A Milder-mannered firecracker: Driving the Mini F56 John Cooper Works 3-Door LCI

I vividly remember the first time I last drove one of these, because the last time I went behind the wheel of Mini’s John Cooper Works hatchback, I knew in an instant I’d fallen in love. I loved how it looked, I loved how it drove and (unlike other journos) I even loved that it kept me on my toes with its edginess. Most importantly though, I loved the Mini JCW because it was so full of character. Hence with such high expectations, I felt more than a hint of trepidation as I approached its latest incarnation.

An incarnation that doesn’t just bring the latest JCW aesthetically and technologically up to date with the rest of the range but had also brought with it some changes to comply with the ever-changing world of automotive emission and noise regulations.

With the next generation of Minis set to take a revolutionary step in terms of aesthetics, Mini’s latest visual updates to their entire range are the final culmination of an evolutionary design process that began with Frank Stephenson’s originally groundbreaking and iconic new Mini over 20 years ago.

On our car, these visual enhancements are further emphasised with aggressive flourishes and contrasting accents bespoke to the cars bearing the John Cooper Works moniker and it does (ahem), work, as the pumped-up (and slightly chunkier) aesthetic elements of the JCW coupled with its larger set of eye-catching 18-inch alloys and JCW Brembo 4-piston brakes instantly sets itself apart from its less exuberant siblings and in the process, further raises the aggression factor by a notch from the car it replaces.

Inside, whilst much remains the same as before, the latest updates that have been applied on other Minis across the range have also made it into the JCW including Mini’s 8.8-inch touchscreen running their latest operating system that now features customizable widgets and a restyled steering wheel trimmed in Nappa leather that’s a joy to hold.

As always, the fantastically tactile toggle switches remain though with the popularity of auxiliary controls transitioning to a full touch-screen interface, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last we see of them.

Space in the back is also business as usual with little concession to comfortably sit a pair of full-sized occupants, but if space is a factor in your decision-making process, there is always the fantastic John Cooper Works Clubman to consider.

On the move, with an extra 3 horses over its predecessor, the latest JCW is able to punch up to 100km/h in a rapid enough 6.1 seconds, 0.2 seconds quicker than before. Though in actual practice, it does feel quicker as the front wheels scramble for grip as they earnestly try to deliver 320Nm of torque down onto the ground from one of the peachiest 4-cylinder power plants on the market.

Punchy, smooth and ever so willing to deliver, the B48 TwinPower Turbo is a wonderful compact 2-litre gem of an internal combustion engine.

Unfortunately, this gem of an engine has also been paired with a gasoline particulate filter (GPF) which to appease the latest eco-regulations has robbed the JCW of its very lovely and very vocal voice. While it might have given the latest JCW a more refined character with its raucous pops and bangs filtered away, I fear it has also taken away a key fundamental aspect of what I loved about the JCW as these environmentally unfriendly pops and bangs used to make the car feel so much more alive.

New for the latest generation of the Mini JCW 3-door is a new Adaptive Suspension system with “frequency-selective damper technology”, designed to dampen noise when driving over minor bumps in pursuit of increased refinement and while it does work to an extent, the ride is still one that not everyone will appreciate.

What this new system does not dampen though is just how enjoyable the JCW still is on twisty curvy roads as it dives, darts and lunges into each bend forever eager for the next. Unfortunately, (and this is a very personal view) without its previous hilariously fun popcorn-machine-Esque exhaust crackles, the latest Mini JCW feels like it has matured into a more mild-mannered firecracker, still fully capable and still able to keep up with the best of its rivals but never quite in the mood to fully let her hair down.

Although I can understand why many will prefer a slightly more refined driving experience. I do miss the way she used to make me feel.

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