Mini with max speed is on the pricey side
Aggressively styled JCW addictive in terms of performance and handling prowess
Date Reviewed: June 3, 2015
Credit where it’s due: Mini is an absolute motor industry marvel. Like it or not, whether you find it incredibly cool or simply a rather pricey and cynical marketing ploy, there’s no arguing with the sales figures.
Internationally that is - where the BMW-owned brand has impressively cloaked itself in Cool Britannia marketing and the Union Flag. Amongst Chinese consumers the desirability for all things Mini is remarkable.
In Ireland the recession gave the brand a bit of a pounding, revealing it to be a rather fickle fashion accessory than a must-have functional motor. While every car brand suffered under the market collapse, Mini sales followed many of the more opulent luxury brands over a cliff.
In 2007 1,391 new Minis were registered. Two years later and only 288 Minis carried the 09 plate.
Since then we’ve had the addition of the Clubman, the Countryman, the Paceman, the coupe and roadster. Sales have recovered, but it’s still down to a figure of 486 new cars last year.
Signs are that the lure of Mini is picking up again. Sales so far this year have already hit 402 by the end of May.
The oddball coupe and roadster variants were sales flops but the Countryman is proving a practical hit; anecdotally they seem to be noticeable in suburban traffic wearing 142 and 151 plates.
It’s fair to say, however, that the Mini’s allure is closely aligned to the disposable incomes of well-heeled middle classes looking for a motoring treat.
Globally it’s hard to pinpoint the reason for Mini success, but the individual styling and the unique format of the cabin certainly play a big part.
It proves once more that stepping away from the safe, conservative styling can pay great dividends. While design is down to personal taste, it’s hard to dislike the cute curves of the Mini and even in the more aggressive styling of this John Cooper Works version it’s still got impish appeal.
At present the JCW is offered only in hardtop three-door format, but spy shots are already emerging of a soft-top being tested and a five-door can’t be far behind.
This JCW is billed as the fastest Mini ever built and it certainly seems to be the case. The JCW is addictive in terms of its performance and handling prowess. But even if you do have access to your own go-kart track and can have some real fun in this car, the end result struggles to justify the price tag. The JCW’s handling is sublime, up there with many six-figure racers and it can proudly claim its place alongside driving icons like the Mazda MX-5 in terms of on-road agility. It’s one of the few cars that makes you eagerly anticipate road signs warning of bends ahead.
Under the bonnet the engineers have shoehorned a 231bhp turbocharged 2-litre with torque figure of 320Nm. And I do mean shoehorned, for there isn’t a centimetre of spare capacity in the engine bay. It’s an admirable feat, if one that makes you feel for the mechanics who will need the hands of a five year-old to work with it.
The changes for the JCW are not simply down to a remapping of the engine management system: the car features bespoke pistons, a different turbocharger to the Cooper S. The end result is a car that claims to hit 100km/h from standing start in 6.1 seconds. Floor the throttle, however, and it certainly feels faster than the figures imply. Its pace is well ahead of rivals like the Opel Corsa OPC when it comes to the all-important overtaking time of 80km/h to 120km/h. The Opel manages it in 6.4 seconds – the Mini in 5.6 seconds.
The steptronic six-speed auto is smooth and fits the torque curve from the engine. There’s the chance to opt for a sports driving mode that certainly sensitises the throttle response and the resultant growl from the prominent twin tailpipes at the back.
Its underpinnings are actually shared with some of BMW’s recently launched 2-Series Active Tourer, specifically the 225i version where this engine also features. And that’s a boon for me as I am a big fan of the new BMW people carrier. Yet it’s a little odd that the fastest Mini shares its heart with the most practical BMW.
Practicality may not be the JCW’s forte but in the cabin there are some lovely touches, like the comfortable yet figure hugging sports seats in the front. The rear seats are still largely for storage but access to them is easier than it has been in the past when Mini squeezed sports seats into its hatchbacks as an afterthought, leaving you struggling to even get your hands on the seatbelt never mind get access to the back bench.
Inside and out the JCW has all the touches to try and make it that little bit special, and our test car certainly pulled it off. The price is scary though. At €36,100 it’s really hard to justify. Is any Mini really worth the same price as a VW Golf GTi?
In our post-recession reality the Cooper S is all you need – and it can be dressed up to capture just as many admiring looks. You can get a Cooper S for €28,340, or a Cooper for €22,670. Those still seem pricey for what they are, but can arguably be justified in terms of the incredible draw of the car and its impressive residuals.
As to the future of Mini, it’s reported that the brand will call time on its oddball coupe and roadster variants and focus on a potential high-roofed people carrier variant, not a million miles from a Mini version of the 2-Series Active Tourer perhaps.
So to the JCW. Love the performance, but it doesn’t quite have the level of delivery and wild excess I would have hoped for from a car that carries the billing of being “the fastest Mini ever”.
One of my abiding motoring memories was a few days spent travelling around Ireland’s back roads in a new Mini. It’s a wonderful car to drive and one of the few small cars that makes you happy at the thought of having to drive around on an Irish boreen. But despite all that I think I’d rather pocket the extra cash – a not inconsequential €8,000 – and opt for the Cooper S.