It’s only 9 a.m. but the sun is already high in the sky, its dazzling summer rays peeking through the leaves of the tree under which sits the motoring world’s equivalent of a playful puppy – the all-new MINI John Cooper Works (JCW).
So bursting with personality is this car that if it had a tail it’d be permanently wagging. I’m surprised it doesn’t drive itself around beeping and flashing its twinkly xenon headlights at all the nice ladies it clocks walking by, not that it would need to attract their attention as they would surely have spotted it coming a mile away.
With its aggressive bodykit, stripes, circular LED daytime running lights, 18″ bespoke alloy wheels and dripping in JCW regalia, this MINI, the most powerful series production model ever produced, certainly looks the business. Its sculpted rear spoiler and large bore twin centre-mounted sports exhausts enhance the car’s purposeful appearance.
And what a sound they make. With its pops and crackles MINI should surely do some sort of marketing deal with Rice Krispies cereal. The crackle on downshifts and lift-off is arguably the JCW’s most characterful feature, and that’s saying something given that the entire car looks like it was designed by Disney. It’s the type of car that you just cannot wait to take for a spin.
So, to the interior, and Santa’s grotto really wouldn’t have a look in here! My press car was absolutely loaded with optional extras, but even leaving these aside, the only adjective that could be used to describe the interior of the MINI JCW is dazzling. There are multicoloured LED lights that chase around the circle surrounding the central display, which itself is bursting with crisp colourful graphics, there are coloured LEDs in the doors, footwells, shining down from the ceiling, behind the door handles, and probably inside the cup holders, of which this car is certainly not lacking with no less than five.
There is an optional head-up display upon which customisable driving information such as engine revs and speed is projected, the seats are nicely sculpted in de-rigeur red and black alcantara, and overall you’ll either love it like I did, or you’ll have to turn off as many of the multicoloured displays and LEDs as possible to avoid getting a headache!
The new MINI is not short on technology either, with everything from the car’s journey statistics to a sat nav which will accept destination instructions via search, voice control or finger touchpad shown on the car’s central display, itself surrounded by a back and white bezel resembling a large stopwatch. The infotainment system is intuitive to use too, and one doesn’t have to spend long to become au-fait in its many functions.
It will come as no surprise that by the time I had explored every feature of the MINI JCW, it wasn’t the sun that was high in the sky, but the moon. I jest! Time to take this hyper hatch for a spin!
There are three self-explanatory driving modes – Green, Mid and Sport – which can be selected by a somewhat unusual circular switch surrounding the leather gear-lever gaiter. If you hop into this car for the first time and select Green mode, firstly this isn’t the car for you, and secondly, it’ll probably bark at you, or a simple “Huh?!” message might flash up on the central display. So, Sport mode it is!
What a hoot this MINI is to drive – it’s exhaust popping and crackling as it rockets down the road, every tip of the steering wheel paddles executing instantaneous gear-changes courtesy of this car’s optional Steptronic automatic transmission.
In Sport mode, the central display’s speech bubble exclaims “Maximum Go-Kart Feel” and I can certainly vouch for the fact that this JCW model feels more like a go-kart than any MINI I have previously driven so precise is its handling, so accurate its steering, so keen and eager to respond to the driver’s every input. A six-speed manual transmission is also available for those seeking to extract every ounce of driving pleasure from the car.
The JCW’s 231bhp 2.0L turbocharged engine propels the car to 60mph in a mere 6.1 seconds and onto a top speed of 154mph, so this is a properly quick MINI that would embarrass many more expensive sports cars on the road.
Yet when you just wish to get from A to B with the minimum amount of fuss, two clicks of the driving mode selector will have the car on its best behaviour in Green mode, exceeding 40mpg with not so much as a peep from its sports exhaust. If you’re an indecisive individual the car also offers a midway driving mode aptly named “Mid” – the car bearing its no-nonsense here German roots under the pizazz of its colourful personality.
On a long journey the JCW, like all new MINIs, is also quite cosseting, bumbling along in cruise control mode, imitating its much more grown-up and sensible BMW siblings.
Yet for all of the car’s attention grabbing quirks, its crackling exhaust and jazzy interior, the novelty of the MINI JCW did wear off slightly by the end of the week. This was not the car’s fault however, but mine. My first car was a brand new MINI, back in the dizzy heights of the Celtic Tiger era, it too was be-spoilered, striped and personalised to my exact specification, and in short, I loved it. I knew every optional extra almost by reference code, and for two years, I enjoyed the MINI ownership experience to the full.
So perhaps, for me, this John Cooper Works was just more of the same but amplified by about 200%. Anybody who hasn’t had a MINI before or is looking for the most characterful hot hatch on the market should buy one of these without hesitation, and even though my press car weighed in at a hefty €48k, the ‘entry-level’ JCW will provide all of the same thrills for a much more palatable €36k.
Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay the new JCW is that if my own MINI had been half as entertaining I’d have kept it twice as long.