“Mini spices its line up with the new and improved Mini John Cooper Works. But is a stiffer suspension, red roof and a plethora of chequered flags enough to dazzle brand loyalists?”
Every year auto manufacturers tease us with flashy prototypes unveiled at auto shows around the world, yet most of the time those same seductive sculptures evolve into tamer and lamer versions of themselves as they get closer to production. Thankfully, that’s not the case of the all-new John Cooper Works. Well —except for the exposed steel body shown at the Detroit Auto show couple of years ago.
In case you aren’t up to date in the Mini way-of-things, most Mini’s are sold in one of two configurations: the traditional Cooper with a 3-cylinder turbo engine that produces 134-horsepower, and the more fun Cooper S with a 4-cylinder, also turbo engine producing a more playful 189-horsepower. The JCW variant is then tuned and given a significant power bump to 228-horsepower, along with a stiffer suspension, full-body aero kit, louder exhaust, racier interior treatment and a steep price tag.
Last October we shared with you about the 2015 Cooper S and all its improvements and technology that made it the best Mini Cooper to date, but now it’s time to find out if the alpha-male of the line up really lives up to its reputation, and most of all, if it’s as convenient as hatchbacks are meant to be.
Step into the cabin and notice how the already quite flamboyant interior design has been kicked up a notch. The in-cabin atmosphere that Mini is known for is complimented with red stitching on the seats and steering wheel, while a chequered flag-theme adorns the trim panels, and stainless steel pedals and heavily bolstered leather and alcantara sports seats wrap up the sporty look. But it’s the —you guessed it, chequered flag JCW insignia above the center display that reminds you of this Mini’s heritage.
Rear seating dimensions remain the same compared to the lesser Cooper models, and hip room is sufficient enough to fit even the bulkiest of car seats and another human or animal occupant. The LATCH-Isofix anchors are protected with a flip up plastic cover that makes them easy to access and keeps them Cheerio and Goldfish-free. Although if you happen to have a spouse shorter than you, you’re in luck, as you know which side to mount the car seat on to maximize front and rear legroom. The JCW is by no means a “family car”, but it can definitely haul babies, toddlers and moody pre-teens in safety and style. Trust me.
Trunk space isn’t massive, but it’ll accommodate couple of week’s worth of groceries and most other everyday things you may need to throw back there. But if temptation gets the best of you while shopping at Walmart, you’ll be limited to approximately a 47-inch screen with the rear seats folded down.
Unfortunately, as it’s true with most “hardcore” versions of any sports car, the JCW’s interior is a joy at first, but as the days go by, the not-so-padded sports seats start feeling uncomfortable, the eye-candy starts getting old, and your body and wallet start haunting you in your sleep about your car-buying decisions.
Needy for attention? Get a JCW Mini. You are guaranteed to turn heads at the grocery store, gas station, on the highway, at stop lights and pretty much everywhere you go. Mini has done a great job at keeping the red roof and mirror cap color designation to JCW models only, which immediately shout for attention and make a bold statement. On top of that, the JCW comes with trim-specific grill, full-body aero kit, side scuttles, and standard 17-inch wheels. Although the optional 18-inch wheels are much more flattering.
I particularly loved the Moonwalk gray paint on our test car, as not only did it fit the energetic and street-fighter attitude of the JCW, but it managed to hide dirt like nobodies business. I happened to grab a rag and spray some liquid wax over our JCW just for a quick shine, when I noticed my rag quickly turned black with dirt. I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it was that dirty and I didn’t t notice. Score!
The Driving Experience
I won’t tell you to ignore what you just read, or not consider the JCW’s interior and exterior attributes as you daydream about buying one. But let’s be truthful, 99% of JCW buyers care about one thing —the driving experience. I’d personally drive a shopping cart powered by a lawnmower engine if it delivered a magical sports-driving experience, which explains why the most coveted sports cars have silly nylon straps as door handles. Weight Reduction, Bro.
It only has 228-horsepower, they said. Buckle up, click the drive mode selector to Sport, smash the throttle and hang on. If you care to see just how much horsepower your little hands are having to control at any given time, head into the settings screen and bring up the horsepower and torque animation —then you will understand how most of us can’t exploit all of the JCW’s 228-hp, specially on street roads. See, the thing is that the JCW handles so freaking well, that one can only ignite every horsepower on highway ramps or long stretches of road. On twisty and curvy roads the JCW only needs about 130 to 150-hp to quickly waltz through hairpins and murder apexes. It’s all about that genius BMW-tuned suspension and steering that makes you wish you had a membership to your local race track.
All in all, I walked away with mixed feelings after giving Dreyer and Reinbold back their Mini. In the end, I was extremely pleased with the car, how it drove, and of course, the way it looked. It brings back fond memories of my previous Mini Coopers and how much I enjoyed driving them. But at the same time, I don’t know that I could walk into the dealer and sign away forty-grand. Why is that? Most people would say it needs more power to be relevant in its segment, which is somewhat true. Some would say that it’s impractical, but they’re wrong, as I managed to fit a stroller, a power wheels and other large items in the back of it. Don’t complain about the lack of cargo room. It’s a Mini, not a Tahoe.
I’ll tell you what it is —it’s bloody good. It’s fun, its exhaust crackles and pops, and I just can’t get over how well it glues to the road. And that’s why I couldn’t buy one. A car like this is meant to be driven fast and hard, so if you’re looking for a fun and quick commuter, save yourself eight-grand and buy the Cooper S. You’ll thank me for it.
- Looks like a HotWheels.
- Handles like a go-kart.
- Cool exhaust sounds.
- Backed by first-class service at Dreyer and Reinbold (Indianapolis, IN).
The not so Great:
- Not a lot of modern luxuries for the price.
- Way too many features are optional.
- Best suited for track driving.
- No good place to set your mobile phone while driving.
- Starts at: $30,600
- Price as tested: $38,910
Photos by Matthieu Picard and Jerry Perez