2015 Mini John Cooper Works Test Drive: Feisty Bulldog

Meet the fastest and most powerful Mini ever built, courtesy of JCW

Overall Score
80 / 100

The new Mini John Cooper Works has already made a name for itself as an important milestone in the brand’s history, by being the fastest and most powerful Mini ever built. The model also benefited from BMW’s expertise in the field of racing-inspired, performance vehicles, which means the new Mini JCW comes with an extensive menu filled with what some of us may refer to as “goodies”. Couple that with the company’s jump from the 1.6-liter engine to a 2.0-liter four-cylinder unit and you can already paint a picture of how much fun the new Mini JCW can deliver. So let’s get straight into details, shall we?

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IN BRIEF
  • Recommended for:
    driving nuts
    young and single
  • Created for:
    winding roads
    urban driving
    track
  • Hats off for:
    road handling
    engine power
  • Bang for the buck:
    meh


Drive
Powertrain
10 / 10

Every performance-oriented model must, before everything else, have a proper beating heart under the hood. The new Mini JCW fulfills this requirement thanks to a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine ready to deliver 231 HP and 320 Nm (236 lb-ft) of torque available from as low as 1,250 rpm. If we were to compare, that’s a 10 percent improvement in terms of power and a 23 percent boost in terms of torque from the previous Mini John Cooper Works.

Mini decided to fit the new JCW with a six-speed manual transmission as standard, but clients can also choose the optional six-speed Steptronic sport gearbox, installed on our test car. When equipped with the automatic transmission, the new Mini JCW can go from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.1 seconds. The best thing about this engine-gearbox duo is the fact that the car feels fast in every gear. You also get the option of switching between gears using the steering wheel shift paddles and Mini went for a neat trick here: if you hold the downshift paddle, the car’s electronics will automatically find the most suitable gear for optimal performance.

Speaking of which, for the most hardcore driving experience keep the engine well revved, somewhere around 5,000-5,200 rpm, where those 231 horses are fully unleashed. Step heavily on the accelerator and you’ll feel like there’s a rocket pushing you from behind, guided by the rumbling coming from the engine. Once you release the gas pedal, get ready to meet the godfather of all popcorn makers, as the exhaust will start popping and hissing, revealing your presence to the other drivers.


Handling
10 / 10

While driving the new Mini JCW, every corner becomes a chance to throw a little party that lasts for two or three seconds. That’s because the steering is as sharp and feedback-generating as they come and you’ll have to thank BMW for that as well. In addition, the driver is assisted by a smart Electronic Differential Lock Control system which makes cornering a joy to perform.

You’ll feel confident with approaching each road bend and the car will respond accordingly, however, you’ll have to keep an eye on the speedometer every now and then. That’s because the cabin is so well isolated from what happens outside the car and it’s easy to lose the sense of speed, especially when you’re in control of an alluring driving machine. Luckily, the massive Brembo front brakes in charge with stopping the car do their job on any given day, so you never feel like you’ve lost control of the situation.

The ride is stiffer than the average but that’s how a hot hatch should behave, since something must be sacrificed in order to completely abolish body roll. Plus, you can get the optional Dynamic Damper Control feature, which allows you to soften the suspension - choosing one of the Green, Mid and Sport available modes - for trips around the city or on bumpier surfaces, where the 17-inch wheels are not helping your back’s cause at all.


Safety
7 / 10

Although the new Mini JCW hasn’t gone through the Euro NCAP crash tests, its down-to-Earth brother, namely the Mini Cooper got four stars overall and was rated at 79 percent adult occupant protection, 73 percent child occupant protection and 56 percent for safety assistance features.

As far as the Mini John Cooper Works is concerned, clients can get a camera-based cruise control system, collision and pedestrian warning with initial brake function, road sign detection and Park Assistance Control.

