The original Mini may have been born as an efficient means of transport, but a certain Mr John Cooper, racer, engineer and F1 team owner extraordinaire, saw it as something a bit more. The Mini was small, light and low but also, as a happy consequence of its wheels pushed to the four corners to maximise cabin space, terrifically balanced. All it needed was more power. And better brakes. And a quicker steering. And a close ratio gearbox. And…
The modern-day Mini I’m meeting in Coimbatore today continues in the same tradition. It’s got look-faster bits and, more pertinently, some go-faster bits. Mini calls it the JCW Pro Edition. It makes 210hp and 300Nm of torque, and I know it’s going to be a hoot to drive. Insert wink smiley.
MEET AND GREETBut there seems to have been a miscommunication though. I was told the JCW Pro Edition lies between the Cooper S and the range-topping John Cooper Works that’s sold abroad, but the car I receive at the hotel looks like the full-blown JCW. As it turns out, this is it. It’s finished in British Racing Green, has the right stripes (matte black with red pinstripes, thank you very much), and the roof and mirrors are finished in an aptly named shade of Blazing Red. And there’s more. The front bumper with its huge inlets gives this Mini the face of an angry bulldog, the snazzy roof-mounted spoiler adds seriousness to the look while also supposedly aiding aerodynamics, and here’s my favourite bit – the centrally mounted twin exhausts that are finished in carbon-fibre. Some of the hotel guests see what I see, and quickly, the Mini becomes the backdrop for selfies. Better make a run for it.
I open the door to find that the retro-themed cabin is jazzed up as well. There’s a lot of red in here but the net effect is more sporty car than lounge bar. Checkered detailing on the dash also adds to the look, but more than all else, it’s the ‘proper’ Alcantara-finished JCW sport seats at the front, with their single-piece backrests, that tell me this is a place for serious business. And just before I get moving, I happen to spot a unique details in the vicinity of the WWII fighter-plane-like toggle switches, and it could actually pass off as bomb control. It’s a little device that activates the Pro Edition’s Sport Exhaust via Bluetooth. The disclaimer tag reads loud mode is only for the track; I can’t wait to hear it.
Body roll? What body roll? Sport mode stiffens the dampers to great effect.
Coimbatore is buzzing with activity early in the day so the ice-breaking session with the JCW Pro Edition starts slow. Speeds build in time and what I like is how effortlessly this hopped-up Mini blends in with the traffic. It feels docile in ‘Green’ and ‘Mid’ driving modes on the dual carriageway highway that’s leading us outside the city. Note, the JCW Pro Edition gets dynamic damper control as standard, so the modes have more of an impact on the driving experience than on the stock Cooper S. As for Sport mode, I’m saving it up for the place I’m headed to. A few wrong turns and a couple of bad roads later, we’re there. Welcome to the Kari Motor Speedway.
Named after the legendary S Karivardhan, rightly considered the father of Indian motorsport, the Kari circuit is built around an airstrip used for power gliders. At just 2.1km in length, it is the shortest and tightest of India’s three race tracks. Here, one long straight is followed by corner after corner and then it’s over. Think of it as an oversized go-kart track. And I’m here in a Mini, renowned for it’s go-kart-like dynamics. This could be a match made in heaven.
Time to bring out the goods. Drive mode selector shifted to ‘Sport’, the car obliges with a message on the centre screen reading ‘Maximum go-kart feel’. The sound ‘detonator’ is also put to use, and immediately, the Mini sounds cheesed off and ready to break the leash. Car lined up on the main straight. DSC off. Launch control activated. Bombs away!
It takes off with gusto (0-100kph is in the region of 6.5sec) and there’s strong bite from the brakes into the first corner, a double apex bend. And then on, I’m smiling. The corners come quick and fast, but the Mini takes them as if it was born to do so. The steering is direct, the nose feels pointy and it’s all just so tight and agile, the Mini feels like a point-and-shoot device. They aren’t skidding when they call it a go-kart, that’s for sure.
As I pile on the laps, I have no idea if I’ve got my lines right, but heck, I’m going all out. I can’t help it. There’s an inherent mischievousness about driving a Mini and it’s the sort of car that eggs you on to drive harder. It’s bouncing on the chicanes in corners I yank it into and moves around a bit when I go hard on the brakes, but it all feels very natural. In my books, the Mini is to supercars what go-karts are to Formula 1 cars; an entry point. A stepping stone, if you will. That said, this is a front-wheel-drive car, so the front-end does wash wide every time I get my throttle point wrong, especially around Kari’s never-ending penultimate corner. Thankfully, the Mini’s setup is so communicative, it’s easy to correct mistakes.
If not through the steering, this Mini will talk to you through its exhaust. The car voices its opinion through a series of pops, crackles and grunts, and did I mention it was loud? The ruffian sound complements this Mini’s scrappy nature like butter to hot toast.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the standard 192hp Cooper S handy. So I don’t know how much quicker the extra 18hp and 20Nm freed up from the 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine have made the ◊ ∆ JCW Pro Edition, but suffice to say, it’s fast. Performance is mighty for something so small and acceleration intense for the short bursts between corners. And the six-speed auto ’box readily keeps up with tugs at the paddles too. 170kph is a figure that comes up on the heads-up display on Kari’s 900m main straight… not bad at all.
If it’s not clear already, I’m a fan of the Mini JCW Pro Edition. So, to keep things objective, we’ve invited a certain someone to give a second opinion. His name is Narain Karthikeyan and he’s fresh off a flight from Japan where he raced in the Super Formula Championship. He smiles at my executive brief of this being a “Mini with even more power”, and within no time is set to put it through its paces.
Narain is familiar with the standard Cooper S, having driven it at the 2015 Autocar Track Day and comments about the JCW Pro Edition nonchalantly while attacking the corners: “We always knew the Mini handled a bit like a go-kart and this car has the same kind of feel to it. The front is still very positive, so you can throw the car around. And the tight and twisty track suits the Mini.” As he puts in more time behind the wheel, I ask Narain about negatives and he quips, “Not too many. But, as a racing driver, I would like to have the driver aids completely off. Unfortunately, you can’t do that.” I see Narain’s frustration as the stability electronics kick in every time he is ultra-aggressive with turn-in. What he does find amusing is the exhaust control. “I think it’s a cool little feature. Those pops and crackles from the exhaust add that racey feel to it.” Enough said.
If not for the way it sounds, you are sure to notice the JCW Pro Edition for the way it looks.
ADD TO KART?
Like the JCW Pro Edition’s feisty ways and are willing to part with the substantial Rs 43.9 lakh (ex-showroom, India) Mini wants for one? There's some bad news. All 20 JCW Pro Editions allocated for India have already been sold out. This was one offer that was valid until stocks lasted.
WHAT MAKES THE JCW PRO EDITION SPECIAL?
British Racing Green/ Midnight Black
Matte black stripes with red piping
JCW body kit
JCW sport seats
JCW sport leather steering wheel
JCW tuning kit – 210hp/300Nm
Exhaust valve system with Bluetooth
Electronic damper control
2017 Mini JCW Pro Edition video review
Mini JCW Pro Edition launched at Rs 43.9 lakh