fastest, most powerful, most
entertaining hot MINI to come out
of the factory the MINI
very well. But at
£4,570 more to buy than the standard
Cooper S, is it a MINI too far?
OKAY, YOU LIKE MINIs; you like the shape; you like the kart-like, turn-on-a-sixpence,
wheel-at-each-corner handling; and, most of all, you just love the poke. In
which case I guarantee you will be besotted with the hottest, road-going version
of the MINI to be sold out of the showroom yet the latest MINI
John Cooper Works.
And it looks it, too. John Cooper Works badges adorn the front and rear, exclusive
17-inch Cross-spoke 'Challenge' light alloy wheels shod with 205/45 Run-flat
tyres look the business, as do the red-painted Brembo callipers. A rear roof
spoiler, chromed side indicator grilles, a chromed fuel filler cap, chromed
door handles, black honeycomb-pattern two-tier front grille, colour-coded bonnet
scoop and aerodynamic kit add enough 'bling' while stopping tastefully short
of making it look like a WAG's special.
Non dyed-in-the-wool MINI enthusiasts should look on this genuinely go-faster-than-them-all
JCW MINI as the equivalent of an 'M' fettled model from BMW's own high-performance
And, like any self-respecting 'M' badged BMW, the MINI JCW can Party
with a capital P. Powered by a tuned version of the standard Cooper S's 1.6-litre
engine serving up 208bhp, it rips to 62mph in 6.5 seconds. Keep your right foot
planted on the accelerator pedal and the JCW will run until it hits its maximum
speed of 148mph. While 208bhp from 1.6 litres is in itself headline stuff, the
real power behind the throne is the wide torque spread 192lb ft of 'grunt'
is yours to command from 1,850rpm all the way through to 5,600rpm. On overboost,
there's actually even more up to 206lb ft, to be precise. In anybody's
book, that's a heck of a lot of power and torque from a 1.6-litre engine.
For the record, the standard Cooper S makes good use of 173bhp and 177lb ft
of torque (192lb ft on overboost) to race past 62mph in 7.1 seconds. The standard
'S' costs £16,425, and it comes with a maximum speed of 140mph. However, you
will need £20,995 if you wish to join the much more powerful JCW club. Helping
to ease the pain of the additional £4,570 is that you'll be driving one of the
fastest hot hatches around. And it's grrrreat!
So where has the extra money gone? For a start, a large wad of it has been spent
on modifications to the gearbox, suspension and brakes. And engine. While the
JCW uses the same 1.6-litre lump as the Cooper S (it was 2008's International
Engine of the Year in the 1.4-1.8-litre category), it has been modified to reliably
deliver the extra and edgier power. Some of the upgrades have
been adapted from the MINI Challenge race car and, as such, do have genuine
Something you might not be expecting is economy. Don't laugh it's serious
business! Okay, drive like a bat out of hell and economy will be the first casualty.
However, even the most ardent drivers don't drive everywhere at full tilt. Besides,
the JCW is an easy machine to drive sensibly and still have fun! Do so and you
could be rewarded with a very creditable 40.9mpg combined cycle figure. We were
particularly pleased with our hard-driven 27+mpg and so too, we'd guess, would
be most JCW owners. And there's an added bonus: the JCW emits no more CO2 than
the standard Cooper S just 165g/km. Few cars can offer this mix of 'high'
performance allied to 'regular' running costs.
Climb aboard and you'll find yourself in a cabin not that much different from
the standard Cooper S. The glossy Piano Black interior trim looks smart and
if you like the quirkiness of the MINI's switchgear (and a lot of drivers do)
then you'll feel at home with the ergonomics. MotorBar's road testers are split
50:50 on this: some love them; others find them irritatingly fiddly adjusting
the air conditioning, for example, calls for the driver to shift his attention
from the road to work a small vertically-placed rotary knob.
The dinner-plate sized central speedometer now has a bigger number at the end
of its scale 160mph but apart from that, a unique-to-the-JCW red-and-chrome
gear knob and some 'JCW' branded kick-plates on the doorsills, there's not that
much to let the passengers know they're not just sitting in a Cooper S. Other
standard kit includes front sports seats, a radio/single CD player with AUX-in
connection, drive-away automatic central locking, tyre pressure warning system,
electric door mirrors, AirCon, stainless steel pedals, electric front windows
and a stop/start button.
The cloth-upholstered seats are also the same, firm-ish Cooper S items. And
they do a good job of holding you in place when you start slinging the more
powerful JCW around. It's also easy to set a good driving position: the seat
is height-adjustable, the steering wheel adjusts for both reach and rake and
you feel reassuringly cosseted behind the JCW's leather-wrapped sports steering
wheel. The good news is that you don't have to glance across to the centrally-sited
speedometer because the rev-counter right in your sight-line also displays a
digital speed reading.
You also get a lot of tiny 'airbag' tags which is good news because, should
the worst ever happen, there are six airbags to keep you safe: smart front ones
for the driver and passenger, front side and side curtain all standard
fit. Naturally there's a host of active safety systems to help keep you out
of harm's way in the first place: Dynamic Traction Control, Dynamic Stability
Control, Automatic Stability Control+Traction, Corner Braking Control, Electronic
Braking Distribution, ABS and Electronic Differential Lock Control. Hill Assist
is handy, and those with small children will appreciate the Isofix child seat
attachment on the back seat and the passenger airbag deactivation switch.
