The skinny: MINI’s hot-shoe John Cooper Works model returns to delight thrill-seekers. A compact package with a concentrated serving of MINI’s hallmark handling, the JCW turns up the wick yet again, adding more power and torque.
Few competitors are bold enough to tackle this brash little Brit head-on, but that doesn’t mean MINI has been shy about pushing the envelope yet again.
Vehicle Style: Premium light hatch
Price: $49,950 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 170Kw/320Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 6spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.8 l/100km | tested: 8.1 l/100km
For buyers considering MINI’s go-fast John Cooper Works division, there’s good news and bad.
The good news is that the new model is cheaper and punchier than the old one - to the tune of $2800 (comparing auto-for-auto). With an extra 15kw and 60Nm on offer.
The bad news is that it’s bigger, and a little heavier (but only by 35kg), but it has thankfully maintained its lithe, chuckable handling.
But it isn’t for everyone. It’s a little rude, a little firm, and a little too coarse to take home to mum.
Dedicated hot hatch fans will sing its praises, but city-bound commuters looking for a bit of extra flash could be turned off by the uncompromised rock-hard ride and handling.
TMR lit the fuse on this MINI fire-cracker to find out if there’s more John Cooper, or perhaps a little Johnny Rotten, in its makeup.
- Sports seats, front and rear park sensors, reversing camera, head up display, dual-zone climate control, cruise control with speed limiter, customisable ambient lighting, auto headlights and wipers
- Infotainment: 8.8-inch colour display for Professional Navigation system, sat-nav, AM/FM/DAB+ audio head unit, 12-speaker premium audio, USB audio inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio integration.
- Luggage capacity: 211 litres, with dual level boot floor and
The JCW’s sporting intent is obvious from the minute you swing open the door. Inside you’ll find grippy sports seats and a chunky steering wheel with gearshift paddles.
Ahead of the driver is a column mounted speedo and tacho, and, in the centre stack, a vibrant 8.8-inch colour screen which houses navigation, as well as infotainment, and a variety of functions operated from the console mounted iDrive controller.
Speed, revs and navigation info can also be displayed on the head-up display ahead of the driver, which nicely ties in vital info while maintaining visibility, even in glarey conditions.
As always, MINI offers a variety of finish options, but our test car with gloss-black dash highlights and black leather trim looked smart, without being outlandish.
An optional Climate Pack also added the dual-pane sunroof, heated front seats and privacy glass you see in these pictures, for $2300.
As for accommodation, the front feels surprisingly capacious, with plenty of seat travel and lofty headroom.
Those in the rear will find it more snug, with a lack of legroom the prime culprit.
In the boot there’s 211 litres of space, and a false floor that allows some hidden storage and adds real depth to the cargo bay.
A pair of front cup-holders and shallow door-bins will hold most odds and ends, there’s an upper and lower glovebox too which is handy. The folding center armrest is a pain though, not really very useful for holding much, and it impedes the handbrake when folded down.
ON THE ROAD
- 170kW/320Nm 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol inline four
- Six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear suspension. Electronically adjustable dampers standard
- JCW brake package with Brembo hardware and fixed four-piston front calipers, sliding rear calipers.
- 18-inch alloy wheels. Dunlop SP Sport Maxx or Pirelli Cinturato tyres.
- Electric power steering
For the time being the JCW holds the title of the most powerful MINI ever - even beating the previous limited edition JCW GP.
The engine itself is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder with a twin scroll turbocharger that punches out 170kW at 6000rpm and 320Nm from 1250 to 4800rpm. Plenty of breathing room then between the JCW and its 141kW Cooper S stablemate.
Although dimensionally bigger than any MINI three-door before it, the extra power and torque makes up for it, and with a 1220kg kerb weight it’s not exactly portly.
Quick? You’d better believe it. The JCW auto is capable of 6.1 seconds from 0-100km/h, but you’ll feel it most in its effortless rolling acceleration. Plant it while rolling and it will slingshot you from pedestrian speeds into licence-threatening territory like its arse is on fire.
Buyers will want to be dedicated to the performance cause however. The John Cooper Works is really set up for performance, and that means that the ride is bone-jarring at best.
On a racetrack, it would be perfectly fine. In the real world, with ragged edges to country roads, and mid-corner corrugations, the JCW can wear thin. Even around town, pitching over catseyes and expansion joints becomes a grim task.
Point it to the right twist of tarmac though and 'the Works' is an absolute hoot. The raucous exhaust burps and belches its way through upshifts, while the front end hooks into the road like a terrier with a chew toy.
Lift off mid-corner and the rear gives a playful squirm. Three driving modes, Eco, Mid and Sport alter the transmission mapping, steering weight, and damping accordingly and each carries a noticeable change in the way the car reacts.
All that’s missing is a limited-slip differential. While the electronics try to fill in the gaps, the hypo MINI is too often left with one wheel stuttering for grip, a problem that’s amplified in the wet.
As far as automatics go, the MINI’s six-speed hydraulic auto delivers quick shifts and feels as sharp on its way up through the gears as any dual-clutch box (but downshifts aren’t quite as crisp).
The box, though, has its wits about it on most occasions, so manual control is rarely required.
The steering feels wonderfully connected in Sport mode where even the barest inputs will see the JCW deftly changing direction. But dial back to 'Mid', and there’s an on-centre notchiness that's less pleasant.
ANCAP rating: 4-Stars - this model scored 31.78 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control (switchable), stability control (switchable).
Dual front, dual side and full-length curtain airbags are standard equipment, and all five seats come equipped with three-point seatbelts.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Its size and potency make the MINI JCW a fairly rare beast. However, if diminutive dimensions are a must and AWD is more your style, try Audi’s S1 Quattro.
If you’d rather upsize, the Volkswagen Golf GTI is a perennial favourite, but a Ford Focus ST, Holden Astra VXR, or Renault Megane RS are sure to put a smile on your face, and all start at a more budget-friendly price.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Is there something for everyone in the new JCW? Not a smouldering chance.
Those stubborn buggers at MINI deserve a pat on the back for serving up a car that is still (beneath all the electronics) raw, hard-edged, and an absolute hoot to drive.
Refinement isn’t the name of the game - in fact, name one race car that ever won on a track based on its exemplary comfort - this little belter is about making you feel as if you’re at the helm of something "built to win".
And while the price of admission might seem a little high, its potency (both under-bonnet, and in handling terms) makes it a unique proposition within its class.
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