Ever since that cheeky David cracked Goliath’s head open with a stone and was then so inadequately depicted by Michelangelo we have all been a bit obsessed with size. In particular by examples of small overcoming big; like the rugby half-back who squares up against the number 8 or the short man who leaves the night-club with the hottest girl. Stories of underdogs winning through armed only with determination and guile are among our favourites.
Since the Mini’s first production back in 1959 it has epitomised the underdog ethos and captured the imagination of loyal enthusiasts worldwide. BMW has done well to retain so much of that spirit in the new model Mini — it’s still a fun and practical city car — but to truly bring out the underdog magic and give the terrier the sharp teeth to face a mastiff, BMW enlisted the help of John Cooper Works (JCW).
History lesson over; earlier this year BMW purchased JCW and it has recently released the first factory Mini John Cooper Works. Not just another power kit for the Cooper S with some higher spec replacement parts, this is a whole new angrier version of the iconic model. So what do you get over the standard Cooper S? Apart from the fastest factory made Mini ever, and apart from a modern incarnation of a legendary racer, you get a lot.
The Mini JCW is a looker, dressed up with lashings of carbon fibre and special badging to display its superior rank over more standard relations. Bespoke 17-inch rims are stuffed under the guards, and the run-flat tyres blend into the plastic surrounds. Like all new Minis the two-box styling of old still holds up well and unlike the reworked VW Beetle the Mini shape remains staunch and unfeminised. There are clever styling cues throughout from the honeycomb front grille up and over the carbon fibre bonnet scoop, along the special side-skirts and finishing at the centre-mounted dual exhaust tip.
Make the shift from outside to inside and you realise that physics mean nothing to the Mini as its interior appears bigger than its exterior looked. However, it is a definite two seater with little room in the rear for adult passengers. The circular styling of the interior is mesmerising, and with all the gauges illuminated the cabin lights up brighter than a power-station Christmas tree. Retro touches are plenty with chequered floor mats and toggle switches, but the Mini’s controls can be a little too tricky and are guilty of trading some functionality for style. The carbon fibre and JCW badging is maintained in the cabin, with part of the dashboard, the handbrake and even the gear knob receiving treatment. The sports seats are firm and hug both front occupants tightly. You do need to be hugged, because once you push that start button the Mini JCW turns from cute and familiar to leery and aggressive.
The production team at JCW has made wholesale changes to the Cooper S 1.6 litre power plant with a complete new cylinder head and reinforced pistons. An upgraded turbo runs a higher boost and a full sports exhaust is fitted from manifold through to exhaust tip. The result is 155kW and 260Nm of torque. The Mini JCW will slingshot from 0-100km in 6.5 seconds. Under wide-open throttle, extra spice is added with an overboost function – a little extra boost allowed for short periods. This increases the torque briefly to 280Nm. Acceleration is fierce and with all the power pushed onto the front wheels torque steer is an unavoidable side-effect but seldom a liability. The JCW Mini has a uniquely fun learning curve, and an ability to make the driver feel one-part Sebastian Loeb and two-part Dick Dastardly.
High driver confidence is in no way misguided, the Mini JCW feels calm and content even when driven on its limit. With its short wheelbase and wide track, plus the amount of power transmitted through the front wheels, the JCW is extremely nimble and responsive. The steering is surgically precise and during cornering the front end holds the road tighter than a stranded sailor does a Playboy magazine. A sport button offers further control by quickening the electrically-assisted power steering ratio and decreasing the amount of throttle pedal travel needed for response.
The ride borders on firm, but no more than is necessary and would only become uncomfortable on the bumpiest of kiwi roads. Stopping the Mini is huge four-pot Brembo brakes that have a suitably strong, resistant feel to them.
It’s hard to fault the Mini JCW as it’s a pure example of a small vehicle with a lightweight motor packing heavyweight performance. It can live a Jekyll-Hyde lifestyle; as an edgy, frenzied intimidator on request while still being a relaxed daily driver capable of 6.9 l/100km fuel economy.
David dropped Goliath with a lucky shot, but the Mini JCW doesn’t need this luck to trouble larger more expensive vehicles, especially on twisty roads. Superb performance, a fun driver experience and classically inspired styling and characteristics means little will beat big anytime the Mini JCW is storming around.
Click through to the next page for a list of specifications.
Price: from $54,900 – $67,825 (fully equipped)
What we like
- Total fun driving experience
- Invites hard driving
- Unmatched cornering ability
- Tasteful styling mods over Cooper S
What we don’t like
- Fiddly interior buttons
- We don’t own one
Mini John Cooper Works (2008) – Specifications
|Engine||1.6 litre, 4 cylinder/16V|
|Max. output/hp/revs||155 kW (211 hp) at 6000 rpm|
|Max. torque/revs||260 Nm at 1850-5600 rpm (280 Nm at 1950 rpm with Overboost function)|
|Acceleration 0-100 km/h||6.5 s|
|Top speed||238 km/h|
|Acceleration 80-120 km/h (4th / 5th gear)||5.2 s / 6.2 s|
|Fuel consumption (urban)||9.2 1/100 km|
|Fuel consumption (extra-urban)||5.6 l/100 km|
|Fuel consumption (combined)||6.9 l/100 km|
|CO2 emissions||165 g/km|
|Unladen weight (EU)||1205 kg|
|Max. permissible weight||1580 kg|
|Max. permissible roof load||75 kg|
|Luggage capacity (min. – max.)||160 – 680 litres|
|Tank capacity (approx.)||50 litres|
|Dimensions (L x W x H)||3714 x 1683 x 1407 mm|
Words Adam Mamo, photography Brad Lord