Is the Mini Cooper JCW the ultimate Golf GTI beater?
In an oversaturated world of hot hatches, Mini have always had their foot firmly in the door. However, can it beat the king, the Golf GTI?
Over the years, I've had a big love of anything Mini. From my family connection - my mum racing them, to a genuine love of their aesthetics and genuinely fun driving characteristics. Truly even up to the latest generation they're a big winner for me, however driving my first JCW changed my overall impression.
The JCW takes on the hot hatch segment in a way the standard Cooper S never could, offering more power and a fantastically engaging driving experience.
Aesthetically as Mini as you can get...
There's no denying that you either love how a Mini looks, or it's not really for you. In years gone by I wasn't a huge fan of the newer 'Bini' (Mini/BMW) design... but quickly it grew on me. The current model offers a nice and rounded but not bulbous front end, nice cut ins and genuinely smooth lines. The 17" alloys aren't entirely to my liking though - however by the end of the week I definitely liked them a little more.
The side profile is unquestionably 'Mini', regardless of age you can easily spot the side profile and go... yep that's a Mini. The plastic around the arches is a nice throw back to early design language and there is a nice smoothness to it too. The rear end is nicely put together, giving good sport aesthetics whilst not actually being too shouty about it. The rear spoiler isn't too imposing and the 'union jack' rear lights are a lovely finishing touch. Every angle is generally nice, not overly imposing but stylish and brilliantly put together.
Also remember, you can customise and make a Mini at factory entirely unique to you.
The performance is more engaging than the competition!
Anything front-wheel-drive with 231HP / 320Nm is going to be fun, especially when the 0-62mph time is 6.3 seconds in the manual. The beauty behind the JCW is just how utterly raw and fun the driving characteristics are, to really unleash the power you need to have your brain turned on. The steering feels direct and smooth whilst the pedals offer you a quick yet tough at time response. The gearbox feels great, however the clutch can come across a little snappy at times.
Backroad driving is brilliant though, the JCW gives a stupendously fun experience - you don't even have to go over 40mph to appreciate it too. When you get to 60mph twisty's, the JCW comes alive though - little understeer, fun levels of torque steer and an exhilarating time.
Economy is rated at a combined 38-40mpg which is achievable, however you're more likely to see 40-42mpg on a longer motorway run and about 27-32mpg around town. I averaged 35mpg over a week of combined driving styles.
Credit: Mini UK Media Site
The interior isn't anything like before...
Let's be totally honest, in past years Mini have made some truly terrible interiors. When I see the old models now I literally recoil in horror, terrible brittle plastics and constantly failing electrics. Mini decided to address that issue, upping the game on their interiors in a seriously big way. Quiet comfort is the standard and they're doing it well.
Now you're surrounded by soft touch plastics, leather, brilliant technology and bundles of safety without taking away visibility. Everything is at your finger tips, the infotainment is a breeze to use and up front you're seriously comfortable. Your rear passengers however do get a rough ride, I'm not tall but in my typical seating position there was literally no rear space. The boot space isn't winning any awards either - but the quality of the overall interior is lightyears ahead of the competitor vehicles.
The Harman/Kardon system works well in the Cooper 3-door format, however does work best in the Clubman (review coming soon).
"Does it beat the Golf GTI then?!"
For me, yes - on everything except fuel economy. The JCW is a beautifully composed and fun car to drive which gives amazing driver engagement and makes a brilliant noise too. However, the economy at times can be very thirsty - the only place a Golf GTI tends to sail past. I remember achieving 50+mpg out of a GTI around the M25, they can be seriously frugal.
The looks are charming, the drive is exhilarating and the cost isn't ridiculous. Economy aside, it's a considerably more fun drive than a Golf GTI, because it isn't always as easy as flooring it and going. The JCW takes a little thought where the Golf GTI does it all for you.
Test car - base: £26k OTR, w/ options £31k.