MINI John Cooper Works 2015 review

Manual version of MINI JCW hot hatch saves you money - and adds to the fun

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

It comes as little surprise, but mating a manual gearbox to such an excitable and energetic hot hatch immediately makes the JCW a more appealing proposition. Small sacrifices have to be made in running costs, but the immediate cost saving of £1,330 over the auto and greater connection with the car it provides makes it a no-brainer if a JCW is on your wish list. But it’s also worth noting rivals, namely the lesser-powered Ford Fiesta ST, offers as much fun for a fraction of the cost.

MINI’s hottest ever hatch, the John Cooper Works, has had one key ingredient missing from its tasty looking recipe. So far we’ve only tested the JCW with the six-speed automatic transmission, but now fitted with what will be the more popular manual gearbox option, can it transform this already good hot hatch into a great one?

This manual version is not as efficient as the automatic, returning just over 42mpg and 155g/km compared the auto’s 49mpg and 133g/km of CO2. But when you factor in the £1,330 saving you’ll pocket over the auto, the extra you have fork out at the pumps and the added £50 a year in road tax becomes easier to digest.

It’s also fractionally slower – but, in the real world, the 0.2 second advantage the auto (6.1 seconds) has over the manual (6.3 seconds) from 0-62mph is almost indistinguishable. Power delivery is equally relentless – the 228bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo is urgent and responsive, ripping through the rev range with such severity it almost makes it difficult to keep up with gear changes.

But this is where the appeal of the manual version of the JCW blossoms. The extra layer of interactivity the six-speed box brings makes the whole package feel more alive, more alert and ultimately more rewarding. Working your way up and down the ratios yourself is far more satisfying than a simple flick of a paddle, with auto rev-matching on the way back down through the gears giving an audible throttle blip, adding to the thrill.

Even though this is the cheapest version of the JCW at a smidge over £23,000, it’s easy to get carried away with the options. Tick the option boxes and that price can quite easily exceed £30,000, pushing the MINI into VW Golf R territory.

But even at this cost, MINI has been rather stingy with the amount of kit fitted as standard. If you want sat-nav you’ll have to pay extra for it, just like you will if you want heated seats, climate control and automatic lights and wipers.

One option worth forking out for are the £240 adaptive dampers. Toggle the JCW through to Sport mode and you can feel it tense up – the steering weights up, the dampers become firmer and exhaust note more raucous.

Lift off the throttle and you get lovely crackles and pops on the overrun – you’ll soon find yourself hanging onto gears for longer, lifting off the throttle earlier for the gunfire soundtrack you get as the revs recede. Pin the throttle and there’s huge in-gear pace thanks to 320Nm of torque available from 1,250rpm, which swiftly gets you back up to speed.

Flick it into normal mode and dampers soften, taking the edge of the ride although the JCW never feels as edgy or tense over rutted ground as some of its closest rivals. That maturity is echoed inside too, with an upmarket and premium feeling cabin that hasn’t made any sacrifices when it comes to retaining MINI’s quirky and unique look.

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