Written by: Calvin Chan
Photography by: Don Cheng
The MINI John Cooper Works is a car marinated in racing history. In the 1960s, legendary F1 car builder, John Cooper, did what no one expected and gave the classic MINI an engine tweak, beefier brakes, contrasting paints, and turned it into a track-ready car with a keen affinity for the top of the podium. With its unique transverse engine, agile stature, and incredible balance, John Cooper’s MINI dominated the racing scene with historic wins at competitions all around the world.
It is this kind of racing heritage that MINI has tried to infuse into their new lineup. Their latest iteration of the third-generation MINI John Cooper Works (JCW) combines 55 years of experience and dedication into a brilliant three-door hatch package. Whereas the outgoing JCW drove like an ill-mannered attack dog, the new one is more refined, more comfortable, and appeals to a wider audience with an optional automatic transmission and a roomier cabin. No longer is it a crazy and untamed torque-mobile, but while some may feel that the JCW has gotten gentle and docile, they’d be far from the truth.
The new JCW gets a revised front apron, bigger side skirts, a unique rear spoiler and diffuser, a twin-pipe sports exhaust, bigger brakes, an electronic limited-slip differential, a tweaked turbocharged engine, and an exclusive Rebel Green paint colour as seen on our tester here. Personally, I love the contrasting green body and red rooftop wrapped in a sheet of stripes and badges. It suits the MINI’s racing theme and pedigree well, though many refuse to share my attraction. Others have laughed and called it a sparkling Christmas tree, while the Asians flock closer to find out if it’s a new Gucci Edition.
Under the hood lies the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder from the Cooper S but with the addition of a higher flow exhaust, a new turbocharger, and reworked pistons. The result is a staggering output of 228 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, 20 hp and 44 lb-ft more than the outgoing JCW. The changes feel immediate - max torque comes as early as 1,250 rpm. That's baffling enough for the hot hatch to rocket from 0-100 km/h in a blistering 6.1 seconds, making it the quickest and most powerful MINI to ever grace the winged badge.
It’s a classic case of small car with small output. While power figures in the low 200’s don’t seem like much, the JCW only weighs 1,309 kg and utilizes every inch of the engine to provide the experience of a 400-horsepower mid-size sedan. The torque range is incredibly broad and you can find punch in almost any rev at any instance. So much so that after a week driving the car, I’ve learned to always strap down any loose items lofting around the cabin so they don’t turn into deadly projectiles.
Purists will flock towards the standard 6-speed manual transmission but for those new to the game, a 6-speed automatic ($1,650) is also readily available. Not only is it more fuel-efficient but MINI says it’s also quicker off the line. I was also pleasantly surprised by how eager the automatic was to downshift and it always seemed to be in the right gear. Though the manual is obviously more engaging, the 6-speed auto offers a lifeline to those who can’t drive stick, but want to exploit the depths of what the JCW has to offer.
Now, you’d expect a front-wheel drive car with this much torque and a wheelbase that small to suffer heavily from torque steer, but the JCW holds up quite well. Floor the gas pedal and you won’t find yourself fighting the wheel to keep the MINI in place, and while you’d also expect a load of understeer, the JCW offers a lifetime supply of tire grip. The nose will squirrel a bit when pushed hard, but it bounces back quickly and dives into corners with confidence. The JCW also offers an electromechanical steering rack that is snappy and communicative, something that BMW’s new M cars seemed to have lost in the transition.
The exhaust probably came next, because the JCW crackles, burbles, and farts on overrun like a BMW on steroids. When you aggressively up-shift, the JCW will let out a pleasing snap and when you’re cruising above 90 km/h, let off the throttle in second or third gear and your ears will be treated to the sound of exploding kernels in a popcorn machine. At times, the MINI JCW even sounds like a 435i, which is high praise, but then again I’m not sure if that’s just the added sound piping through the speakers.
