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Thursday 26th April 2012


DRIVEN: MINI JCW COUPE

So, does the fastest mainstream production Mini yet go better than it looks?


The Mini Coupe's public unveiling from beneath a giant baseball cap with accompanying break dancers in low-slung denim has to be among the more nauseous examples of motor show marketing guff. But there's always been more than a hint of the embarrassing dad trying to prove that he's down with the kids about Mini's relentless flirtations with yoof culture. You'll note early allusions to the roofline being influenced by a reversed baseball cap have been quietly dropped though...

Perhaps better when partially obscured
Perhaps better when partially obscured
Motor show glitz and press launch hyperbole dealt with we thought it worth spending a week in the Coupe's company to suss, once and for all, whether the coupe is actually the most PH-worthy Mini yet or simply a derivative too far.

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.

Points deducted for trying too hard
Points deducted for trying too hard
This being the JCW version (what, you thought we'd get the diesel in or something?) our test car has the full 211hp and temporarily overboosted 206lb ft of torque, still remarkable figures for a mere 1.6. Again, it's an engine we're familiar with from a host of cars - not least the Peugeot RCZ you may consider a rival - but Mini seems best equipped to unleash it's more charismatic side. Saying that there are fewer of the characterful bangs and pops it's had in the past.

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.

Looks do turn heads, it has to be said
Looks do turn heads, it has to be said
It's all about the front end this car too, the rear wheels seemingly just propping up the back end. They certainly don't offer much in the way of lateral grip, no matter what that 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)
CO2: 165g/km
Price: 23,795 (29,335 as tested)

Author: Dan Trent