Feisty place, the Square Mile. Especially on a week night. At chucking out time.
The sun went down four hours ago, and it’s been raining for much longer, but for a bottle-carrying hardcore, the working day isn’t over. Nor for us though, a bedraggled North Face-sponsored foursome, as conspicuous among the Bishopsgate throng as a murder of crows in a pink sea of flamingos.
The motivation for our night expedition to the City of London is simple enough: the latest Mini John Cooper Works is the newcomer to the Audi S1’s tiny speed-freaky niche, and because its brittle predecessor made about about as much sense in London as a pogo stick, we thought we’d begin in the one place where a hot supermini starts to make sense.
Four hours earlier and the cars’ combined 456bhp wouldn’t have made a fig of difference. The capital’s rush hour best suits two wheels, not four. But after dark, the traffic eventually thins to a steady trade wind of double-deckers, cabbies, delivery drivers, bin men, Uber hybrids and coppers.
All mercilessly impatient, semi-sure of where they’re going and utterly mercenary about how to get there. Now it pays to be small, agile and as swift as sin.
Both cars fit the billing. The Mini, like our Leadenhall Market backdrop, has heritage on its side. Pea-soupers were a recent memory when John Cooper set to work on Alec Issigonis’s baby. Thirty years later his name and vision weren’t forgotten when the Mini was overhauled by a new guardian.
Now in its third generation, the new Mini JCW is the most powerful production variant yet built by BMW. Its 228bhp, developed by a modified version of the turbocharged 2.0-litre engine already found in the new Cooper S, stands it directly at eye level with the four-wheel-drive S1, our Lloyds Building for the night – it being a radically over-engineered solution to a simple requirement also, although one without an 18th century dining room installed.