Review: MINI John Cooper Works (2015)
Enjoyable handling. Great exhaust note. Impressive performance. Well made. Packed with character.
Expensive especially with optional extras. Impractical back seats.
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MINI John Cooper Works (2015): At A Glance
The latest MINI John Cooper Works is officially the most powerful MINI ever – a fact that might be enough to win it admirers all on its own. But even with its 231PS power output aside, the JCW is still one of the most entertaining, characterful and well-made hot hatches on sale, let down only by its high price and less than impressive practicality.
The JCW is differentiated from the lesser Cooper S by its bolder, more aggressive styling. There are unique alloy wheels, large red brake calipers, plus a big roof spoiler and a JCW-specific front bumper. At the rear there’s a new twin-exit exhaust tuned to deliver a characterful exhaust note, complete with a crackling, popping overrun.
Performance is impressive. Acceleration from 0-62mph takes just 6.3 seconds and top speed is 153mph, but it’s not all about straight line pace – the Cooper JCW has great handling and feels perfectly at home on a twisting B-road. The steering is nicely weighted and, while definitely on the firm side, the suspension treads the line between ride quality and a fun drive very well.
Fun though it may be, the MINI Cooper JCW isn’t without its flaws. The cabin, while very well-finished and attractive, is somewhat cramped. This is particularly true in the back, which is too tight to be comfortable for adults or teenagers. The boot is on the small side too, though it is still enough for shopping trips.
But the biggest problem of all is the price. £23,050 is steep - and that’s before anything has been picked out of a huge options list. However there is so much fun to be had, delivered in such a charming way, that the MINI Cooper JCW is still very easy to recommend if your budget stretches far enough.
What does a MINI John Cooper Works (2015) cost?
MINI John Cooper Works (2015): What's It Like Inside?
Inside, the MINI Cooper JCW is differentiated from other MINI models by the unique bucket seats trimmed in artificial suede, along with various JCW badges and details. There are also stainless steel pedals and an anthracite roof liner along with numerous red details and unique instrument faces.
Aside from that it is very much the same as the regular MINI hatch, meaning impressive material quality and plenty of quirky details, including the dinner plate-sized, illuminated circular infotainment screen surround in the centre stack, plus various aircraft style switches for starting the engine or operating minor functions like start/stop.
It certainly feels upmarket and special, but it isn’t problem free. The cabin feels somewhat cramped and tight, especially for taller drivers, while space in the back row is too tight for adults or teenagers to get comfortable. The boot isn’t huge, but it is more than enough for everyday use and shopping trips.
The infotainment system is an adaption of the BMW iDrive system and it’s one of the most intuitive on offer. The rotary controller can be easily and quickly operated while on the move and a there is a simple, easy-to-understand menu system.
Despite this being among the more expensive hot hatches on sale it is unlikely most buyers will be satisfied without ticking a few options boxes - and there are lots to choose from. Key extras include variable dampers, a head-up display, various styling details, a better infotainment system and upgraded audio.
MINI Cooper John Cooper Works models come with air conditioning, electric windows, stop/start, DAB radio, Bluetooth, LED headlights, cruise control and onboard computer with MINI Connected systems.
Child seats that fit a MINI John Cooper Works (2015)Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.
What's the MINI John Cooper Works (2015) like to drive?
The MINI John Cooper Works uses a 2.0-litre twin-scroll turbocharged engine shared with the Cooper S, but it has been heavily reworked to improve power to 231PS – making this the most powerful MINI model ever made. 320Nm of torque is available from 1250rpm, giving swift acceleration - 0-62mph takes 6.3 seconds with the manual transmission or 6.1 seconds with the automatic.
The engine really does dominate the character of the car. The exhaust note has been tuned to deliver a meaningful growl when accelerating, accompanied by a parp on gearchanges and a spitting, popping overrun. In fact the engine has even dictated the styling – extra cooling requirements mean the fog lights have been replaced by additional vents.
Thankfully the JCW isn’t all theatre. It has excellent handling to match its looks and performance figures, with loads of grip and plenty of feel through both the steering and chassis. The brakes are strong and corners are taken care of in a way that brings a smile to your face but without any scary, on-the-limit edginess. It’s plain and simple fun.
Something that really stands out is the way the JCW transmits its substantial power to the road. Onboard systems monitor traction and almost completely eliminate torque steer, the blight of many powerful front-wheel drive cars. Accelerate hard in the JCW and it goes where the steering is pointing without any fuss or tugging through the steering wheel.
Body control through twists and turns is impressive, but it does come at the expense of ride comfort, though not alarmingly so. Things only get really uncomfortable over deep potholes and the very worst of broken British back roads - most of the time the suspension balances road feel with comfort fairly well, even if it is a little on the firm side.
There are three driving modes – Green, Mid and Sport. These change the throttle response, engine sound and steering weight plus, if owners have opted for variable dampers, the suspension stiffness. The different modes also change the shift timings for the automatic transmission.
MINI offers the Cooper JCW with a choice of manual or six-speed automatic and, while the manual might be a default choice, the six-speed automatic is genuinely impressive. It is smooth and relaxed, but when the paddles are set to manual mode the car doesn’t steal any of the driver’s thunder, staying in whatever gear has been chosen unless the engine is about to stall. That automatic also has lower official emissions and better economy - 133g/km and 49.6mpg versus 155g/km and 42.2mpg for the manual.
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