A reinforced body, a lower centre of roll and a focused suspension set-up give a certain amount of on-paper credibility to Mini’s claim that the new Coupé is a real sports car – and the driving experience delivers thrills and excitement aplenty.
This Mini lacks absolutely nothing in the way that it dives at apexes. Brimming with agility, it's a lively handler which offers a great deal of driver involvement. However, anyone hoping, as we were, for a radically different, more rounded and grown-up dynamic temperament in this car than the one recognised in so many hot Mini hatchbacks we’ve seen over the past decade will be disappointed, because the Coupé is like a hatchback raised on a diet of sugar, caffeine and amphetamines. Nowhere is this more true of the JCW.
In other words it’s edgy, boisterous and, at times, even a bit badly behaved.
On the right road – one with a smooth surface and a mixture of open, flat corners – or on a circuit, this car is riotous good fun provided you don't switch to Sport mode, which makes the steering rack feel as if it has been refilled with treacle. It turns in with incredible zeal and very little body roll, and it matches that prodigious front-end grip with easily accessed adjustability at the rear.
The DSC system doesn’t allow the car’s mobile rear axle much freedom to roam, but with the system off you can take full advantage of it, even in the dry. And underlying that initial dynamic playfulness, the car’s chassis is a completely benign one that you can have real faith in. Trouble is, most empty UK cross-country roads aren’t circuit-like. They’re uneven and unsighted, and the Coupé just isn’t suited to them.
The JCW is the only Coupé model with runflat tyres as standard – low profile ones at that – and it rides in predictable thumping, crashing, unsettled fashion over expansion joints and the like, lacking the shock absorption needed to deal with a broken surface with any kind of authority or finesse. And over even more gentle crests and dips, the Mini’s tendency to torque-steer slightly doesn’t make your driving experience any more pleasant.
Sacrifice some power and the ride smooths and the drive becomes less frenetic. Some will love the hard-edged thrills, but much of the JCW's inherent performance is wasted through a ride that demands you back off.