Representing the most exciting variants of the Mini family, the John Cooper Works badge used to be the sole reserve of the hottest 3-door hatchbacks from the marque. With the latest stable of Minis, however, that badge is now available on all future variants.
While this might sound like a recipe for watering down the halo-ed JCW badge, the developers of these cars, Mini’s in-house racing division, will want you thinking otherwise.
Yes, the same division that developed the hardcore limited-run JCW Challenge are the ones behind this little rebel green number, and I had the keys for the next couple of days.
I’ll have to admit, I’ve been waiting a really long time for this. To get behind the wheel of the hottest Mini. Ever since I was a passenger in the first refreshed Cooper S from BMW with all its whining supercharged glory. That experience felt like riding in a little rally car and I’ve been wanting a go ever since.
I guess good things do happen to those who wait as sitting in front of me is the latest and greatest Mini to arrive on our shores. This John Cooper Works is also the first Mini to be blessed with BMW’s 2-litre Turbocharged heart, giving it plenty of poke with 228 horses and 320Nm of torque available on tap.
Those might not look like big numbers but it was in the delivery of those figures where this Mini really impressed. But before I get too ahead of myself, let us take a step back and enjoy the aesthetics. Oh yes, the aesthetics.
While the basic shape of the car is still unmistakably a Mini, the JCW’s hunkered down stance and visual enhancements have given it a much more serious attitude. Visually setting it apart from even the Cooper S.
Most noticeably, on this John Cooper Works Mini, are a set of lovely 18″ Two-tone Cup Spoke wheels enveloping a pair of 4-pot brakes up front, JCW aero with accompanying rear spoiler, a honeycomb mesh grille, bonnet stripes and plenty of JCW badges all around, inside and out! There are many badges to be found!
Our test car also came in the best colour, Rebel green with a contrasting red roof, mirror caps and front grille accent. Did i mention the stunning union jack motif-ed rear lights? Unfortunately, while our car did sport a set of central twin exhaust pipes, these were not the much talked about JCW sports exhaust with the Bluetooth controller.
In addition to those aforementioned JCW add-ons, this latest JCW also comes with revised trick LED headlamps that include a side-illumination feature when making turns. It’s a really nifty feature to have without the complication of swivelling lights.
The lovely Mini details continue in the cabin with plenty of JCW badges to be seen with red stitched Alcantara/leather seats all around. Those up front get very supportive JCW Sports seats and once again, we are treated to a set of very tactile toggle switches. Worth a mention because they really elevate the overall ambience of the interior.
Navigation is standard and so is a booming Harman Kardon sound system with probably a million speakers. I exaggerate of course, but with 360 watts of amplified sonic power channelling 12 speakers in a cabin as snug as this Mini, it really does feel that way.
Interior illumination on the JCW is also “amplified” at night with the Union Jack motif carried on inside along the passenger trim. It might look a little over the top in pictures but it once again adds to the car’s playful character once the brights come on. if you really still think it’s a bit much, it can be turned off.
Rear passenger space is how shall we say, “adequate” but overall boot space is good and with the rear seats folded down, is more than useful. But, you don’t buy a 3-door Mini JCW for rear seats and boot space do you? (Thankfully Mini now has the 5-door, Clubman and Countryman all JCW-ed up for those purposes). You buy a 3-door JCW because you love the style, because you love the drive, and because you want to experience the ultimate expression of what makes a modern Mini, a Mini.
For that, all you’ll need to do is to flip that starter toggle switch to fire up this JCW’s 2-litre turbocharged heart. Do it, and you’ll get to enjoy a lovely baritone bass number which quickly settles down as the car is quickly brought to life. Immediately letting you know this is no ordinary Cooper.
Around town, the JCW is a peach to drive, small and zippy to slot into little gaps in traffic and responsive enough to dart out of tight carpark corners faster than anything else you’ll encounter on 4 wheels.
Dig a little deeper though and the M in Mini might as well stand for Magic as this little car never stopped to amaze me every single time I got behind the wheel.
Honest to goodness, I have not had this much fun in a car on our local roads in years, in fact, after careful deliberation and self-reflection, I realised that the last time I had this much fun driving in Singapore, was when I had the keys to a BMW Z4 M Roadster. I challenge you or anyone to not have a smile when driving this JCW, it is really good.
Turn-in is sharp and quick with the JCW just soaking up every bit of abuse I could throw at it and the 4-pot brakes upfront work so well at scrubbing off speed, even with a little squirmy action at the limit, the car felt controllable and never once was there an “oh shit!” moment.
There is one area where I think they could have improved upon though, and that is with the factory’s selection of rubber. Pirelli P7 Cinturato might be good on a Cooper S but imagine how much better this JCW can be with a set of P-Zeros or even Pilot Super Sports!
228 horses might not look like much on paper but like the Mini One I tested earlier, each and every one of those horses is usable, allowing you to be rather liberal (once again) with how much throttle input you want to apply when exiting corners and tight turns, working in harmony with the snappy 8-speed automatic shifter that does a great job at predicting shift points.
Let off the gas and the exhaust transforms into a machine gun, generously spitting out pops and bangs on the overrun. It is such a riot, bringing out the inner hooligan in you as you hunt down cabriolets with their tops down just to subject them to the pops and bangs emanating from those centrally located twin pipes.
It’s been a month since I returned the JCW back to Mini Habitat and I still haven’t stopped gushing. I love how it looks, I love the car’s character and I am addicted to the drive.
In the end, this Mini JCW is really a car of questions. A car of “what ifs”.
What if I had studied harder? What if I had a better paying job? What if I could actually afford one? Because if I could, I would have without any hesitation ordered my very own rebel green JCW.
Why? Because what this car did, was put a smile on my face every single time I turned the key and brought genuine joy and happiness to every journey. And isn’t happiness what everyone wants in the end?
In short, this isn’t a car. It’s an antidepressant on wheels, and I really want one.