Slot the flying-saucer-shaped electronic key into its docking slot to the right
of the steering wheel, thumb the START button and the JCW comes to life, emitting
a sharp bark from the twin polished stainless steel tailpipes of the JCW exhaust.
It's the kind of sound that bodes well for the driving to come. Release the
traditional handbrake thank you, MINI; without it there could be no J-turns!
and let slip your mean machine.
The JCW feels rapid right from the off. With as much as 206lb ft of 'pulling'
power available during turbocharged overboost, mid-range performance is very
bullish. Spirited acceleration is accompanied by a rorty exhaust note with a
side-order of 'crackle' on the over-run loud enough to turn heads without
being anti-social. However, you do need the window open to best appreciate it
Pressing the small Sport button just ahead of the gear lever activates a bespoke
engine control map producing boost earlier in the rev range as well as sharpening
up both steering and throttle responses. We liked the sharper throttle pick-up
but felt that the electronic power-assisted steering actually imparts better
'feel' in the default normal setting, in which mode it's positive with a keen
turn-in that nicely underscores the JCW's 'think and it happens' character.
Obviously you need to drive one yourself before coming to a decision.
Back on the power: with bags of easily modulated urge, effortless mechanical
'punch' is there for the taking in virtually any gear overtaking is accomplished
with the cliched but nevertheless true 'simple flex of the driver's right ankle'.
So, is there a downside? What about torque steer? Physics dictates that 206lb
ft coming through the front wheels is sure to result in the wheel tugging in
your hands from time to time. In the John Cooper works MINI, it's electronically
under control; reined-in to the degree that, most of the time, there's just
a reminder that in this BMW you're being pulled, not pushed. During
full-bore starts torque steer can be disconcerting so they're best done
on decent tarmac rather than unevenly cambered roads unless, that is, you're
up for a little 'weaving'. Adding to the JCW's driveability is a smooth gear
change action, great place-ability and powerful and predictable four-pot Brembo
brakes with larger discs that deliver more than enough stopping power.
The JCW makes good use of the standard Cooper S's suspension although there
is the option of upgrading to a more hardcore sports handling kit 10mm
lower and race-track hard. Unless you're serious about trackdaying and have
all your own teeth, you don't need this. The car's set-up is fine exactly as
it comes out of the box.
Now we know that all MINIs are Fun. The JCW's handling can be summed up in two
words: Great Fun. Aim the JCW's nose in the direction you want to go and it
goes there and ensuring it does so is plenty of grip and traction. You're rarely
aware of the traction control's intervention, but it does a lot behind the scenes
to ensure handling consistency especially in the wet, on loose surfaces
or if you've overdone the right foot bit when exiting a tight bend. In the interests
of an unadulterated red-blooded drive, the JCW MINI also gets a more indulgent
stability control system that intervenes only when it's absolutely essential.
When you get to know your JCW better you can, if you wish, indulge the chassis'
playful side by switching off the traction and the stability control systems.
With DSC fully deactivated, the car's Electronic Differential Lock Control delivers
an even sportier driving experience. EDLC works when the car is accelerating
hard out of corners or tight bends. In this situation, it electronically slows
the spinning inside wheel to enhance grip and ensure that all available power
is transferred to the road through the wheel with greatest traction. In contrast
to the way Dynamic Stability Control and Dynamic Traction Control manage power
delivery to the wheels, EDLC does not intervene with the throughput of engine
power, meaning the driver is in near total control of the handling of the car.
Comfort, in spite of the undeniably firm ride, is better than you might imagine.
That's not to say you should expect to climb out after a 250-mile road trip
feeling as refreshed as if you've spent a relaxing day at the local spa. But
on smooth road surfaces it's compliant enough and only the very poorly surfaced,
uneven roads physically degrade the ride to the point where it feels juddery
and you're jiggled around. While on the subject of ride, the JCW is fitted with
run-flat tyres but, contrary to expectations, they didn't noticeably mar the
Worth bearing in mind, when you're totting up likely ownership costs, is the
MINI tlc package: for a one-off payment of just £150, you can get your JCW serviced
for five years or 50,000 miles. An extension of MINI tlc, called tlc XL, is
available for £380 and provides servicing for a further three years or 30,000
miles. So, for the fixed cost of £530, all your servicing costs are taken care
of for 8 years/80,000 miles. And worth every penny.
You can have a JCW MINI in both Clubman and hatch guise; a Convertible version
is also in the pipeline. The hatch we tested has got it all: it's smart, fast
and it provides all the bangs for your bucks you could wish for. It's equally
adept driven along in top gear at low speeds as it is unruffled in stop-start
traffic. Thrash it round a track or pound along the open roads, whatever you
do the John Cooper Works MINI just laps it up. And, just like a favourite comedy
show, the JCW whatever your mood when you start out will end up
putting a big '£4,570' grin on your face. MotorBar
MINI John Cooper Works| £20,995
Maximum speed: 148mph | 0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Overall test MPG: 27.8mpg | Power: 208bhp | Torque: 192-206lb ft
CO2: 165g/km | VED: Band D £145 | Insurance group: 17E