Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

WHAT the Mini JCW lacks in style, it makes up in sub­stance. The big­gest crit­i­cism of the car is that the styling is un­der­whelm­ing. Sit­ting in­side the car, there is al­most noth­ing to dis­tin­guish it from a reg­u­lar Mini.

Granted, the steer­ing wheel is leather, there are sports seats, an an­thracite rooflining and a 260km/h speedo. But they are sub­tle touches and don’t sug­gest a pre­mium model.

You don’t even get spe­cial badg­ing un­less you pay ex­tra.

Hav­ing said that, it is typ­i­cally comfortable and stylish, as we’ve come to ex­pect from the Mini.

Things are im­proved on the ex­te­rior, with 17-inch al­loy wheels, bon­net stripes and JCW badges.

But you are left with the feel­ing Mini could have taken things fur­ther. The op­tional 18-inch black wheels and aero­dy­namic kit give the car pres­ence, but come at a price.

For a brand so heav­ily aware of style it is a sur­pris­ing el­e­ment to the JCW.

Though the styling is un­der­done, you can make no such crit­i­cism of the en­gine. It is bril­liant; ca­pa­ble of pump­ing out 97kw a litre.

Its small size be­lies the fact it is ca­pa­ble of tak­ing the car to 238km/ h and from 0-100km/h in 6.5 sec­onds.

And it’s not only raw power. It is smooth across the rev range and sounds great when you put your foot down.

The gear­box is im­pres­sive. De­spite be­ing beefed up to cope with the ex­tra grunt, it re­tains the sharp feel of the stan­dard Mini six-speed man­ual unit.

As you’d ex­pect from a sports model with up­graded sus­pen­sion, the ride is firm.

Han­dling is di­rect and the JCW pro­vides good feed­back to the driver; es­pe­cially when Sports mode is en­gaged.

Though it can feel harsh on rough, open roads it works well on smooth tar­mac. To demon­strate this the launch pro­gram for the JCW in­cluded a stopover at the Broad­ford State Mo­tor­cy­cle Com­plex for some race­track laps.

On the track the JCW is im­pres­sive. For such a small car it pro­vides big en­ter­tain­ment.

The en­gine comes into its own when there are no speed lim­its to worry about and the brakes held up well to the pu­n­ish­ment the track dished out.

The ex­tra weight made the Club­man less pre­dictable and sta­ble in the rear in high­speed cor­ners. The hatch had no such prob­lems and lived up to Mini’s claims of go-kart­like han­dling.

On per­for­mance, at least, the JCW de­serves its place as the king of Mini.

Mini on the move: the JCW hard­top (above) and Club­man (be­low) earn king of Mini sta­tus.

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