Lap it up: hot hatches go head-to-head at Mondello

We put the leading hot hatches on sale here through their paces at Mondello Park

One of the most accurate ways to test a car’s performance and handling attributes is to drive it on track. A race circuit is the ideal venue for pushing a car close to its limits: you can drive in a safe and controlled environment, with no traffic, pedestrians or potholes.

There is an abundance of hot hatches on sale these days, each offering real-world high performance with a healthy dose of everyday practicality. In their press releases, car manufacturers are constantly highlighting the laptime of their latest hot hatch around the legendary Nurburgring race circuit. The Nurburgring Nordschleife (North Loop) is a 20.8km circuit around the village of Nurburg, Germany, a track that previously hosted Formula One grands prix. Nowadays it's the venue for endurance races and track days during which members of the public can drive their car or motorcycle around the circuit. It's also used as a proving ground for manufacturers to test and develop their prototypes prior to going into full production.

I’ve driven the Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit a number of times ; it’s a nirvana for petrolheads, who travel from all corners of the globe to experience this unique region in the Eifel mountains.

Our schedules – and our budgets – don't facilitate numerous trips to Germany to test the latest hot hatches. We do, on the other hand, have access to Ireland's only international race circuit, Mondello Park in Co Kildare. Here we can test new cars safely and get a true feel for their handling and performance capabilities.


With the support of we have created our own laptime chart for hot hatches that are currently on sale in Ireland. Every car is run through its paces on track before being driven for one warm-up lap and two timed laps; the faster laptime recorded is the one that's counted. To ensure accuracy, each car is equipped with an electronic transponder that precisely records the laptimes; all laps are carried out on a dry track around Mondello Park's technical National Circuit. Below is the list of cars on our laptime chart. Over the coming months there will be additions to this chart as we test new hot hatches arriving on the Irish market.

The leader is the SEAT Leon Cupra 280, with a scintillating laptime of 1:05.68, which it set just days ago. When you consider the Leon Cupra is a five-door practical hatch with a decent sized luggage compartment and runs on standard road tyres, you can really appreciate what an achievement this is. It is a case of a wolf in sheep’s clothing: the Cupra’s subtle looks camouflage a talented and powerful hot hatch that is capable of embarrassing many cars with twice its price tag.

The MINI John Cooper Works (JCW) GP has been demoted to second position; it had held the top spot for a number of months. It’s very much a track-focused car, with weight-saving measures including the removal of its rear seats and the addition of road-legal, soft compound track tyres.

Sitting behind the MINI JCW GP in third position is Volkswagen's Mark VII Golf GTI Performance. It posted a time of 1:07.46 and in doing so relegated the Renault Sport Mégane Trophy to fourth place, beating it by just one-tenth of a second.

Looking at the laptimes, you can see that the Mark VI Volkswagen Golf R is currently seated in 11th position, with a time of 1:09.69; interestingly, the less expensive and more economical Golf GTI Performance is faster on track. We look forward to testing the latest Golf R.


SEAT Leon Cupra 2014
MINI JCW GP  1:05:83
VW Golf GTI Performance 1:07.46
Renault Mégane Trophy  1:07.56
Skoda Octavia RS 2014 1:08.21
Ford Focus ST  1:08.22
MINI Cooper S JCW  1:08.90
Seat Leon Cupra R  1:08.91
Ford Fiesta ST  1:09.06
Alfa Romeo Giulietta Cloverleaf  1:09.58
Volkwagen Golf R  1:09.69
Peugeot 208 GTI  1:09.89
Citroën DS3 Racing  1:10.10
Mini Cooper S Coupé  1:10.85
Renault Clio RenaultSport Gordini  1:11.17
Skoda Fabia RS  1:11.39
Abarth 500 Esseesse  1:11.41
Mini Cooper S Diesel  
Abarth Punto Evo  1:13.97