Mini JCW Chal­lenge

Our hard­core Mini con­tin­ues to daz­zle when the road suits it, but sus­pen­sion prob­lems per­sist

Evo - - ESSENTIALS - Stu­art Gal­lagher (@stu­artg917)

‘ There are, I should say, mo­ments in this car that make you wish the road would never end’

II ONLY DROVE OUR JCW Chal­lenge briefly be­fore it re­turned to Mini last year for a front-sus­pen­sion fix (an un­named pre-pro­duc­tion part had failed), and since it re­turned to us in March it’s been busy. Not al­ways by choice, though, and now af­ter driv­ing it again I can un­der­stand why.

There are, I should say, mo­ments in this car that make you wish the road would never end; that a se­quence of 90-de­gree cor­ners would keep com­ing; that third-gear bends could be at the end of ev­ery straight, al­low­ing you to pull the tread of the Miche­lin Cup 2 tyres to its lim­its and squeeze ev­ery drop of re­tar­da­tion from the Pagid pads. There’s some­thing unique about how the Chal­lenge tack­les a road – unique for a mod­ern Mini, that is. If you have driven a well-sorted clas­sic with more power ex­tracted from its A-se­ries en­gine, wider tyres spread over its Minilites and with short­ened springs and tight­ened dampers, our Chal­lenge will have a fa­mil­iar feel: honed and fo­cused and very much fit for pur­pose. And in a bril­liantly good way, too; so good that I wish the team at Plant Ox­ford had found a Peco back­box be­hind a cup­board that they could have fit­ted to com­plete the mod­ern back­date.

And then I took it home. Home be­ing 80-odd miles from evo’s of­fice via two-dozen miles of back-roads (ex­cep­tional), 30 miles of sweep­ing A-roads (good) and 30 miles of a Bri­tish mo­tor­way, which was bad. Very bad; as in how can a car be so bril­liant at one thing and so bad at an­other? It’s per­plex­ing, and I’m not the only one who has re­turned to the of­fice and asked if Mini re­placed the pre­vi­ously ac­cept­able (if a lit­tle stiff) Nitron dampers with a chunk of freshly fired ag­gre­gate when it was with them.

We’ve ad­justed the dampers to the op­ti­mal set­tings de­cided upon dur­ing the car’s de­vel­op­ment (15 clicks front, 25 rear), but still some­thing isn’t right. The ride is in­con­sis­tent, with next to no com­pli­ance and at times a sense you’re run­ning on the bump stops. If it were just me, I’d put it down to my age, but even those who en­joy life in the hard lane are mak­ing ex­cuses to give the Chal­lenge a swerve. A re­turn to Ox­ford beck­ons.

Right and be­low: ad­justable Nitron dampers seem to lack the fi­nesse they should be ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing

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