From £23,7808
Packs the most powerful engine ever installed in a series production Mini, and more polished than its hot hatch predecessor

What is it?

This is the performance hero in the third-generation Mini range. We’ve already tested the Mini John Cooper Works equipped with an automatic transmission, but now we’ve got behind the wheel of the bigger-selling six-speed manual.

Like its predecessor, the front-wheel-drive John Cooper Works is based around the three-door Cooper S, albeit with a reboot of the standard car’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine underneath the more aggressively styled front bodywork.

The engine produces 228bhp at 5200-6000rpm - a 39bhp increase over the latest Cooper S - and 236lb ft of torque from 1250-4800rpm, representing an improvement of 29lb ft over the base car.

An electronic differential lock is fitted to assist the front axle’s attempts to effectively channel all that power to the road and shuffle torque as it deems necessary. The JCW also has retuned suspension and uprated Brembo brakes compared with the Cooper S, as well as a sports exhaust that emits a potent burble.

What's it like?

In the bragging-rights sprint from a standstill to 62mph, the manual JCW is 0.2sec slower than the automatic version, which benefits from shorter first and second gear ratios and a launch control system that you don’t get if you want to change the cogs yourself.

Ignore the on-paper numbers, though; in real-world driving the manual JCW doesn’t feel like it wants for acceleration. It is as quick as most drivers will desire in most driving conditions, and when you add manual gear-changing to the deep-throated engine tone, rally-style exhaust crackles and fast-gathering pace, it's a more immersive experience than the auto.

At cruising speeds, however, you don’t necessarily have to work the gears particularly hard, because the impressive engine is bursting with mid-range punch.

The new Mini is in its element through flowing corners, where it feels fairly composed and easily adjustable, and can be propelled through and out of corners with far more poise than previous iterations.

Indeed, this Mini feels like an all-round more grown-up driving proposition. The old car was also notable for crashing and juddering that marred its ride, but this one manages manages to marry sporting zeal with greater composure, assisted by the uprated springs and anti-roll bars. That’s even on the optional 18in rims on which our test car rode, rather than the standard 17in wheels, although the bigger rims and run-flat tyres generated a fair degree of road noise.

The cabin is traditional Mini fare, adorned with interior lights and material finishes that collectively shimmer and sparkle like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

The John Cooper Works sports a number of model-specific touches such as sill decoration, supportive sports front seats with integrated headrests, a three-spoke multi-function steering wheel, a special gearlever, stainless steel pedals and revised instrument graphics.

For what it's worth (given that this is a model designed for spirited driving rather than economy runs), the manual sips more petrol, returning a claimed 42.2mpg on the combined cycle versus the automatic’s 49.7mpg, and emits more CO2.

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Should I buy one?

Unless you have a particular affinity for pulling on steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters or letting the drivetrain take the strain, sticking with the standard manual gearbox means you get a more engaging driving experience for more than £1000 less than the auto. So in that respect it is a no-brainer.

Overall, this latest fast Mini is a touch less of a hyperactive terrier than the old one, and to our mind it is all the better for it, too, because it gives the car a broader appeal.

You’ll have to tiptoe through the options list, though; our test car came adorned with extras that pushed the on-the-road price north of £30,000 – broadly into the territory occupied by some incredibly potent driver’s cars such as the Volkswagen Golf R and upcoming Mk3 Ford Focus RS. 

Mini John Cooper Works manual

Location Surrey; On sale Now; Price £23,050; Engine 4 cyls, 1998cc, turbo, petrol; Power 228bhp at 5200-6000rpm; Torque 236lb ft at 1250-4800rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1280kg; Top speed 153mph; 0-62mph 6.3sec; Economy 42.2mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 155g/km, 26% 

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superstevie 23 October 2015

I wouldn't say it was a toy.

I wouldn't say it was a toy. Not everyone needs a practical car. I would have this over a Golf GTi, as it has more personality, and only my dog would sit on the rear seats
Ofir 21 October 2015

Still a toy

Impressive in terms of hardware but you cant escape its kind of a toy.
eseaton 21 October 2015

Wow - Autocar prefers driving

Wow - Autocar prefers driving a manual! Go Autocar!