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.