If you've already read our big hot hatch test, you'll know which we rate as the best of today's bunch. But what if you'd rather get your kicks in something a little less mainstream? Mini's John Cooper Works GP has a formidable reputation – but a formidable price, too. The Nissan Juke Nismo, on the other hand, is considerably more affordable, and offers a quirky mix of unusual looks, strong pace and usability. Both are image-conscious, left-field choices. But which is the best?
Batch: Rockingham. It's a place which seems to have its own micro-climate. Scorching one minute and freezing the next, we've had our fair share of the circuit's dual personas. Which is all the more reason why we shouldn't have been surprised that while the rest of the country was basking in 30-degree heat, we were shivering away in shorts and T-shirts for
ess of the moaning. We're looking at hot hatches and we start by taking a look at the best motorsport-inspired ones currently on the market. To get this rolling, let's chat Mini. If you take an objective view on the GP you'll never understand it. Here's a car that costs as-near-as-makes-no-difference £30k, has no rear seats so your shopping flies around, has a harder ride and does without sat-nav to give a hardcore experience. But that's far from the point, because when you actually drive this car you realise it makes total sense. It is incredibly stiffly sprung but when you're really on it; it's an incredibly well-sorted little thing. It's constantly alert and writhes away at your hands and, my word, it's grippy. I'm not overly keen on the expanses of red addenda but the paintwork and rear diffusor are simply stunning.
DJ: It may make sense on super-smooth blacktop enjoyed by the Germans, but here in Blighty it is a mess. The ride is not hardcore, it's just downright uncomfortable; fine on the track, but for something that will spend most of its life on the road, the constant jolting offers nothing but an insight into the life of David Furnish. And, lest we forget, a hot hatchback is meant to be a jack of all trades. Can you take the kids to school in the Mini? No. Nissan gets around these problems by not pandering to silly racing driver dreams and remembering its customers want a fast car, not a stickered-up statement of failed ambitions.
Jon: Mmm, I'm with Deej on this one I'm afraid – the GP is far too compromised. I'm used to the occasional jolt up the backside myself but chopping out the rear seats is a step too far. Those stick-on vinyl bits are daft too – it's a £30,000 Mini for God's sake, not a £30 remote control car. The Juke, on the other hand, I can get on board with. Quick, comfy, well-equipped and for £8,000 less – what's not to like?
Batch: The fact that it's not exciting enough to drive. I understand what Nissan has done with the Juke Nismo. It's a manageable entry-point into the normally full-on world of Nissan Motorsport. But while it's quick the Juke is not terribly responsive, it rolls too much and in the looks department it's not wholly successful. Why aren't there two pipes to help expel an otherwise dull exhaust note? And what's going on with those wheels? That said, the interior is tasteful, commendably sporty and quite a nice place to while away hours on an A-road – but not a B-road.
DJ: I'll concede that the Juke isn't as thrilling in the corners as most of its rivals, but I think the disappointment comes largely from its Nismo branding - something we're more used to seeing on far more specialised machinery. If it was called something a little more innocuous – Juke 'S', for instance – it would have been exactly what we were expecting: a practical and easy to drive family runabout with an added dose of speed for those 'let-your-hair-down' moments. But you're right, the exhaust note is as interesting as William Hague talking about vacuum cleaners.
Jon: You're both right, annoyingly. The Juke is a laugh, but there's no chance you'd pick it over its rivals if sheer thrills are what you're after. The best way to think of it is as a small family car that's had a bit of a kick up the backside – still comfortable day-to-day, but not averse to being chucked about. I do sort of understand the Mini too, but there's no way I could see myself buying one. Forget Fiestas, £28,000 will buy a top-end Focus ST with £3,000 to spare.
Batch: Okay you two clowns. Final scores please. In the following categories give a score out five in: Looks, Comfort, Handling, Performance, Wow factor and Value. The car with the highest combined total wins. But firstly I want to hear the reasons for your final positioning. For me second has to go to the Juke Nismo I'm afraid. It's just not as sporty as I would have hoped for – but it is cheap and should sell well. And first goes to the Mini. Yes it's an expensive tart's car but you can't deny it drives the way a hot hatch should. And for that very reason it walks away with this one on this occasion.
DJ: It's the tartiness of the Mini that leaves it in second place for me. I love the fact that it's so focused, but it's far too showy and uncompromising to be anything more than a trinket, and a hot hatch should be more than that. There are plenty of criticisms that can be levelled at the way the Juke drives when you're on it, but it has a far broader range of skills: Effortlessly quick when you want it, but quiet and comfortable the rest of the time. No contest I'm afraid.
Jon: Not to sound like a broken record here, but the Mini comes in second place for me too. It's focused and very quick indeed, yes, but it's closer to being a one-off sports car than a true hot hatch. As far as I'm concerned, there are two questions you need to ask of a hot hatch: 'Is it fun?', and could you live with it every day?'. The Mini only ticks the first.
The Juke, then, is my winner. Not only is it less compromised than the Mini, but it's probably the least compromised hot hatch on sale today from a comfort point of view. Roomy, quick, and not back-breaking – if I worked in Nissan's marketing department, I'd say it was all the car you'll ever need.
As good as the Mini GP is, its poor day-to-day relegates it to the losing position. Nissan should be pleased with the Juke Nismo winning this test, although it isn't quite as well-resolved as some of the other hot hatches on the market today.
Model: Nissan Juke Nismo 1.6 Turbo
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Power: 197bhp, 250Nm
Max speed: 134mph
MPG (comb'd): 40.9
Model: Mini John Cooper Works GP
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Power: 215bhp, 280Nm
Max speed: 150mph
MPG (comb'd): 39.8
Check out our gallery of these two alternative hot hatches below!