Mini John Cooper Works

It's good to drive a sporty version of the great British favourite, except when the suspension is as poor as the price is high

Price £20,995. On sale now

Engine 1,5988cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, turbocharged, 211bhp at 6,000rpm, 192lb ft at 1,850-5,600rpm

Transmission six-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive

Performance 148mph, 0-62 in 6.8sec, 40.4mpg official average, CO2 167g/km

At what point in the life history of the current, BMW-created Mini do we let go of the original, 10ft one? This week’s road test subject may just mark that point. Its name, however, might not, at first, lead you to that conclusion. This is the Mini John Cooper Works, the ultimate road-going Mini that’s based on a Cooper S but has another 36bhp at its disposal, making 211 in total. That is a lot of power for a 1.6-litre engine.

We’ve had a JCW before, based on the first-generation BMWMini, and it was a delight. That one was indeed developed inpart by John Cooper Garages, the company set up by the late John Cooper who used to run a Formula One team and invented the original Mini Cooper.

For a small firm to develop a manufacturer-approved tuning kit in the modern world ofregulation and liability was a heart-warming ember of past fast-car freedoms, but it couldn’t last. This new JCW is one in name only: it’s an entirely BMW-engineered, German developed creation.

It is, however, still Minishaped. But it weighs 1205kg, which is twice the weight of an original Mini Cooper, and it’s not really small at all. (Nor is the price, a startling £20,995 which is £4,995 more than a Cooper S.) Even next to my Peugeot 205 GTI, a larger-than average supermini in its day, the JCW looks enormous despite having a boot approximately half as capacious. Crash-safety regulations have ruined today’s cars, and for those who make a point of driving in a way which avoids crashes, that’s a great shame.

Still, 211bhp should still be plenty, especially as up to 207lb ft of pulling ability is available during the engine’s short spurts of turbocharged overboost. To help the front wheels handle all this energy there’s an electronic version of a limited-slip differential, which works by gently braking a wheel which would otherwise be spinning power uselessly away, typically the inside wheelwhen accelerating out of a corner.

Other changes from the Cooper S are a smattering of JCW badges and a new wheel design, and the front brakes are bigger.

Under the bonnet, though, is where the main changes lie. In essence, air is forced into the engine more effectively and the exhaust extracted more efficiently, thanks to enlargements to the intake pipework, the turbocharger and the exhaust system’s diameter. Maximum turbo boost pressure has also been significantly increased, up from 0.9 to 1.3bar, and engine and transmission components have been strengthened accordingly. That’s where the money goes, on these special, strengthened, limited production parts.

I like small, fast cars - “small” being a relative term here. They’re more nimble than hefty, gas-slurping GTs and supercars, less profligate, more usable and ultimately more fun on real roads. They also represent the future of driving pleasure, using minimum resources for maximum enjoyment. Official figures here state a “combined cycle” averagefuel consumption of 40.4mpg, although no one is likely to drive aJCW in the gentle way that cars are driven for the test.

SoI fire up this Mini with some eagerness. This is going to be fun. The exhaust makes a healthy bark and off I sprint up the hill.

I’ve heard reports that the abundance of motive energy causes the nose to be pulled this way and that as grip levels vary, making the steering wheel tug in your hands, but what tugging I’m feeling is hardly a worry. It’s simply a reminder of which wheels are doing the work, and I’ve driven powerful front-wheel drive cars in which this “torque steer” is a much bigger problem.

This is one of those engines that makes a car go faster than you initially think it does, mainly because its power delivery is veryeven across the speed range. Apart from a moment of torpor when accelerating from low speeds, because the bigger turbocharger takes longer to spool up to speed thanks to its turbine’s greater inertia, the engine simply delivers lots and lots of easy, controllable thrust. So overtaking becomes the simple matter of an ankle flex. It’s like the regular Cooper S with a little added urgency.

And each time I decelerate or change gear, there’s a little bang from the exhaust pipe like a racing car’s. It’s not loud enough to frighten the horses but it sounds great, as does the edgy blare under load. This direct-injection BMW engine, also used by Peugeot, hasn’t sounded particularly interesting in its incarnations to date, but here it finds its voice.

Let’s press the Sport button. Now the accelerator s response is yet sharper but something horrible has happened to the steering. As with too many modern, electrically powered systems, it felt oddly rubbery and artificial to begin with.

Sport mode adds a heavy, glutinous quality which further masks feedback even though the idea of the extra weight is to give the impression of a moreintimate connection with the road. It fails. Don’t bother.

But the JCW has a far bigger problem than that, one it shares with the regular Cooper S. Someone in Germany has the notion that a “sporty” car should allow its suspension to move in relation to the car’s body as little as possible.

The tautness this gives is fine on a smooth road or racetrack, but on a normal road, especially a British one with a crumbling surface and a disintegrating substructure, it’s entirely wrong-headed. We need suppleness combined with well judged damping, as Lotus and Jaguar do so well and Peugeot used to do.

The Mini JCW is intolerable onmany British back roads and its suspension settings should never have been signed off.

You can, if you must, have a yet-firmer Sports suspension, or aspecial JCW system for a “hardcore”( so says BMW) experience. But you’d be off your head.

Mini JCW. Great idea, too expensive, ruined by its suspension. What a shame.

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.


ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Health & Safety Consultant

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic and exciting opport...

    Recruitment Genius: Project and Quality Manager

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is an independent ...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Executive - OTE £20,625

    £14625 - £20625 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role is for an enthusiasti...

    Guru Careers: Financial Controller

    £45 - £55k DOE: Guru Careers: A Financial Controller is required to join a suc...

    Day In a Page

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Attwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'