MINI John Cooper Works


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.


They sell like hot cakes though and it’s likely there will be a long line of buyers for this new 208bhp JCW. So what do you get for almost five grand over a standard Cooper S? Even more fun is the simple answer.

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.


The pistons have been strengthened, the cylinder head is larger and the valves have also been beefed-up. The turbocharger has been strengthened also with an increase in boost from 0.9 to 1.3bar. There is hardly any lag and once the turbo is spooled up there is noticeably more thrust than in the S.

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.


The car stays flat in the bends and unless you enter one far too quickly the chassis is pretty much unflappable, with bags of grip and gentle understeer on the limit. The only downside perhaps is that the JCW loses the optional mechanical Limited Slip Differential in favour of a trick ‘electronic LSD’.

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.


The car is so responsive and controllable that good throttle control and quick reactions are all you need to keep it on the black stuff, and it’s a lot more rewarding and no doubt quicker too. Often the system works simply by cutting the power so you are left coasting, foot flat to the floor, waiting for the turbocharged 1.6 to start working again.

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.


At £4,750 over the S you have to wonder whether what you are getting is enough. It’s a fantastic car to take for a thrash and has genuine giant-killing qualities but you’d have to be really, really into MINIs to spend Golf GTI Edition 30 money on one, which is bigger, has more power and more kit. But for some reason on its own the JCW seems worth it, and in a way such comparisons are frivolous. All I know is for this kind of money I’d definitely think twice about pushing one out of the back of a coach…

Comments (107) Join the discussion on the forum

  • rovermorris999 26 Aug 2008

    The biggest downer of the MINI for me is the Fisher-Price interior. I couldn't live with it. A mate has just chopped in a One for a new Clubman. Got a really good trade-in but £17k for the Clubman is an awful lot of money. BMW have done a brilliant job on the marketing for these cars. But I just don't 'get' them. Not for me but good luck to those who like them.

  • jmn82 26 Aug 2008

    I thought I'd post a response to this article as it was one that I read a while back when researching for my new company car.

    I was looking to get something quick and fun in the Golf - Jetta size range. I went through the whole list (all 2000 odd lines...) and made myself a shortlist to test drive at some point. The list basically came down to:

    Golf GTI
    JCW
    Leon Cupra (K1 version, also tested the Golf GTI engined FR)
    S40 T5
    Mazda 3 MPS Aero
    Focus ST-2

    Tested the Golf first, so that was like my benchmark for the rest. Enjoyed it, but didn't really find it especially exciting.

    The Leons were next, and they just demonstrated that the Golf was nothing special. The FR was very similar overall, but it handled better, and the Cupra was just an absolute hoot! Much faster, much better handling and better specced than the Golf I would have been able to get.

    The JCW was next, and to be honest I was really excited about getting it. They dropped it off at work on the Friday night and picked it up again on the Monday. We were popping down to see the girlfriend's parents that weekend, which meant nice sections of open dual-lane A roads, a bit of motorway and then 20 odd miles of Buckinghamshire country lanes.

    I was actually really disappointed at the end of it, as I think I'd hyped it up so much (I thought it was going to be a forgone conclusion). Like previous posters mentioned, the noise while cruising along was just frustrating. The performance and handling was just not what I had expected. After the Leon which I'd had earlier in the week, it actually felt quite sluggish, especially when pulling in 3rd and 4th. There was just nothing about the car that felt special when I was inside it. I still love the looks, but I just feel that the driving experience doesn't match up.

    To finish off the story, the S40 was a really nice car to be in and extremely rapid, but I still have issues with driving a Volvo, and the body roll was quite noticable.

    The Focus felt quite heavy when cornering, and I just found the new shape made me want to yawn.

    The MPS was just completely bonkers. The 256bhp figure quoted is apparently the typical Japanese trick of knocking 20-30bhp off when quoting figures to make it sound 'safer'... Ultimately there were two things that led to me ultimately crossing the MPS off the list. Firstly, petrol consumption. 29.1mpg was the quoted figure, and from what I've been told, you'll be lucky to see 25 in reality. Secondly, my gran could have done a better job on the interior.

    The other factor I was considering with all of the cars was whether I could get a Bluefin for them (because I need to be able to change it back to default wink), and the performance increase it would give.

    So, I have ended up ordering a Cupra K1. It wasn't the fastest, but it can Bluefinned to 290bhp, probably a bit more with a decent induction kit. I really like the looks, it handles well and is great fun to drive, and 34mpg is only bettered by the Golf and JCW, both of which I knew I didn't want.

    I think in all honesty, if this had been a private purchase, I still would have gone with the Leon, although I probably would have looked a bit harder at the more extreme JCW options and tuning.

