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Mini Cooper's JCW a puka hot hatch

29.12.2015

A HOT hatch, by definition is a hatchback that brings an element of performance and style to its own model range. Throughout the years hot hatches have evolved, some are pure drivers cars like the Renault Sport Mégane range and the Ford Fiesta ST, while some are just very good all-rounders like the Volkswagen Golf GTi and Ford’s Focus ST. I recently drove the new JCW version of the Mini Cooper to see where it fits in all of this.

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)

Article written by Sean Nurse
29.12.2015
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