There is no more capable hatchback on sale. Period. There is none that would be quicker than this from one place to the next on dry open roads. On wet twisting tarmac it would probably be in a league of its own. On track so long as conditions are bad, it would humiliate any number of supercars.
Because while 261PS may not sound like much in a 2020 context, it’s what it does with that really matters, combined with the fact that, at 1,280kg and despite all that hardware, it’s really not very heavy at all. Truth is, it feels far more rapid than the numbers suggest.
Foot to the floor it’ll hit 62mph from rest in 5.5 seconds which would be sub-5 seconds were there no need to manually shift gears half way through. The engine is smooth, surprisingly resistant to lag despite its output and a sight more engaging to listen to than any number of four cylinder rivals. The gearchange is good, not great. It’s there to do a job and it does it to the required standard.
Indeed fine though this powertrain is, it is cast in a supporting role to the chassis which is where the true wizardry can be found. On the open road it almost has too much grip because you get to the stage where you’re driving as fast as you think is prudent and not that anti-social towards other road users, while the car appears barely to be trying.
Traction is essentially unlimited in this environment but it is the poise of the car that leaves the strongest impression on your mind. Because I suspect it was developed more on rally stages than race tracks, it can take the worst a British B-road can chuck at it and dismiss it with almost insolent ease. The brakes are very good indeed, but the truth is you rarely need to lean on them that much, such as the reserves this car keeps in hand on the road.
All of which is impressive. But what makes it remarkable is that all of this has been achieved without killing ride comfort. In fact it’s perfectly compliant by hot hatch standards and, yes, despite the fitment of that brilliant Circuit pack. Amazingly as a result, this is not a high days and holidays recreational bit of fun, it’s a perfectly plausible daily driver.
So what happens when the grip does finally give out? Not much is the short answer. Not quite enough is the slightly longer one. On the track you discover that even once you’ve exceeded the adhesion limits of its Michelin Pilot 4S tyres, it still just wants to be as composed as possible. It will naturally understeer quite modestly which can be transitioned into equally controlled and restrained oversteer. What it will not do, even in the wet, is allow you to back it into a corner on a trailing throttle and pretty much full opposite lock and then snap it straight with a jab of throttle. It’s far too pre-occupied with the business of going fast to indulge in such childish pursuits. In this regard lies the key conceptual distinction between it and Mitsubishi Evos of yesterday whose character it otherwise most closely resembles.