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