To drive, the JCW is indeed surprisingly fast up to the legal limit and flexible enough in real-world use to keep up with any lower-order sports car – and any hot hatch up to, say, a Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG. The engine responds keenly, with gutsy low-end torque, a gravelly, crackling exhaust note and ample freedom at high revs.
Our test cars were automatics because autos were the first batch off the Cowley production line, but 80 percent of UK cars are expected to be manuals. For what it’s worth, the auto shifts smartly in manual mode and locks up quickly at low revs, but it’s a bit too keen on unnecessary downshifts under acceleration when left in ‘D’. The manual 'box is slick and smooth to shift gears, although it can seem slightly weighty and notchy when trying to slip through the six-speeder quickly.
Handling is predictably direct, hyperactive and excitable, if a little less highly strung than that of its predecessors. The idea of a becalmed Mini JCW may sound a bit confusing – like a kleptomaniac with a conscience, perhaps – and understandably so.
Like every fast Mini since BMW’s acquisition of the brand, this one is much happier scything along smooth A-roads than it is pitching and bobbing, staccato-style, down a rough country lane. But it dives into those smooth apexes with instinctive zeal and responds to every input as if on a hair trigger.
Equally, it’s not so stiff that its ride turns skittish, or its handling nervous, when you really extend it over the bumps. More steering feedback would be welcome, as would a stickier set of tyres than the standard-fit Pirelli Cinturatos.
The Mini JCW has always looked like a pricey purchase, and this one is no different. Satisfied customers will value it as much for what it is – the ultimate Mini – as for what it does, because this isn’t the most multi-talented or usable hot hatch. For something likely to approach £30k after options, it’s not the quickest or most exciting for the money, either.
However, considering the quality and desirability of the car, its capacity to retain its showroom value and its stirring motive character, the JCW has got more in its armoury than most of its rivals ever needed to succeed. And succeed it will.