Mini Coupé John Cooper Works
List price when new £23,795
Price today £9000
Available from 2011-2015
Ferociously fast and something of a handful, the John Cooper Works is not for the faint-hearted
Peugeot RCZ 1.6 THP 200 GT
List price when new £25,945
Price today £8500
Available from 2010-2015
A Peugeot that drives as well as it looks – and at this price, the RCZ feels like a bit of a bargain
Volkswagen Scirocco 2.0 TSI 210 GT
List price when new £24,705
Price today £10,000
Available from 2008-present
A genuine four-seat sports coupé that comes from the same gene pool as the legendary Golf GTI
Price today is based on a 2011 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing
None of us wants to drive around in a boring car, when it comes down to it. If we did, we’d all be driving around in dull-but-worthy boxes that did everything well on paper, but looked like motorised chest freezers.
Fortunately, that isn’t the case, which is why cars like the smart, slinky coupés you see before you exist. Style doesn’t come at the expense of substance with these three, mind you, because all of them pack pulse-quickening power figures up around the 200bhp mark, not to mention the promise of sharp handling and an exciting driving experience.
Take the Mini Coupé, for example. Its rather extrovert lines mean it stands out from the crowd, even if they aren’t classically pretty. But whatever you might think of its looks, it’s hard to deny that the prospect of all that power packed into such a compact body, and combined with the agility Minis are famed for, is a mouthwatering prospect.
Then there’s the Peugeot RCZ, one of Peugeot’s most arresting cars for a generation, with its double-bubble roofline and sweeping side profile. It’s bigger than the Mini, too, and has two extra seats, which might just give it an edge.
However, if it’s practicality you’re after, the Volkswagen Scirocco looks even more promising. It squared-off rump might be reminiscent of a hatchback, but that should also mean it boasts more space back there. And with an engine and floorpan shared with the Golf GTI, it certainly has the makings of a fun car to drive.
“Yes, but those looks and all that pace can’t come cheap,” we hear you say. Well, you might be surprised, because it’s now possible to buy a good-condition, well looked-after used example of any of these three cars for less than £10,000. All the more reason to find out which makes the most sense.
What are they like to drive?
The JCW has 208bhp of pent-up energy under its bonnet, so simply flattening the accelerator from rest ends up with either the engine being strangled by teh traction control or you melting your front tyres in a blur of wheelspin. The best approach is to stay calm in first gear, snap the short-throw gearleve into second and then jump on the pedal. The only thing you’ll need to restrain after that is the colour of your language as you scorch towards the horizon.
Getting the best from the JCW’s chassis also takes a little experimentation. The steering is heavy, but it’s also sharp, so you can find yourself turning into corners too early. Once again, less is more. Enter the same bend with just a whiff of steering, squeeze the throttle to adjust your angle of attack and you’ll slingshot past the apex and out of the other side in a perfectly executed arc.
The most surprising aspect of the JCW’s behaviour, however, is just how well its suspension copes with poor surfaces. It’s stiff enough to keep the car flat through corners, and supple enough to take the sting out of most lumps and bumps.
The RCZ uses essentially the same 1.6-litre turbocharged engine as the Mini, but Peugeot has tuned it to produce more low-end torque and a little less outright power. It may not be able to match the JCW’s speed, but the RCZ is far from slow. Its engine is also a good deal more civilised than the JCW’s.
That’s not something that can be said about the suspension, which trembles annoyingly, even on relatively smooth surfaces. The steering is far too light and disconnected, too.
The RCZ is agile, though; on smooth roads it changes direction instantly and with almost no body lean. Throw in a few mid-corner bumps, however, and the stuff suspension means the front wheels are too keen to skip across the road surface, and the steering wheel kicks ferociously in your hands.
The Scirocco is the least demanding of the trio. It’s supple, grippy and steers with great precision, even if it sometimes needs a lot of steering wheel action to get it to change direction.
Its 2.0-litre engine produces just as much power as the JCW’s, and the VW is also a good deal more effective at laying that power down. In a straight-line dash the Scirocco is actually quicker to 60mph than the Mini, but beyond that point the Mini simply drives off into the distance.
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