The John Cooper Works versions of the Cooper S Mini throughout the years has usually provided bonkers performance but has been compromised due to a hard ride and lack of practicality however, as I discovered, the new JCW is more practical and more usable than ever.
First up the stylzing. From an exterior perspective expect the usual JCW treatment with a body kit and model-specific wheels along with the obligatory JCW badging. There are also large twin-exit exhaust pipes and a rear spoiler but the exterior still remains quite tame in my opinion. Inside remedies this with the usual funky Mini-esque touches like oversized dials and gauges while the sports seats are simply superb. The most important thing that I took away from driving the JCW was that it felt like I was in a performance hatch, and that’s what counts.
The new model uses a bigger engine than the previous JCW but is the same 2.0-litre motor as seen in the current Cooper S only with a bigger turbocharger, new exhaust system, intake and forged pistons to cope with the added power, which now sits at 170kW/320Nm.
These figures make the JCW a proper Golf GTi rival, with a 0-100km/h time of 6.1 seconds with the launch control function on the automatic model that I had on test. The gearbox is the relatively old BMW six-speed Steptronic, which I found to be well-programmed in this vehicle; it wasn’t as slow to respond as I had thought, and it is quite a slick unit although I’d opt for the manual option if it were my money.
In terms of feel, the Mini is certainly more grown-up than ever. At launch I found the ride too hatch, but after driving the car around my locality I found it to be more driveable on a daily basis. I can forgive some stiff ride characteristics as the car does have some handling cred with a mechanical LSD, improved springs and dampers in the suspension department.
I took the car around Zwartkops at an open track day and was impressed. The Brembo discs and four-piston calipers held up well and the engine pulled strong. The car felt fun and was making all the right tyre-squealing and exhaust-burbling noises, as a hot hatch should. The only problem was the 17-inch wheels and tyres. These items were too narrow and could not keep up with the demands of track-driving, so I’d opt for the optional 18-inch items which I feel look better too.
Overall the JCW is very capable hot hatch; it blends a degree of daily usability with serious personality and impressive performance. It isn’t as practical on a daily basis as the GTi nor is it as raw as the Mégane or Fiesta ST but it does provide a unique ownership experience and a good compromise in the performance hatch game.
Price: R440 000 (Automatic)