MINI's most powerful model ever, the latest MINI John Cooper Works 3-Door hatch delivers a maxi-sized helping of potency. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The MINI John Cooper Works hatch really ups the ante in third generation guise, delivering 231PS, a chassis that has been forensically fettled, lots of the JCW good stuff inside and a price tag that's far from unreasonable. Get in quick. There's going to be a queue for this one.
It's not often that a car manufacturer allows you to buy its most powerful engine in its smallest car, so when the stars align in just such a fashion, it's time to sit up and take notice. That's exactly what MINI is offering in its John Cooper Works three-door hatchback and anything with the JCW badge attached to it tends to be a wild ride. So, if you've grown a bit weary of hatches that have piled on the weight and which, as a result, need around 300PS to put a smile on your dial, you might want to have a look at what the MINI JCW offers. It's a very beguiling blend of rawness and refinement that isn't even particularly expensive when viewed in the context of its key rivals.
Piling another 10 per cent more power and 23 per cent more torque on top of that delivered by the utterly riotous previous generation JCW is just asking for trouble - the sort of trouble we absolutely adore. Against the clock, the latest JCW's 2.0-litre 231PS turbo four punts it to 62mph in just 6.3 seconds if you want to guide a stick round the six-speed gearbox, or just 6.1 seconds if you entrust the Steptronic robot to do the gear changing. Flat out it'll hit 152. In a MINI. We'll let that number sink in for a moment. The suspension and the electromechanical power steering have been tuned to allow drivers to exploit the JCW's extra power and torque, and there are some fantastic four-piston Brembo brakes within 17-inch JCW alloy wheels although practically every owner is going to option in the JCW 18-inch alloys. Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC) and Performance Control allow drivers of all abilities to get thrills without too much white-knuckling. Dynamic Damper Control adjusts both rebound and compression settings in the dampers and is an option that you might want to tick if your route to work takes in a variety of surfaces and you'd prefer to be able to switch between Comfort and Sport modes.
Design and Build
The JCW orders a supersized serving of styling, and although they will have you on first name terms with your chiropractor, the bigger 18-inch wheels do look utterly ace. Of course, MINI claim most of the external changes are absolutely functional in terms of aerodynamics but if we're honest with ourselves we like them because they look good. To that end, the JCW gets a model-specific front apron with large engine air intakes, distinctive side sills, a custom rear apron and a John Cooper Works spoiler. The JCW also has LED headlamps with white indicators, wheel-arch surrounds and a unique radiator grille, side scuttles and tailgate all festooned with JCW badging. Of all the exclusive colours to select, the one MINI has plumped for - Rebel Green - seems a bit of an unusual choice. The interior gets the requisite sports makeover too, with bucket seats with integrated headrests in Dinamica/fabric, a multi-function steering wheel with shift paddles (in conjunction with Steptronic transmission), gear selector, instrument displays, stainless steel pedals and footrest and metallic sill finishers. The boot's a little bit bigger than before, with total capacity rising to 211-litres. There's also more interior stowage space with additional cupholders and storage cubbies.
Market and Model
How does a £23,000 asking price grab you? That's what you'll pay for this car, with further £1,400 premium necessary if you want Steptronc auto transmission. These kinds of asking figures might sound quite a lot for a MINI but when compared to similar rivals, they're really not too bad. Audi wants £25,000 for its S1 sports model, which has less power and bumps the weight up with a largely unnecessary all-wheel drive system. Suspension technology has certainly moved on from the days when 200PS through the front wheels was a bit of a handful. Now you need to add at least 100PS to that figure before the engineers start running into problems. Equipment levels are generous, as you'd expect for a range-topper. As well as the big wheels, sports seats and classier interior finishes, the JCW gets a DAB stereo, air conditioning, Bluetooth and keyless start. This being MINI, there's a huge amount of personalisation options, so you might well indulge in body stripes, technology such as a head-up display, MINI Navigation System, MINI Connect and traffic sign recognition. Standard safety fittings include front and side airbags as well as curtain airbags for the front and rear seats, automatic passenger airbag deactivation and front and rear ISOFIX child seat mounts along with all the driver handling aids.
Cost of Ownership
There aren't too many petrol-powered cars we can think of that can top 150mph and return almost 50mpg. Choose a MINI JCW with the Steptronic transmission and you're rewarded with a car that claims a combined fuel economy figure of 49.6mpg and emissions of just 133g/km. What really puts that into perspective is that the most powerful production MINI ever actually returns better economy and emissions than the original entry-level MINI One. Both the Peugeot 208 GTI and the Ford Fiesta ST generate considerably less power (200 and 180PS respectively) yet both return 47.9mpg , coming up a little short of the MINI JCW's numbers. The 200PS Clio Renaultsport doesn't even get close at 44.8mpg. The MINIMALISM suite of environmental technologies include a shift-point display function on manual cars, brake energy recuperation and need-oriented control of the fuel pump, coolant pump and other ancillary units. It's all very clever.
The last stab MINI had at producing a John Cooper Works was an absolute masterstroke. It was everything proper drivers would demand; fast, well-balanced, fun and it was clearly engineered by people who knew what they were doing. It was the perfect riposte to those who'd held fast MINIs to be all about style rather than substance. This time round, MINI has only built on that reputation, delivering more of everything. This has only served to make the pricing look even keener value than before, and it's hard to argue with the efficiency of the JCW when meeker rivals can't get close to its economy and emissions figures. The only real fly in the ointment might be the styling, but that's a third generation MINI thing, not something specific to the JCW model. Still, that's a subjective issue for you to make your mind up about. When it comes to making all the right numbers, the JCW just hits bullseye every time. What was the old line? "Come at the king, you best not miss."