At £21,000 you have to wonder whether Charlie Croker would bother splashing out on three John Cooper Works BMW MINIs were he to plan the Italian Job today. But to look at the price of the new top-of-the-range MINI rationally has now become rather pointless. This little hatchback seems to now sit in a category of its own, making you rethink the very meaning of value for money.
It is clear that the MINI chassis was capable of taking 45bhp more and the result is a seriously quick car. I’ve come to Donington for the launch in a standard Cooper S, which feels quick and darty, but the JCW makes it feel a little soft.
BMW has now got its hands on the John Cooper Works brand and openly admits that it wants those three letters to have the same meaning in MINI world as the letter ‘M’ does on the back of BMWs. The JCW has a modified air intake and breathes more easily than a Cooper S, giving you more immediate grunt.
With the windows down you notice the perfectly engineered ‘snap, crackle and pop’, as the MINI representatives put it. Top speed is now 148mph and 0-62mph is a claimed 6.5 seconds which, when you’re in a small car like this, feels fast enough.
The suspension is the same as the standard Cooper S – although a JCW sports suspension can be specced for an extra £140 - but the power rarely overwhelms it. You get the same quality steering feel as in the S which can be a touch heavy on motorways but is perfectly weighted for a cross-country blast.
This replicates the mechanical version by braking a spinning front wheel but somehow just doesn’t feel as effective as the more simple but frankly excellent traditional LSD. MINI says that the mechanical version would have created too much torque steer, something that the JCW does still have in small doses. On bumpy B roads you’ll notice the wheel tugging from left to right as the camber changes.
There are also three settings to the traction/stability control system which we were able to try in the wet and the dry. The first setting has Dynamic Traction Control and Dynamic Stability Control, and the second is a slightly less nannying DTC-only. There’s no doubt that the systems would work well keeping someone who’s idea of having fun in their JCW is taking their friends for lunch on the King’s Road out of a ditch, but for the rest of us they are simply frustrating.
Externally the JCW has been treated to exclusive 17” lightweight Challenge-style alloys and a unique bodykit. It looks good, if you like MINIs, and has a meaner look to the S. Inside it’s…well, it’s pretty much standard S. Even the seats are the same, with buckets being a costly option. It’s all good quality though and once you are on the move you spend more time looking through the odd upright screen than you do at the seat upholstery.