Faster and more rounded than any ‘Works’ Mini before it. Still a committed prospect – to buy and to use – but rewarding to drive
First DriveMini Countryman JCW gets four-wheel drive as standard and an extra 39bhp over the Cooper S – but the end result hardly justifies the premium
First DriveThe Mini Clubman JCW gets four-wheel drive to marshal its extra power - but the end result hardly justifies the premium
What is it?
The hottest version of the new age Mini so far. The ‘JCW’ uses a tuned version of the standard Cooper S’s 1.6-litre engine to deliver 208bhp – enough to propel if from 0-62mph in a claimed 6.5 seconds and onto a top speed of 148 mph.
After the success of BMW’s previous ‘John Cooper Works’ kit on the previous Mini, the JCW brand has been brought in-house to create what we’re encouraged to see as an equivalent of parent BMW’s M-Division.
The Mini John Cooper Works wears a unique bodykit, boasts new-design 18 inch alloys and gets the all-important extra badges. But the most substantial changes lie beneath the surface.
The engine gets a revised cylinder head, new pistons, more turbo boost and an all-new exhaust system (from the manifold back to the tailpipe). The power output will grab the headlines, but it’s the fat torque plateau, with 192lb ft from 1850-5600rpm, that actually underlies the JCW’s performance.
Brakes have also been uprated, although the suspension remains the same as that of the standard Cooper S, unless you’re prepared to pay more for an ultra-hard JCW handling kit.
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.