  • okgo 30 Jul 2008

    Jason_W said:
    Mutt, you've identified every major failing with the MINI and I'd agree with you. Its almost as if the bean counters got involved and felt the need to justify their existence by stamping their feet and insisting on finishing the car off with the bargain basement plastics surrounding the heater controls. Its not restricted to the MINI though, my Z4M has got some bits of plastic that look as if they've come off a Renault - hideous! Just kidding.wink

    I'm not surprised you're underwhelmed by the JCW on the MINI stand as I understand its not even got the Chilli pack and has the bog standard seats so evidently the Marketing department went home early that day considering the exhibition vehicles should be fully loaded and I'd certainly put full leather, satnav etc on a car for public consumption.

    However, and we could debate this for ages but I'd put money on the fit and finish seriously outlasting the Renault's interior and certainly without the squeaks and rattles. To compare it with your car is slightly unfair as the MCS is the closer competitor and its a hard decision to make between the two cars that do everything a hot hatch should do and they do it well. The Renault is a bloody good car but what swung it for me was the durability of the MINI plus the rock solid residuals which the Renault cannot compete with although if I had your car on my drive I wouldn't be disappointed.

    Whether they're good enough reasons is open to debate but all I know is that after 18 months on a PCP deal, I can walk away tomorrow not owing a thing and there aren't that many cars out there with which you could say the same.
    Agree with that smile

  • Jason_W 30 Jul 2008

    Mutt, you've identified every major failing with the MINI and I'd agree with you. Its almost as if the bean counters got involved and felt the need to justify their existence by stamping their feet and insisting on finishing the car off with the bargain basement plastics surrounding the heater controls. Its not restricted to the MINI though, my Z4M has got some bits of plastic that look as if they've come off a Renault - hideous! Just kidding.wink

    I'm not surprised you're underwhelmed by the JCW on the MINI stand as I understand its not even got the Chilli pack and has the bog standard seats so evidently the Marketing department went home early that day considering the exhibition vehicles should be fully loaded and I'd certainly put full leather, satnav etc on a car for public consumption.

    However, and we could debate this for ages but I'd put money on the fit and finish seriously outlasting the Renault's interior and certainly without the squeaks and rattles. To compare it with your car is slightly unfair as the MCS is the closer competitor and its a hard decision to make between the two cars that do everything a hot hatch should do and they do it well. The Renault is a bloody good car but what swung it for me was the durability of the MINI plus the rock solid residuals which the Renault cannot compete with although if I had your car on my drive I wouldn't be disappointed.

    Whether they're good enough reasons is open to debate but all I know is that after 18 months on a PCP deal, I can walk away tomorrow not owing a thing and there aren't that many cars out there with which you could say the same.

  • Mutt 30 Jul 2008

    I sat in a JCW at the Motorshow last night. I was, am, completely underwhelmed. Perhaps I'm a victim of the hype, but I was expecting something that would make my Clio 197 feel cheap and nasty inside. Perhaps I'm not a victim of hype, perhaps the TWENTY-ONE GRAND (caps; a bit of MINI marketing for you there) price tag led me up the garden path, but I digress.

    As much as one can tell whilst stationary, the seats were crap; fine for posing but I got the impression they'd be wanting on a decent road or on a track. Also, and much has been made of this, but I need to reiterate: the speedometer was so comically large that the policeman's usual rhetorical question of "how fast was sir going?" would be redundant as he could tell you exactly how fast you were going according to your own speedo and how much fuel you've got left, all from the comfort of his Volvo, which was initially two cars behind. Additionally, the plastics around the heater controls were as nasty as those in the Clio and I've see more rear legroom in a kayak.

    I know cars reputations aren't made or broken on the interior, but for me it's important, especially the seats and not feeling, and this is the only word I can cover the feeling I'd have if I owned one, embarrassed by the interior. Possibly I'm getting old, but I'd prefer a £21k hot hatch to feel special in a focused, wieldy sort of way. Not special in the cutesy, baby-talk kind of way. Sorry.

    Finally a friendly middle-aged chap got in to the JCW and sat next to me. "I've got one of these; well, the Cooper S" he enthuses, before continuing immediately; "they're good cars you know. Fast. Handles brilliantly!". His first reaction was to be enthusiastic and then justify his enthusiasm. It's not just him, it's a reaction I've seen on here and elsewhere countless times with MINI owners. I know they're supposed to be good cars, but then it hit me why I've always been left cold by the MINI: I'd always be under pressure to justify buying one, not just to everyone else, but to myself too.

    You might argue I have the same problem with the Clio. It's a girl's car. "Papa?" "Nicole!". It's a tarted-up shopping trolley. Clio? Every see you next Tuesday has got one. I've had them all but they don't bother me; it's an honest car and a good one at that.

    Perhaps I need a test drive to open my eyes. How much better than a 197 is it, really? I suspect, however, that with the MINI, I'd feel fraudulent every time I turned the key.

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