High-performance hatch is great on a track and not too hard on your back
A RASPY metallic note from the pair of centre-mounted exhaust tips gives a muted indication of the new John Cooper Works Mini’s character.
The turbocharged 2.0-litre engine packs 170kW/320Nm, making it the most powerful engine fitted to a Mini production car.
The key is its usable power, irrespective of which of the three driving modes has been selected. The Mini defaults to “mid” mode but a flick of the switch at the base of the gear shift will call up “green” or “sport” settings, which respectively soften and tighten the response from the transmission, accelerator and suspension.
Sports mode will be familiar to existing JCW owners — it is a choppy, scrambling ride that forsakes comfort for control and is best left to racetracks and newly laid bitumen. The truly committed/demented can specify a harder conventional suspension setup as a no-cost option. No cost up front, that is, but the ongoing chiropractic and psychological counselling will add up.
A miserable Melbourne afternoon rained on — and then fogged over — our parade down to Phillip Island via Jindavick. Two things were immediately apparent: the ride is a huge improvement and the run-flat Pirellis still need work.
Single-digit temperatures and saturated tarmac just wouldn’t let the Mini’s rubber warm to the job. It was a similar story at the Island, compounded by the fact one of the cars was fitted with different tyres and could hold tighter lines without the front end starting to drift. Lack of talent could have been a contributing factor, too.
Adjusting the line was as simple as easing off the accelerator to let the JCW regain traction and reacquire the apex.
The chassis is hard to fault and the engine’s swell of torque means the auto transmission doesn’t have to downshift under moderate acceleration.
Flip the lever to the left to use the paddle-shifters and the
JCW will hang on to revs to the redline, anticipating input from the driver to shift up and avoid mechanical mayhem. That’s a formula for quick, entertaining action and the JCW delivers with an 80-100km/h time that betters the likes of a Porsche 911. The 100km/h sprint time of 6.1 seconds isn’t as jaw-dropping but still impressive.
The brakes are also up to the job, hauling in the Mini with little fuss and capable of repeated high-speed activations without suffering fade.
The lever-operated switchgear remains but the driving position has been improved with new sports seats and a chunky steering wheel to cling on to.
I still wouldn’t want to climb into the back seats … but a JCW version of the five-door Mini is inevitable even if Mini doesn’t want to talk about it just yet.
For the time being, the JCW gets all the expected new model improvements — faster, less thirsty, better packaged — along with dynamic dampers that make it far less prone to punish passengers.
As sports cars go it is almost civilised.
The price is less feral too. At $47,400 for the six-speed manual (which won’t arrive in dealerships until October) and $49,950 for the six-speed automatic, the new JCW is $3000 cheaper than the previous model.
It’s still expensive — Mini considers itself a premium Euro brand and charges accordingly — but the spec sheet now has extra equipment to stave off everything from the Audi S1 to the latest Japanese hot hatches.
Standard gear extends to 18-inch alloys around Brembo four-pot brakes, BMW’s professional satnav software displayed on an 8.8-inch screen, LED headlamps and a head-up display with engine rev readout, gear indicator and shift lights.
Ultimately, though, it is a Mini JCW and that means it is all about how the car drives and not what’s packed into the cabin. That’s one of the reasons the fog lights have been replaced with extra vents for the brakes and the second radiator lurking at the bottom left of the bumper: air flow in and around this tightly packaged car is part of the reason it hammers so hard.
This is the first Mini John Cooper Works I could live with on a daily basis and that makes it the best JCW yet. The extra power and equipment is appreciated but it is the ride that will win over buyers.
The JCW cabin has been updated but still retains the retro feel