Our JCW tester was optioned out with the Dynamic Damper Control (as part of the $1,150 Loaded Package) that allows you to choose from three driving modes: Sport, Mid, and Green. The latter dials back the throttle significantly and aims to improve fuel efficiency blah blah blah - no one buying a JCW is going to want to drive frugally, let alone with a flaccid gas pedal. Do yourself a favour and make a habit of dialing the car into Sport mode every time you hop in. Not only does it firm up the ride but the throttle also sharpens up, the gears get squeezed out to their maximum, and the exhaust livens up for quite a wonderful experience.
One of the hidden but attractive features of the JCW is that it’s actually quite frugal on fuel. Considering the fact that we were always in Sport mode and drove like m̶a̶n̶i̶a̶c̶s̶, law-abiding citizens, we somehow managed an average of 9.4 L/100km – that’s just ridiculous. How can you have that much fun and only use that much gas? It’s just a shame that the gas tank is a paltry 44L – you’ll be visiting the gas station quite often.
Everyday drivers who want some spice in their commute will find just as much solace in the less powerful but more comfortable Cooper S, but the JCW offers exploitable fun that even the novice driver could appreciate. And there’s no denying that BMW has cast a large shadow on the development of this car, and subsequently transforms the MINI into a luxurious and premium-feeling front-wheel drive BMW, and none is more apparently when you check out the interior.
“Do you even fit inside?” I would get asked, referring to my 6’1 stature and the old-school mentality that MINIs were actually small. You can tell they’ve never been inside a modern MINI before. The new third-generation MINIs are anything but cramped (for the front passengers anyways) and they’re just a few inches away from the length of a BMW 1-series. The cabin has copious amounts of room and it exudes a premium feel for a vehicle that starts in the low 30s. The materials are soft, solid, and durable, and the big circular infotainment display that dominates the center replaces the old speedo of the past. Anyone that has ever owned a BMW before will feel right at home with the iDrive-inspired infotainment system and rotary knob located in front of the lanky looking gear shifter.
Other nifty charms include a pair of boomerang-shaped paddle shifters, a beautifully lit head-up display, a steering-column attached speedometer, and for such a small car, it’s got a fair sized derrière. The rear seats can be folded down for extended cargo room as well. Look around the cabin and you’ll also notice a liberal use of John Cooper Works badging on the seats, steering wheel, gauges and doorsills, following suit of BMW and their obsessive use of M badges.
In all honesty, the MINI John Cooper Works isn’t cheap. With a starting price of $33,240 and an as-tested price of $44,740, it’s hopping into the AWD realm of the Golf R and WRX STI – you really have to like the MINI to spec it out this much. A lightly optioned JCW would be more reasonable – skip the leather seats, safety tech, and creature comforts and opt for the no-charge manual transmission. Only then, will it become more of a sensible track-car buy. But if you’re planning on fully loading it, you better think its beyond cute.
Our tester wasn’t exactly the enthusiast’s choice either. It was equipped with an automatic transmission and a panoramic sunroof that is bound to make a track enthusiast go crazy about rigidity, but the 6-speed auto still proves to be an amusing unit that always finds the right gear and deserves high praise on winding roads. Of course, there are other cars up other avenues you can buy for that kind of money – Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Focus ST - but the MINI JCW sets an appealing case with a hardcore hatch bathed in hardcore history. The roots haven’t faded with this new third-generation iteration, and it’s now more refined than ever to make even the average driver feel like a pro behind the wheel.
型号 Model: 2015 MINI John Cooper Works 3-Door Hatch
顏色 Paint Type: Rebel Green
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $33,240
試車售價 Price as Tested: $44,740
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,495
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 3,874 / 1,727 / 1,414
車重 Curb weight (kg): 1,309
引擎 Engine: 4 Cylinder 12 Valve Twin Scroll Turbo
最大馬力 Horsepower: 228 hp @ 5,200 - 6,000 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 236 lb-ft @ 1,250 - 4,800 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 6-speed automatic
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
油耗 Fuel Consumption (City/Highway/Combined)- L/100 km: 9.3 / 7.3 / 8.4
輪胎尺碼 Tires: 205/40R18