Singapore - Hot hatchbacks are a very special breed. They are practical, they fit anywhere, were once affordable and they are undeniably heaps of fun to drive. For British car maker MINI, the apple may not have fallen far from the tree, but the fruit is a mighty big one.

The MINI 3-Door’s body style is the heart of the brand, the most manoeuvrable of the range, and truly lives up to the brand’s promise of delivering Go-Kart-like handling. Like most MINIs, the 3-Door begins with a lower-powered Category A COE friendly MINI One. Jay took the 5-Door variant out recently, and despite his incessant mumbling about it lacking power, he did admit that the handling was really quite superb; I found that it was sufficiently powered for most. Sorry I digress…

We have seen the F56 MINI for a few years now, we now drive it in its final form (yes there is a new car in the works, and I spy with my little eye, something that looks a little more clinical), and it does look its best here. The facelifted car is decked out with new side scuttles and Union Jack-themed rear lamps. With the John Cooper Works treatment, the premium hot catchback gets a red lick of paint on the roof, complete with a matching wing, coloured mirror caps, and a honeycomb grille with large breathers at its base… snort snort.

MINI has taken modernisation as far as it can probably go with the interior, where now an 8.8-inch touchscreen takes centrestage within a restyled laser engraved LED bezel. Apple phone owners will benefit from Apple CarPlay, sorry Android fans. MINI has also ditched the previous analogue instrument cluster, in favour of a bigger stadium-shaped unit, which houses an analogue rev-counter, and a 5-inch digital screen. The MINI’s interior is one which plays into its roots, with chromed switches below the controls for the air-conditioning, and overhead. There are a few limitations to the current interior layout though, as there is no convenient place for your mobile device to be stored. MINI has provided the central storage box as the place for your phone, complete with a wireless charger, but with ever-growing mobile devices, I found it a tight fit for my not-large-at-all mobile phone.

The 2.0 turbocharged engine, sourced from its BMW parent in the John Cooper Works car, remains unchanged, and produces the same 231hp and 320Nm along a wide rpm band. This is paired with an 8-speed transmission which drives the front wheels. On full whack, the little 3 Door MINI clocks 100km/h in just 6.1 seconds, which is a smidgen quicker than Wolfsburg’s iconic son, the Golf GTi. But the JayCeeDoubleYou is not just slightly quicker, it drives very differently.

The steering feels more direct, weighted… the MINI hatchback somewhat feels like a much bigger car that had been somehow shoehorned into a small footprint. It feels alive, and you can tell that it wants you to work for your reward. Point its nose into a bend, and quick steering feels surgically accurate, though you will find yourself muscling the wheel. With its maximum torque band between an elastic 1,485-4,800rpm, you would hardly go out of puff when exiting a bend while holding a gear. There is a tad of understeer here, but it is so predictable and controllable with a little downplay of throttle. Around the bends of South Buena Vista, there is that sense that the hatchback eggs you on. The engine and chassis has plenty more to give, and we feel that it would feel right at home on a racetrack. To shed speed, a set of Brembo developed brakes reel the hatchback in without effort, with a progressive feel to them.

While the hot MINI does a fine job unwinding itself along South Buena Vista’s tightest noodle, something is missing here. The pops and bangs which we used to enjoy are no more, this is no thanks to the noise regulations of MINI’s home country. Pfft.

With the firm suspension, and larger 18-inch rims, and only a lick of rubber between them and the road, the day-to-day driving experience is best described as acceptable. On bumpy roads, things can get a little unforgiving within the cabin, and you would be tempted to switch lanes when coming into contact with a newly-laid patch of tarmac over an existing road.

Overall, the MINI John Cooper Works 3-Door can be quite a polarising car, but… and this is with a big BUT. It is arguably one of the best handling high-powered premium hot hatches today, and to those who love driving, they will know that it is where the turns get tighter, the angry looking car lives happiest.

PHOTOS Clifford Chow, Luke Pereira

TEXT Clifford Chow

MINI John Cooper Works 3-Door
Engine 1998cc, inline4, turbo
Power/rpm 231hp/2000-6200rpm
Torque/rpm 320Nm/1450-4800rpm
Transmission 8spd automatic sport transmission
0-100km/h 6.1secs
Top Speed 246km/h
Fuel Consumption 6.4l/100km (combined)

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