What’s it like?
Great fun. The JCW provides instant proof that the standard Cooper S’s chassis is more than up to handling a substantial power hike.
It feels properly rapid – the turbo spools up with almost no lag and the engine’s strong mid-range makes for effortless urge in any gear. Passers by get to enjoy a rorty exhaust note, into which some over-run ‘crackle’ has been carefully engineered. But, unfortunately, inside the cabin it sounds flat and insipid.
The biggest dynamic difference comes from the fitment of what’s described as an electronic differential lock system, which replicates the function of a mechanical LSD by braking a spinning front wheel (if the traction control is turned off) to redistribute torque.
The JCW certainly finds plenty of grip and traction, although the clever traction control is only of noticeable benefit on very tight corners or in wet conditions. The JCW also gets a more aggressive stability control setting – under the same ‘Dynamic Traction Control’ moniker that BMW uses – although this feels slightly pointless on a front-drive hatchback.
The engine’s prodigious output creates some mild torque steer, with the JCW’s steering wheel sniffing out cambers and minor imperfections in the road surface. But it’s well contained and the mild tugging effect is entirely in keeping with the enthusiastic qualities you’d expect from a car like this.
The most surprising thing about the John Cooper Works is just how much equipment it doesn’t get – and which has been reserved for the options list. Despite a pricetag that puts it into direct contention with a 2.0 TFSI Volkswagen Scirocco, the JCW makes do with the same standard, unsupportive seats fitted to the standard Mini Cooper. Proper buckets are a pricey option.
The interior also lacks much to distinguish it from the standard Cooper S. The JCW gets branded plates on the doorsills, a 160mph speedometer and a different gearknob. But, from the driver’s seat, it certainly doesn’t feel like it should be nearly five grand more expensive than the Cooper S.
So, should I buy one?
If you want the ultimate Mini, this is what you’ll have to pay to get your hands on one. But the John Cooper Works feels like it’s going to struggle to justify its seriously steep pricetag against some of its seriously talented, cheaper rivals.