2019 Mini John Cooper Works review, track drive
11th May 2019 4:00 pm
The most potent version of the Mini packs in a solid 231hp, but it also carries quite a hefty price tag.
What is it?
We’ve been teased before with John Cooper Works (JCW) accessories and even a ‘JCW Inspired’ special edition of the Mini Cooper S hatchback, but this – finally – is the real deal. It’s the hottest version of the Mini hatchback yet, with 231hp and 320Nm of torque from its 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine, and it’s called the Mini John Cooper Works. As of now, it’s only sold as a 3-Door hatchback in India, and it comes at a not-insignificant Rs 43.5 lakh (ex-showroom), or a cool Rs 9.3 lakh more than the Cooper S!
As is befitting the hottest of all Minis there’s lots of sporty addenda. ‘Chili Red’ is the colour of the day, and you’ll find it as contrast colouring on the roof, the mirror caps, the brake calipers, the badging and various other highlights all around the car. There’s a lovely set of dual-tone 18-inch alloy wheels available, but Mini themselves recommend sticking to the standard 17-inchers for better ride comfort on our roads. And finally, there’s a bit of body kit, which includes side skirts, sportier bumpers, a roof spoiler and centrally mounted chrome exhaust tips. This is also, of course, the facelifted version of the Mini, and that means full-LED headlamps and Union Jack flags in the tail-lamp graphics. They really do lean on their heritage, don’t they?
Inside, the facelift has brought a new gear lever, but that’s really all that’s new. What the Mini John Cooper Works gets you, however, are some rather hefty bucket seats – they still aren’t power-adjustable but they offer far more lateral support than the standard seats; they’re a touch firmer too. Like most Minis, you can personalise the interior with a number of customisation options like contrast leather trim, textured inlays and even more Union Jacks. Which does beg the question – is this just an expensive cosmetic mod? Well, no.
What’s it like to drive?
The 2.0-litre, four-cylinder twin-scroll-turbocharged engine has been wound up to 231hp and 320Nm of torque – 39hp and 40Nm more than the Cooper S! What’s unexpected, however, is that the John Cooper Works foregoes the new 7-speed dual-clutch auto of the Cooper S in favour of the 8-speed torque-converter auto used by the Countryman – likely in order to handle the greater torque load. The good news is that it’s a rather good torque-converter.
In ‘Mid’ mode (Mini-speak for ‘Comfort’), it actually slushes along between ratios quite smoothly and this should suit the everyday grind quite well. However, put the car into Sport mode and tap the shift lever leftward to ‘S’ and it changes entirely. It’s far more eager to downshift and each new gear is hammered into place. It feels right at home in the Mini John Cooper Works.
Truth be told, in this entirely flat-out session on the track, discerning those 40 extra horses was easier said than done – the focus was more on nailing the perfect racing line and having fun. Suffice to say performance was as strong as you’d expect from those numbers, though, and powering out of the faster corners at the Madras Motor Race Track (MMRT) felt quite effortless – the parp from the JCW exhaust a constant reminder of the potency at hand. This is, after all, the hottest hatchback you can buy in India.
What truly makes the John Cooper Works – and indeed all Minis – special, however, is the handling. The car may have grown in recent years, but this 3-Door version is still a very compact thing. Couple that with this level of performance and the fact that only the front wheels are driven, and you’ll find it’s quite easy to push past the limits of adhesion going flat out on a track. I mean this in the best possible way.
This isn’t some clinical track day machine. It’s frisky – twitchy, even, at times – but the incredibly well-judged suspension and stiff chassis means it always feels manageable. You can revel in adjusting the car’s balance mid-corner, and re-aligning your trajectory on your way to an apex you’d have otherwise missed. It’s perhaps not the cleanest way of getting 231hp to the road, but it is one of the quickest ways to slap a massive smile across your face. The steering is unchanged from the Cooper S, but it’s just so damn good – sharp, weighty and precise. And while, as standard, the JCW gets stiffened suspension – all our test cars were equipped with the optional adaptive suspension that lets you choose a softer setting out on the road.
Should I buy one?
One thing to keep in mind when making a purchase decision around a Mini is the options list. Save for the locally assembled Countryman, all Minis sold here can be heavily customised with cosmetics and equipment, and that can rack up quite a hefty bill on its own. The good news is the Mini John Cooper Works gets quite a bit more standard equipment than the Cooper S – things like a rear-view camera, head-up display, Harman-Kardon sound system, auto headlamps and wipers, the sports gearbox, seats and steering wheel, auto climate control and more, all of which you’d otherwise pay for. The folks at Mini tell us that speccing a standard car to this level would prove costlier, and that’s before you account for the added performance.
Yes, that performance. Perhaps the track wasn’t the ideal place to explore the nuances in the uprated engine because we were constantly at maximum attack, but I’m certain the John Cooper Works’ acceleration feels more aggressive off the line than a Cooper S. In corners, perhaps it feels a little better composed and tied down than the Cooper S too, but not by much. This is a Mini, through and through, and that go-kart-like playfulness is still very much a part of its DNA. While we can’t give you a final verdict until we drive it on the road, what’s clear from this track drive is that the Mini John Cooper Works is incredibly fun. But a Rs 9.3 lakh price jump is quite significant, even in this segment, and the performance jump just doesn’t seem to match up. That’s not a criticism of the JCW, but a testament to just how good the Cooper S is; it’s not easy to go upward from there. So it’s best not to think of the Mini John Cooper Works as a ‘performance version’ of the Mini, but rather the ultimate spec of an existing performance car, loaded to the gills with everything possible, and that’s when it starts to make sense.