020 Pure and Exclusive variants of the classic Clubman models to really whet the palette. All the marketing material we received beforehand touted them as the epitome of the hot hatch category, with "go-kart-like dynamics", and we were curious to see if it lived up to this hype.
The Pure edition is what we got the most hands-on time with and is noteworthy in its move to make the range more accessible to the everyday buyer. It's the first time MINI has released this variation and has little-to-no options available, a mass-market approach for the niche offering. You're basically losing out on a choice of interior alongside a couple of other perks such as electronically operated seats, a bigger wheel size, and better sound system than you get in the Exclusive but the trade-off justifies a $5,000 price difference from the base model.
Getting into the stunning Starlight Blue colour option, you quickly come to terms with the fact MINI thankfully aren't skimping on the power at the lower level. The Pure and Exclusive come with a redeveloped 225kw 4-cylinder engine that does 0-100km/h in about 4.9s, making it the fastest factory MINI has ever produced. For some perspective, this is pushed by an eight-speed automatic transmission and an added 55kw on the previous edition of the car it replaces. Bigger air intakes up front and larger exhaust pipes at the rear all add to a zippy experience that's quick off the mark. Sport mode also brings a nice purr to things, a grunty set-up with a bit of crackle that you wouldn't usually expect from a MINI.
So on paper, we're building up to a high-impact take on the MINI offering. However, the fun and nimble nature the brand is known for feels almost forgotten when it comes to the steering. It's noticeably weighty, which leans nicely into the idea of it being a "go-kart", but doesn't feel amazingly agile. Regardless, the Pure is happy to be pushed and hitting it hard around a corner results in a smile from ear-to-ear. The grip given to you by the all-wheel-drive system truly keeps you stuck to the road, even on the sketchiest of turns.
The ride is also noticeably smooth. The Pure utilises adaptive dampeners on its smaller wheels to help to make the country roads of Adelaide feel somewhat breezy and when compared to the Exclusive's more rigid drive (with fixed suspension), it comes together as a cruisy journey when you're not hammering it around the bends in Sport.
All-in-all, the Pure is MINI's attempt to make their JCW performance range a tad more accessible. At $57,900 for the Pure and $62,900 for the Exclusive before on-road costs, they're at the punchier end of the hot hatch scale. To really justify the price point, you're buying into the brand and the lifestyle first. However, it's the first time something this approachable has been offered, so if you're a fan who needs the thrill from the high performance without too much of the frills, the JCW Pure is for you.