It delivers fun by the bucketload – but how does British hot hatch scrub up as a daily driver?

  • This is the fastest car in the MINI line-up, and strikes a great balance between performance and handling. There’s enough power to make it entertaining, but the clever front differential ensures this doesn’t compromise its dynamics with a loss of traction. The raspy exhaust note is great, while strong brakes, sharp steering and superb body control also mark it out.
  • Two weeks into life with the JCW, I have yet to find anything I don’t like. The boot seems small compared to that of the Clubman, and it’s a pity the Sport button – which delivers sharper throttle response – doesn’t also make the exhaust note more racy. But these are minor gripes.

I don’t know about you, but I hate driving a dirty car – especially if it’s brand new! And given my love of sparkling paintwork, I’m beginning to wonder why I chose British Racing Green as the colour for the latest addition to our long-term fleet. The idea was to select something different for our MINI JCW. Most other Coopers you see on the road have a white roof with matching bonnet stripes and door mirrors, so our monotone model is unusual.

If you ask me, the end result is great, giving the racy MINI an understated look. The paint also draws attention to the large alloy wheels, lattice grille and twin exhausts. And the patriotic shade is perfect considering this year marks the brand’s 50th birthday. If only the metallic finish didn’t show up the dust or flies so much when it’s dirty. Returning it to a smear-free finish takes a lot of effort, too.

Still, as I’m a big MINI fan, spending a few hours each weekend with a bucket and sponge is a small price to pay for driving such a great-looking and sharp-handling hot hatch.

We’re still running our JCW in, and I haven’t done many miles in YG09 OKV yet. But having tested the hottest MINI in the range for our Performance Car of the Year 2008 supplement and driven one to the south of France and back for a head-to-head with the new Ford Focus RS (Issue 1,052), I know just how good it is.

I love the punchy power delivery of the 1.6-litre turbo engine, while the precise steering and agile cornering ability are engaging on most types of road. There’s a really rewarding rasp from the exhaust, plus the six-speed gearbox has a precise shift.

All the pedals are perfectly placed, too. In fact, I love the whole cabin. Its combination of retro detailing and a superb driving position make it a real pleasure to spend time in. The design of the large central speedo is another highlight. We specified the excellent £1,365 sat-nav system, which displays directions in the middle of the dial – and the optional Chili pack and Bluetooth connection ensure our car is well equipped.

The chunky part-Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel is great to hold, and the standard seats provide enough support in corners and comfort on long journeys – even if they don’t look as sporty as those in other hot hatches. The ebony trim on the doors and dash provides the kind of big car quality that makes the sporty supermini feel like such a winner.

Having previously run a long-term Clubman Cooper D, I’m already used to day-to-day life with a MINI. Yet the JCW is a different proposition – it’s certainly better looking, although I enjoyed the extra space of the estate model.

Time will tell whether this shortfall in practicality holds back the three-door, but on my commute along the poorly surfaced roads of south London, I’ve already noticed the JCW’s firmer ride. It’s refined on motorways, though, and is comfortable for a hot hatch. It’s just a pity this is the only MINI not to get stop-start technology – I’ll let you know how much this affects my fuel returns.

I can’t wait to start racking up the miles in the JCW, then. But I’ll just have to keep my weekends free to clean it!

Second Opinion

Like Owen, I’ve fallen head over heels for the charms of our gorgeous green JCW. Its boisterous and occasionally unruly nature means that every journey – no matter how short – is guaranteed to put a great big smile on your face. With its sharp steering and incredibly agile chassis, the MINI is one of the most involving drivers’ cars you’re ever likely to take the wheel of. So although there are faster and more practical hot hatches on the market, few are as much fun as our new British-built baby!

- James Disdale: Road tester

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