Interior
Comfort
6 / 10

The only area where you can talk about comfort as far as the new Mini JCW is concerned has a lot to do with the front seats. Lateral support is excellent and the shape of the bucket seats can be translated into a tight, firm hug. Don’t expect them to be too comfortable though. Plus, the big wheels and the overall rigidness of the car won’t help much either.

Mini is also offering a head-up display, where the driver can easily read relevant car-related info like the current speed, navigation directions and speed limits. As you imagine, room at the back is rather limited, because the Mini JCW is based on the three-door Mini Cooper hatchback. However, the car can accommodate two passengers in the rear seats provided they are either children or the short and skinny type. Otherwise, they’ll just have to squeeze to make use of the limited room.


Quality
8 / 10

Step inside the new JCW and you’ll get the impression of a well-built cabin. Then again, you’ll notice that as far as design is concerned, nothing changed in terms of shapes, although the JCW badge is now found on the steering wheel, the center console is decorated with checkered racing flags and the seats feature contrasting red stitching. Some plastics are a bit hard, especially those that are out of sight, but all in all we’re talking about the same polished package Mini has been offering lately.


Practicality
7 / 10

The new Mini John Cooper Works was never built to carry plenty of stuff during a family road trip. In fact, it can hardly accommodate a family inside, but again, that’s not the purpose of this car. The luggage compartment offers a shy value of 211 l of space, suitable for a few shopping bags, maybe one or two medium-sized luggage pieces.

Don’t get your hopes up about pockets and storage spaces inside the cabin, as the glove box and the two cup holders will have to do the trick for you needs. However, you don’t want your phone or other small items flying around the cockpit when you’re stepping on the gas on a curvy road, do you?

Also, the JCW retains Mini’s trademark round center console and those fighter jet-inspired switches, which means you’ll need time to figure out the role of every button, especially if Mini is new territory for you.


Infotainment
9 / 10

Just as the Mini Cooper, the sportier JCW-imbued version gets an 8.8-inch screen with an illuminated surround that changes color whenever the climate control and drive settings are changed.

The display also shows information coming from the satellite navigation system or images from the reverse camera (if the Parking Assistant option is present).
Other amenities include DAB digital radio, air con and Bluetooth, but for more cash, you can get the optional Harman Kardon hi-fi audio speaker system and smartphone connectivity for both iPhones and smartphones using the Android operating system.

Budget
Efficiency
7 / 10

There’s really not much to choose from because the Mini JCW only comes with one engine variant: the 2.0-liter four-cylinder mill whose behavior we described above. However, the car’s efficiency varies depending on the transmission it uses. Allow us to detail.

Our tester was fitted with the six-speed Steptronic auto gearbox, which in theory allows the engine to return a combined fuel consumption figure of 5.7 l/100 km (49 mpg) in the EU cycle. However, in real-life, the engine drank on an average 9.5 l of fuel every 100 km, which is a bit far off from what Mini claims.

Opt for the manual and on paper, the average fuel consumption figure stays at 6.7 l/100 km (42 mpg) while CO2 emissions are rated at 155 g/km, a bit higher than what the automatic transmission has to offer (133 g/km of CO2).


Equipment
9 / 10

Mini kept the standard equipment list to a minimum for the John Cooper Works variant. This means that those looking to fit their car with climate control, heated seats and automatic windshield wipers and lights must pay extra. Safety-wise, Mini is offering front airbags, side airbags and belt pre-tensioners in standard.


Acquisition
7 / 10

When it comes to pricing, things get pretty clear and straightforward. To us, the price tag on the Mini JCW is spicy, as the hot hatch starts from €29,900 in Europe (€31,750 for the variant fitted with the auto gearbox) and $30,600 in the United States. Furthermore, checking too much options will quickly raise the car price and you’ll have to consider a moderate approach if you’re working under a budget. Sure, for this kind of money you get a really fun to drive machine, bound to make heads turn when in motion, but get ready to drop any wishes related to practicality and comfort because the Mini JCW truly is a car that keeps you on your toes.

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