MINI JCW review
A sporty chassis, racy styling and 208bhp engine give the MINI John Cooper Works serious punch
The MINI John Cooper Works is the performance flagship of the MINI hatchback range. It's a big leap up from the regular Cooper S, with more power, stiffer suspension and beefed up styling making it the enthusiast's choice. A raspy exhaust note, taut body control, impressive grip and controls that stream with feedback tick all the hot hatch boxes, too. A firm ride and hefty price tag are the only downsides compared to other MINIs, but the JCW is a stern rival to cars like the Renautsport Clio and Vauxhall Corsa VXR. The limited edition JCW GP II strips out the back seats and adds a long list of racing-derived parts to make it the fastest and most focused MINI of all.
Our choice: MINI John Cooper Works 1.6T
Combining the classic MINI shape with unique 17-inch alloy wheels, a sporty bodykit and extra badges, the JCW stands out from the crowd. The retro inspiration isn’t to everyone's tastes, but the detailing is spot on and there’s tonnes of scope for personalisation. The sporty theme continues inside, where subtle tweaks over the standard Cooper S give the interior a racy feel without upsetting the retro-inspired cabin. The GP II model adds a big rear wing, racy graphics and exclusive wheels, while a big red strut brace ties the rear suspension together, in place of the rear seats.
The MINI JCW's engine, transmission and brakes were developed in conjunction with the MINI Challenge race car, so it has competition pedigree. The 208bhp 1.6-litre engine has a twin scroll turbocharger and with 280Nm between 1,850-5,600rpm, it delivers potent performance and a racy exhaust note. An update to the engine in 2013 didn't boost performance but was claimed by MINI to have improved throttle response – you'd be hard pushed to notice, though. The chassis sparkles - a clever differential helps traction and the steering is sharp, body control excellent and the brakes strong. The John Cooper Works is a joy in corners, and while the ride is firm, it’s no worse than key rivals like the Renaultsport Clio. The GP II model is virtually the MINI Challenge car with number plates, as it uses bespoke engine parts and under body aerodynamics. These give it a raw, hardcore feel, and will leave you buzzing after every drive.
The JCW has Isofix, six airbags and electronic stability control. The DTC Dynamic Traction Control gives you a medium setting that allows enough slip to prevent the power being cut too aggressively, yet retains the stability control element for safety. With well-proven components, the John Cooper Works is engineered for hard use. The GP II's bespoke running gear will need to be looked after properly, so main dealer servicing is a must. However, just like the rest of the range, the GP II is covered by MINI's tlc fixed-price servicing package.
If you buy a MINI hatch then you accept relatively tight rear passenger room and a small boot. With the seats in place the boot has a 160-litre capacity, but split/fold is standard and maximum luggage space is 680 litres. A pair of glove boxes, decent door pockets and twin cup-holders mean cabin storage is good, while a host of roof racks, bike carriers and roof boxes feature in the extensive accessories list. The GP II model ditches the back seats, so while you can't carry as many passengers, there's more room for luggage, although there's no load cover to hide your belongings.
Smile inducing running costs have always been a big part of the MINI ownership experience, and while less powerful models offer better economy and lower emissions, the John Cooper Works still benefits from fixed-priced servicing and excellent residuals. The JCW hatch received a new engine at the beginning of 2013 which didn't get any more power but did help cut CO2 emissions from 165g/km to 153g/km thanks to a new stop-start system and other tweaks. Fuel economy is up from 39.8mpg to 42.8mpg. The GP II is expensive at nearly £30,000, but you're essentially getting a limited edition model with a raft of bespoke running gear.