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2015 Mini John Cooper Works Hatch review

The Good

  • Rapid
  • Beautiful interior
  • Great handling

The Bad

  • Not cheap
  • Slightly cramped rear
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Rory reviews the Mini JCW hatch — the fastest Mini ever. 

The fastest Mini ever? We’ll have some of that. The Mini JCW promises extra horsepower, tweaked suspension, a more satisfying exhaust note and bags of fun. But is it that much better than the already enjoyable Cooper S?

Design

It’s fair to say the standard Mini is inherently ‘soft’-looking, but the hotter JCW has a suitably aggressive appearance. BMW’s first order of business was to rip the foglights off the front and replace them with vents; one dummy unit on the off-side and a legit-as-balls gap on the near side feeding extra air into the intercooler.

Elsewhere, the Mini JCW gets a menagerie of John Cooper Works logos, bespoke side silles, a rear apron with flaps and a diffuser, plus a sizeable rear spoiler. The JCW also has the no-cost option of a Chili Red roof and mirror caps and optional JCW bonnet stripes. The tweaks are plentiful, but generally subtle enough to so as not to be garish.

Inside, the Mini JCW gets one of the best interiors in the business. It’s a multi-layered, multi-textured affair, sculpted pretty much to perfection, with a huge ciruclar infotainment display as its centrepiece. 

This particular car comes with piano black trim and phenomenally supportive, yet comfortable bucket seats with red accents.

Practicality

It’s a Mini, so don’t expect miracles. That said, modern Minis are pretty much an oxymoron, so there’s a surprising amount of space inside. The car’s available in three- or five-door versions, and while it’s tricky pouring yourself into the rear of a three-door car, there’s a surprising amount of space for sub 6-ft adults in the back.

The boot, meanwhile, is large emough for a medium-sized suitcase, a week’s worth of shopping for the average nuclear family, and there are a good number of cubbies inside to store your trinkets, loose change, and a dedicated central compartment for your mobile phone.

Performance & Handling

Under that bonnet lies the most powerful production engine to appear in a Mini. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder TwinPower Turbo engine is ostensibly the same unit as found in the Cooper S, but while that car had access to 189bhp, here it’s been tuned to produce 230bhp.

Most of that power appears reasonably high in the rev range, so it’s rewarding to keep your foot planted towards the redline, especially when the exhaust note, with its bangs and pops, is so rewarding.

Two transmission options are available; a six-speed manual, which comes as standard, and a six-speed automatic. The latter, fitted to our test car, is surprisingly enjoyable unit to use. Slide the selector stick to the left of centre and it’ll give you full control of the gears – no auto upshifting or kicking down here.

It’ll even let you bounce off the rev limiter should you feel the urge to drive like a total loon, but smart drivers will use the bountiful low and mid-range torque to make rapid progress.

It changes gears reasonably quickly too – nowhere near as fast as BMW’s twin-clutch DCT units, but impressive for an auto nonetheless. Case in point: it’ll help the car from 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds – 0.2s quicker than the manual allows.

Normally, front wheel drive cars with high power outputs are a nightmare to drive aggressively due to torque steer, but the Mini JCW is surprisingly willing to put its power down in a straight line. Mini says it has used bespoke axle kinematics, plus electronic aids, to help keep torque steer at bay, meaning the JCW pulls true even during the most aggressive bouts of acceleration.

It corners well. There’s plenty of steering feedback despite the car’s use of an electrically-controlled power steering system, and it’s always possible to detect when when the JCW is reaching the limits of grip – usually through the sensation in the seat of your pants.

The car’s suspension has been retuned over the standard Cooper S to deliver a more sporty drive. It comes with a choice of fixed sports suspension, or a variable damper option, which lets you modify the stiffness by selecting one of three driving settings; Green, Eco and Sport. In its stiffest sport setting, the car exhibits little body roll and stays poised through bends. Mini says the standard sports suspension is slightly stiffer than the stiffest setting offered by the variable damper control option, so if you’re after ultimate performance that’s the one you should choose. Just make sure you live near smooth roads.

Away from the race track, the Mini JCW is easy to drive, particularly in its green or mid driving settings. The suspension is on the firm side, but it’s certainly tolerable on British roads, while the automatic gearbox makes its way through ratios smoothly and without fuss.

Its brakes, meanwhile, are confidence-inspiring to say the least. 320mm Brembo discs and four-pot calipers help haul it to a standstill in impressive fashion.

Economy & Environment

The Mini JCW is fast but also frugal. Stop-start helps keep CO2 emissions as low as 133g/km for the automatic model, meaning £130 per year for road tax. More impressive, perhaps, is the fact it’ll eek out nearly 50mpg. The manual car manages 155g/km and 42mpg.

Compare those figures to the Ford Focus ST, which manages 41.5mpg and 159g/km.

Equipment & Value

Mini JCW prices start from £23,050. For that, you get a chrome-plated fuel filler cap, two-way adjustable steering column, air conditioning, heated mirrors and windscreen washer jets, electrically operated front windows, engine start button, DAB radio, Bluetooth and cruise control with automatic braking on downhill gradients and a curve speed limiter function.

Naturally, the cars are highly customisable, though this will cost you. Mini will sell JCW customers the Chili Pack, which includes a host of useful extras, at a slightly reduced rate of £2,470 – £695 cheaper than on other cars. The pack includes floor mats, storage compartment pack, the Mini Excitement Pack, rain sensors and auto headlights, dual-zone air-con, Dinamica/leather upholstery and 18-inch alloys.

We’d also recommend the upgraded Harman Kardon hi-fi, for £590, though the rest is reasonably superflous.

Safety

The new Mini is larger than ever, so it should come as no surprise to learn it features a huge array of safety tech. Standard equipment here includes front and side airbags, side curtain airbags and a partially active engine compartment lid that springs up to cushion impacts with soft human flesh.

Naturally, the new Mini’s excellent handling, strong brakes and plentiful power mean you’ll stand a strong chance of avoiding any trouble that may come your way.

Verdict

The Mini JCW is a hoot, but we’d expect nothing less, as the standard car is a blast too. Where this model excels is in the fact it’s slightly more focussed, with more power, better brakes, an improved exhaust soundtrack and a greater willingness to be driven enthusiastically.

It measures up well against its peers, leaving the likes of the Fiesta ST (and even the Focus ST and Golf GTI) for dust in a straight line, while acquitting itself superbly through the bends. The Mini JCW doesn’t come cheap, but if you’re looking for a reasonably compact hot hatch that’s incredibly good fun to drive then you’ll absolutely love it.  

Specification

Engine2.0-litre 4-cylinder TwinPower Turbo
Power230bhp
Torque320Nm
Acceleration0-62mph in 6.1s (with auto transmission)_
Emissions133g/km of CO2
Economy69mpg
Price£23,050

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