Today’s MINI is a BMW Group product manufactured in Oxford, England. Current Cooper and Cooper S versions of the MINI hatchback continue to deliver the spirit of the originals. That means small cars with huge abilities.
Top of the MINI performance range today is this latest John Cooper Works model, or JCW for short. The engine is a 2-litre 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection, a turbocharger integrated in the exhaust manifold and Valvetronic plus VANOS camshaft control. The nett result is 231bhp and a whopping 320Nm of torque. It is the most powerful Mini in history.
Anyone who has driven a Cooper S of the 1960s will appreciate what BMW has done to the JCW.
Okay, so it is not as tiny as it used to be, but the driving experience is very much the modern equivalent, with sharp steering, lightning-quick throttle response and kart-like handling. But the 21st century version of the fastest Mini also comes with a level of refinement, ride comfort and build quality that no ’60s crystal ball could have predicted.
The standard transmission is a 6-speed manual, but I do most of the driving on Spanish streets and mountain roads with a 6-speed automatic gearbox (which equips all the new JCWs that will be sold in Singapore).
For the record, the automatic JCW is an immensely better drive than its predecessor. In fact, the auto is so good that there’s really no reason to specially order a manual 6-speeder.
Whether in D or in paddle-shifter DIY, the Aisin autobox works with enthusiasm and encourages sporty driving.
My only complaint is the wide spacing between 2nd and 3rd gears, which means the car needs to be slower than I’d expect to shift down from 3rd.
According to the factory-supplied performance figures, the new JCW sprints to 100km/h in 6.1 seconds with the auto – 0.2 of a second faster than with the manual. Interestingly, the automatic JCW also returns better fuel economy, despite weighing 15kg more.
The JCW’s Cooper S-based suspension gets some useful tweaks, plus Brembo brakes. Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) are standard, as is the differential lock courtesy of electronic brake control.
On the road, I never feel any of the electronics coming into play. The car simply feels like a finely engineered driving machine – beautifully balanced, with barely a hint of understeer, and eager to change directions on command of the steering wheel. I can feel the rear end get a little light when braking into a corner, but I quickly learn that it is just a cheeky and harmless characteristic.
I do a few laps on the Mallorca racing circuit with a 6-speed manual JCW, chasing former Mini rally ace Rauno Aaltonen. It’s a pleasant surprise to discover that the hatch is just as fun on the track as it is on the road.
The Brembo brakes are well up to track-work abuse. With the DSC and DTC switched off, the car is even more fun, giving full throttle control to the driver, who can modulate the accelerator pedal to optimise traction with just a little bit of wheelspin, and exit out of corners quicker than if the electronics were in charge.
The electronic differential lock, which uses ABS sensors and selectively applies braking to either of the front wheels, emulates a limited-slip differential (LSD) and works very well indeed.
Really, it is difficult to mess things up in this machine because it has plenty of grip front and rear, even in extreme circumstances.
The current Mini’s front-end styling has been the subject of some criticism, and the JCW’s “mod look” is not likely to see the end to this. There are bigger air intakes in the bumper, plus two new grilles that take the place of the foglamps. Their objectives are more cooling air, better induction and optimised aerodynamics – not beautification of the face. LED headlamps and daytime running lights complete the JCW front.
A roof-mounted spoiler at the top of the tailgate is claimed to increase downforce, though MINI hasn’t given a specific percentage.
Inside, the JCW has a pair of sports seats in front that are good to look at and supremely supportive. The interior is otherwise pretty much Cooper S, which means it is stylish and well put together. A head-up display is optional, as is a sports instrument pack that adds three round dials (for oil and boost pressures, and a chronometer).
The new Mini JCW is not inexpensive, nor is it an easy car for hands-on enthusiasts to tune (by configuring the engine control unit). But for sheer driving pleasure, the standard-spec MINI JCW shines as a fast and capable road car that can also offer tremendous fun on the track.
The 2015 MINI John Cooper Works might be the perfect pocket rocket for the petrolhead who loves to enjoy a fun weekend in Sepang or Pasir Gudang, and then drive to work on Monday!
Type Inline-4, 16-valves, turbocharged
Bore x stroke 82mm x 94.6mm
Compression ratio 10.2:1
Max power 231bhp at 5200-6000rpm
Max torque 320Nm at 1250-4800rpm
Power to weight 189.3bhp per tonne
Gearbox 6-speed automatic with manual select
Driven wheels Front
0-100km/h 6.1 seconds
Top speed 246km/h
Consumption 17.5km/L (combined)
CO2 emission 133g/km
Front MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Rear Multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Front / rear Ventilated discs
Type Pirelli P Zero
Size 205/45 R17
Traction aids ABS, DSC
Kerb weight 1220kg
Turning circle 10.8m
Price incl. COE $210,300 (after $5k CEVS rebate)
Warranty 3 years/90,000km
+ Finely tuned driving characteristics, racetrack readiness, top-dog status
– Top-dog pricing, big gap between 2nd and 3rd gears, “Works” elements are not explicit