DRIVEN: MINI JCW COUPE
So, does the fastest mainstream production Mini yet go better than it looks?
Putting the boot in
First impressions? Well, it's a Mini with a daft roofline and even less room in the back than usual. Oh, apart from the boot, which is actually bigger than the Clubman estate version, yet difficult to access thanks to the world's heaviest bootlid. So it's both the most and least practical (non Countryman) Mini yet made. And the fastest, apparently.
Familiarity means the novelty value of the Mini interior has dulled a little but if you haven't been in one for a while it's still like nothing else. OK, the retro thing may be a little over-egged but it's fun and distinctive and, for all the daft features like the oversized central speedo, actually quite clean and easy to use. The near £30K pricetag of our test car is going to raise a few PH eyebrows no doubt but, though pricey, extras like the stitched leather dash (£805) do at least raise the ambience levels a little.
Speak up caller
Like every control in the car, the throttle response is a little springy and over keen, the sense that the Mini is shouting just a little harder than it actually needs to about its performance never quite absent. There's nothing subtle, the JCW dumping seemingly all the available acceleration or steering in response to the smallest input. It's desperate to impress but sometimes you wish for a slightly calmer response. Hitting the Sport button just magnifies this further, the steering gaining unwelcome and artificial weighting and the throttle even snappier responses.
Riggers might say! All Minis seem willing to steer from the rear, lifts even with the stability control on occasionally requiring substantial corrections in addition to the sometimes violent kickback and camber sniffing you get from the front wheels. The JCW gets the LSD-simulating Electronic Differential Control but at times you'd swear there was a mechanical diff up front the way the wheel tugs back and forth at times. All of which makes the JCW somewhat busy on bumpy roads, be they city streets or undulating back roads with sudden camber changes or big compressions.
So where does that leave us? Pretty much where we started really - a Mini with a daft roofline and even less room in the back...
MINI JOHN COOPER WORKS COUPE
Engine: 1,598cc 4-cyl, turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Power (hp): 211@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 192@1,850rpm
MPG: 39.8mpg (NEDC combined)
Price: £23,795 (£29,335 as tested)