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CarWale Track Day 2016 Volkswagen GTI vs Mini Cooper S vs Fiat 595 Abarth

CarWale Track Day 2016 Volkswagen GTI vs Mini Cooper S vs Fiat 595 Abarth

11 months ago

These might seem pricey, indulgent, and a little unnecessary, but when it comes to putting a smile on the driver's face, few do it better than 'hot hatches'. Naturally, these make up the core of the CarWale Track Day experience as well. And we have three, all FWD with a top speed of over 200kmph.

First, there’s the Fiat 595 Abarth. With 160 horses, a low centre of gravity, 205 section rubber, and dimensions so tight, it could give go-karts a complex; the Abarth should be corner king in this test. Then there’s the Mini Cooper S. It makes more power – 210bhp, has the highest torque figure here, and with praise worthy dynamics, it has the potential to run away with the crown. Finally, the newest, most unassuming car here - the Volkswagen GTI. It might be a 'sleeper' in this bunch in terms of looks, but it has the firepower and the electronic gadgetry to give the Mini a run for its money.

And it all boils down to this - hot laps at the hands of India's premier, hugely successful and very talented racecar driver, Aditya Patel.

The Madras Motor Race Track is a great place to push the handling envelope of cars. It’s not a track that favours horsepower; instead a car with great chassis balance is what really shines around this bumpy 3.7 kilometre flowing circuit. Speaking of which, right after the short start finish straight is the fast and bumpy C1. One must then scrub off a lot of speed for the right-hander C2. The C7, as we found out, is the most difficult corner to master as it’s a long right-hander that is ever tightening and has a double apex. Getting a great exit out of C7 is important because it leads onto the second of the two really quick sections of the MMRT.

Fiat 595 Abarth

  • Lap Time

    2m14.19s

  • Max Speed

    NA

  • C1 Exit Speed

    NA

  • Speed at C7 Apex

    NA

First thing that strikes you about this small but powerful Fiat is the phenomenal grip of the 595’s tyres. Add to it the stiffest suspension setup among the hot hatches here and the 595 Abarth almost refuses to roll around corners. What also works in favour of the 595 Abarth is that punchy motor, which may not pack as many ponies as the rest of the rivals here, but is definitely thrilling and sounds exciting when you rev it to the redline. Brakes again have good bite, which make it easy to brake late for corners.

But, it is the AMT gearbox that really ruins the lap times for the 595. According to Aditya, if the car had a manual ‘box the 595 could have shaved nearly four seconds off its quickest lap time! This AMT ‘box is unfortunately set up in such a manner that it does not shift when you want it to, and hence makes it difficult to keep the revs up where you want it, to attack the corners. Also, Fiat hasn’t been able to exploit the full potential of this chassis. The setup is a little conservative. So, instead of lift-off oversteer – a must really for any good FWD track friendly car to exploit a fast corner entry – the 595 just holds its ground killing the much needed adjustability.

Also, the 595’s power source wasn’t functioning, so we couldn’t plug in the VBOX. The lap time you see here, as a result, is manually recorded, and therefore misses out on details like max, exit and apex speed data.

Aditya Speaks: "There's phenomenal grip and you can carry a lot of pace through the corners with very little roll due to the low centre of gravity, stiff suspension, and the low profile tyres. Despite the motor being punchy, the AMT gearbox lets it down by at least four seconds on every lap. It doesn’t let you shift when you want it to, and should have come with a manual or a dual clutch gearbox."

Mini Cooper S

  • Lap Time

    2m08.42s

  • Max Speed

    165.90kmph

  • C1 Exit Speed

    117.89kmph

  • Speed at C7 Apex

    89.63kmph

Thankfully, the Mini Cooper S’ power source was working perfectly. What also worked well on the Mini is its engine note; it’s loud and throaty and gets you all excited even before turning a corner. The engine has lots of grunt too and we love the responsiveness of the throttle. Another plus for the Mini Cooper S is its limited body roll, and its dislike to wallowing. Now, the Mini Cooper S might not get a dual clutch unit like the GTI, but its torque convertor never posed a problem. Shifting up or down the box was predictable and acceptably quick. What was more than acceptable, though, was the Mini’s highest recorded top speed at the track in this class.

On the downside, we noticed that the tyres were holding the Mini back. The grip from the tyres, at least in these damp conditions, wasn’t great. As a result, the Mini was skating around every time it was pushed close to its limit feeling a bit too twitchy. One could feel the added heft of the car too, especially compared to its competitors here. What’s more, with the lack of tyre grip, the Mini didn’t feel as stable as we would have liked under hard braking making it a bit unpredictable and affecting its lap times for the worse.

Aditya speaks

"The engine sounds nice with its loud and throaty note, but the gearbox is slow while going up the gears and the revs drop while up-shifting. I know that the car has a lot of potential, but the tyres are just limiting it so much, and there’s not much feel at the steering. Despite my slowing it down before the bend, it’s just skating and not going where I want it to go."

Volkswagen GTI

  • Lap Time

    2m05.20s

  • Max Speed

    165.69kmph

  • C1 Exit Speed

    121.64kmph

  • Speed at C7 Apex

    95.43kmph

The Volkswagen GTI then wasn’t just the fastest hot hatch; it was the quickest non-supercar around the MMRT. It might make the same power as the Mini but it puts down its power in a more linear and predictable fashion; a great asset on a damp track. The seven-speed DSG gearbox works superbly too. But, it is the GTI’s non-intrusive but caring electronics that really make it easy to exploit even for non-track regulars. Unlike most other ESPs, the GTI’s system doesn’t cut off the revs completely even when in a slide allowing the Volkswagen to maintain its speed around the corner and power out of it more aggressively. Another plus for the GTI is its brilliant braking; great bite and barely any fade.

It's not the most exciting to drive though. It doesn’t sound as good as the Mini and with its soft setup, it feels a lot less hairy-chested too. It could do with softer, gripper rubber as well. Another downer is that the India specific GTI has been raised, and with its softer setup, it rolls quite a bit. The soft setup also doesn’t allow you to get on the power early around a bumpy around. So, waiting it out for it to settle down is key. The trick to driving the GTI fast then is to be patient. Keep calm till the car has turned and is pointed in the right direction, and then go hard on the throttle!

Aditya Speaks: "This is a quick car and the brakes are very good! The gearbox is quick to shift gears; it doesn't drop the revs while up-shifting and hence does not interfere with the power delivery. But the soft suspension setup plays around with the dynamics of the car, and it rolls quite a bit too. If only it was a little more pointy, then you would enjoy it a bit more on the track."

Conclusion

We couldn’t connect with the 595 Abarth, despite it being flat around corners, as it couldn't get all of its power on the tarmac thanks to the slow AMT gearbox. Though the VW GTI took away the honours of being the quickest around the track due to the aggressive engine and swift gearbox, it felt too soft to actually come across as a fun hatch to drive, in our opinion. The Mini Cooper S will not beat the GTI’s track times even if it came with better tyres, but the powerful engine, quick steering and splendid dynamics has what it takes to paste a wide smile on your face.

Photos by Kapil Angane

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