I don’t remember the last time I was so excited to drive a car only to fall into despair to then climb right back up despite my misgivings. Yeah, that’s what this John Cooper Works did to me.
Allow me to explain. You see, it went a little something like this:
Miranda: “Matt, BMW has a new MINI JCW on the press fleet and it’s available next week. Should we book it?”
Matt: “Right freakin’ now!”
The aftermath of that brief discussion had my heart aflutter. I luuuurve the MINI JCW! Allow me to clarify: I love the Cooper JCW, not any other version, the true MINI Cooper not one of the hacked-up other MINIs that aren’t MINIs… I think you understand.
I was brought back to a few years ago when I got to drive and review a 2011 MINI JCW in southern New York State. I was a fan of the brand before that encounter, but it forever solidified the love that is, until the Paceman and Roadster came out, and then the 5-door and now they’ve gone and spoiled the Clubman… Forgive me for I’ve digressed, slightly.
So, I headed to the pick-up point for the new ’15 JCW with a stupid grin on my face, especially when I peeked in its direction and noticed it was Rebel Green and red; a better more suiting colour-combo I believe does not exist.
With keys in hand, I rambled on over to the car and then the floor dropped out from under me and I tumbled into an abyss of hopelessness. Automatic! The damned MINI John Cooper Works was equipped with a repulsive shifter that only travels fore and aft. My week was trashed. I’d recently partaken in a tragic Countryman JCW with a slushbox and kept myself sane with the promise of a few new Hot Wheels by the week’s end, if I was to survive.
I did survive, but I hated the car. At the sight of said shifter, I hated this car, too.
It, however, had far different plans for me. As the most powerful production JCW car ever, it knew I was going to have a hard time keeping my right foot off the floor. It was also aware that its 6-speed automatic transmission was actually very good, and that I was going to have an excellent time despite my enthusiasm having sunk to a level akin to that of driving a Prius c.
Most powerful JCW ever
The car was right. I was dead wrong. The 228-horsepower twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0L engine is a powerhouse of energy! It also generates 236 lb-ft of torque, which is massive for a little kart such as this. With one ‘box or the other, the JCW will knock back the 100 km/h sprint from a standstill in just over 6 seconds. What’s cool is that the JCW feels even faster than the numbers suggest.
And therein lies the theme with the Cooper: feeling. It’s one of the rare modern cars that hints as to what it’s doing on the road, while you work the steering wheel, the brakes and the throttle. Mind you, it’s not as clear as it once was say 10 years ago, but it’ll do in 2015.
In & out
I’ll skip over the part where I say the latest revamp of the Cooper has made it ugly and porcine-like (points are given for the paint and the 18” wheels) and tell you instead that the cabin is quite lovely. The sport seats are awesome, and I’m sad to see that the giant centre-mounted speedometer is gone -- but whatever, I’ll get over it. Window switches are on the doors, shame. The cool centre-stack toggle switches are reduced to nothing much. The car has fun technologies and the HMI stuff is amusing with cute little messages. Blah, blah, blah…
The most important among the remaining toggles is the red Start/Stop engine one. Once the engine burps to life, the instinct to push the slider located behind the shifter over to Sport kicks in immediately. And then, the party really begins.
Drive! Drive, I said!
Even though I did not push in the clutch and slide the shifter into 1st, pulling back on the lever then sliding over to the left into “M” turned out to be plenty rewarding. With the new JCW comes proper left-downshift and right-upshift paddles that respond rewardingly quick to finger prods.
Whilst in Sport, throttle and steering gain newfound powers, as does the exhaust system. To tire of the melodies that emanate from the rear twin pipes is impossible. The sound is witty, unlike that of the ridiculous Fiat 500 Abarth, for example.
As I’ve said, the Cooper JCW feels quicker than expected. The explanation can be found in the fact that max torque throws down from 1,250 to 4,800 rpm after which all horses chime in at 5,200 on to 6,000 rpm. The rush is sustained and grin inducing. Under any type of acceleration, the transmission plays along, whether lollygagging about or ripping one’s way onto the freeway. Downshifts are always met with a blip from the throttle for an extra dose of sportiness and aural pleasure.
The electric speed-sensitive steering is as sharp as ever. Response is so crisp and rapid that you’ll be looking to clip corners and reach for apexes everywhere you go. The Brembo brakes, 4-piston front callipers are loads powerful; I wish I’d had a chance to put the car through its paces on a track…
The true reason for wanting to track the JCW is -- other than being able to fully exploit the 2.0L turbo -- to find out just how far this car can be pushed. Grip is tremendous, no matter what. The John Cooper Works features a sport-tuned suspension with stiffer front and rear stabilizer bars. They, combined with the optional Dynamic Damper Control make for a car that is truly track ready right out of the box. The Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC) does its best to keep the power properly split up front. It’s all very efficient and fun.
Brilliant car, but not entirely alone
All these things make the 2015 MINI John Cooper Works one of the best driving cars, period. The 2016 Mazda MX-5 is just as good, but without the brawn that the MINI has. In both cases, they cay be driven on a daily basis. The Cooper has the advantage of a rear bench and a larger boot.
Pricing starts at $33,240, further proof that this is an attainable mini super car. With options, my car’s sticker rose to $44,740 but options like the Harman Kardon audio system and the Visibility package are not necessary. For the pure pleasure of driving the MINI is nearly impossible to beat. For those with $40k to burn, there are many cars to consider, and the JCW is a must.