Four Mini John Cooper Works pocket rockets plus a tight and twisty track equal intense driving fun
Hot Minis give maximum fun (From left) Mini John Cooper Works Countryman, JCW Clubman, JCW Convertible and JCW 3-Door. Of these, the 3-Door is the quickest, with a century sprint time of 6.1 seconds. PHOTO: MINI

What has more than 920hp and 1,300Nm and moves with the finesse of an Olympic figure skater?

The answer: Four Minis which have been souped up by the experts behind John Cooper Works (JCW) high-performance models, zipping around a racetrack in a high-speed group.

I was among a group of motoring journalists invited by BMW Asia to a three-day, two-night drive from Bangkok to the resort town of Khao Yai. The total driving distance was nearly 450km, so I was expecting to know the quick Minis intimately.

JCW is to Mini what AMG is to Mercedes-Benz and BMW M is to BMW, but on a smaller scale. Still, the JCW cars that Mini churns out are serious driving machines for those who are serious about speed and handling.

For the entire trip, we could pick from any one of four Mini JCW models - 3-Door, Convertible, Clubman and, the largest of the range, Countryman.

The drive up to Khao Yai covered mostly highways and I drove the 3-Door first, followed by the Countryman.

The JCW 3-Door's ride was surprisingly comfortable over the often-pockmarked asphalt of Thailand's roads. I heard and felt the bumps and potholes, but they were never jarring.

The car's ability to gain speed with ease, thanks to its 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine which it shares with the other John Cooper Works models, made overtaking a cinch.

The Countryman crossover was made for highway cruising. En route to Khao Yai, it was the most comfortable of the lot, as it sat higher on the road and offered the most commanding view.

While it has 30Nm more torque than the 3-Door (350Nm versus 320Nm), the Countryman JCW weighs 300kg more. Yet, it never lagged behind the other JCWs in the convoy, even when sudden bursts of acceleration were needed to dash past rows of slow-moving vehicles.

At the 8 Speed racetrack in Khao Yai, the instructors organised three activities - launch control and hard braking, slalom and circuit drive.

While the first two activities afforded hints of what the cars were capable of, it was the lapping of the tight and twisty racetrack which showed off the mettle of the Mini JCW pocket rockets.

To keep things interesting, we drove three laps before switching cars. We did this lap-and-swop drill for more than an hour. Each lap took about 45 seconds.

The 3-Door felt the fastest on the track. No surprise there, as the car is the lightest - at 1,330kg - and also the quickest - at 6.1 seconds from a standstill to 100kmh.

The Countryman surprised me the most, in a good way.

The laps around the racetrack were done in convoy, behind the lead car, which was piloted by the instructors. In the tightest part of the racetrack, where we had to traverse a series of left-and right-handers including a hairpin, the Countryman and I had no trouble keeping up with the car in front.

The All4 all-wheel-drive system contributed to this immensely by apportioning torque between the Countryman's front and rear axles, so I could get on the throttle/power earlier. Sure, the body roll of the big hatchback was quite pronounced and it felt a little lethargic when changing directions, but the Countryman's grip on the tarmac was unyielding.

But it was the Clubman that got my vote as the best JCW pocket rocket for the entire trip.

Like the Countryman, it is also equipped with All4 all-wheel-drive, but unlike its sport utility vehicle sibling, the Clubman weighs less and yet has the same power and torque outputs. Driving it around the racetrack was so pleasurable because it was nimble, grippy and powerful.

The Clubman JCW performed so well that I felt it was as quick as the 3-Door JCW.

When the time came for us to find our way back to Bangkok, the Clubman showed off a distinct advantage over its smaller hatchback sibling - it swallowed no less than three suitcases and a few backpacks and still had room for two passengers.