My love for Mini’s started around when I began learning to drive in 1999 which incidentally is around the time where production of the original Mini was beginning to come to an end. I dreamed of a Blue Cooper S with white stripes and those four driving lights on the front grille. Beyond my means at 17 I had to accept that wasn’t going to happen but in 2001 when the new Mini was launched my excitement for the brand was boosted further. I loved how BMW had kept the retro design of the original car but modernised it and made it a little bigger. In 2002 I test drove a Mini One and desperately wanted to buy it but again, it was slightly beyond me, in the spec I wanted at least. I remember being wowed by the showroom when I arrived to drive the car. It was as modern and ‘cool’ and was nothing like any car showroom I had been in before. The car was a revelation to drive. It felt so secure, so sporty, so BMW. It felt expensive and well built and drove like a little sports car. What I really wanted was the Cooper and a few options so I walked away but ever since I have pined for one of these cars. It is for this reason I was just as excited about driving the latest JCW as I have been about driving any of the amazing cars I’ve been lucky enough to pilot over the last year.
Mini Worcester were the guys who made this dream come true and on walking into their showroom I was again greeted by a showroom like no other. Everything is modern, cool and befitting of a brand which has become an icon in its own right in the 17 years or so it has been on sale. The staff are clearly as passionate about the brand as the customers are about their cars. It feels like a family rather than a workforce.
The car I had come to collect for a couple of days was the latest Mini Cooper S JCW which has recently re-entered production. The JCW or John Cooper Works for those who don’t know it Mini’s fastest and most hardcore current model, named after the man who tuned and tweaked the original Mini for racing way back when. The latest iteration comes with a 2.0 litre Turbocharged 4 cylinder engine from BMW with 228bhp and 236 lb/ft of torque which is not inconsiderable in a car the size of the Mini and enough to propel it to 62mph in 6.1 seconds in automatic form and on to 152mph. Impressive numbers and I would go as far as to say it even feels a little quicker than that. It would have no trouble keeping up with a BMW M140i at legal speeds. The 8 speed automatic gearbox fitted to the car may not be the first choice for many a keen driver but it shifts quickly and smoothly in both automatic and manual modes. The engine is undoubtedly turbo charged in feel but when the boost builds and the revs rise this car becomes a real pocket rocket. Combine this with an exhaust note befitting a sportscar and the fact this is all packed into such a small shell the sensation of speed and enjoyment is much greater than you would find in larger hot hatchbacks or sportscars with similar performance.
The JCW doesn’t just give you more power than the other Mini’s in the range. Suspension, brakes and chassis are upgraded or tweaked to make this a real go-kart of a car. It also gets an aggressive body kit, bigger wheels and extremely comfortable yet supportive sports seats in the front. As a big man, I usually struggle to get comfortable in small cars but these seats fitted a treat and held me firmly in place through the bends and it’s in the bends the most fun is had. You would be forgiven for expecting a small front wheel drive turbocharged car with this much power to understeer in the corners but the JCW is very controlled. With traction control fully on you can feel the inside wheel pulling you tight into the apex and stopping you running wide and the car feels very neutral moving around just a little beneath you but enough for you to notice just how balanced it is. With sport handling mode activated, one press of the traction button, and you get just a little understeer if you are ham fisted with it but it’s gradual and manageable with the car still helping you out a little. Obviously, I didn’t turn ESC fully off, it’s not my car after all. The car has drive select with three modes. Green mode works much the same as Eco Pro in BMW’s optimising economy. sport ramps everything up to its most aggressive setup so you get the best throttle response, more aggressive kickdown and the loudest exhaust note and balanced mode mixes the two for day to day driving. The automatic gearbox also has a sport mode which as in BMW’s is activated by nocking the gear level to the left and which also keeps the car in manual mode if you change gear with the paddles.
The Mini a great car to drive on a twisty road and despite the lowered suspension the car felt more compliant than I expected. The Mini One I drove many years back was very firm and it’s something I’ve heard the Mini be criticised for in the past but this latest JCW felt a little less rigid and whilst firm, it felt well damped and composed. Another big surprise was fuel economy. Even driving spiritedly I was getting over 28mpg and on a run you can easily get into the 40’s which for a car with this much performance is very impressive.
Looks are very much subjective but there’s no doubt with each generation of the new Mini it has gotten a little chubbier but I love the way BMW have kept the instantly recognisable features of the original Mini both externally and within. I particularly like the toggle switches inside which are part of an interior delivering a combination of style and quality as well as character hard to find anywhere else. All mod cons are available and the infotainment is immediately recognisable as a BMW iDrive system but has been made to look more youthful and inkeeping with the rest of the car. The screen in this car was the smaller of two navigation screens and seemed a little low resolution compared to the latest designs but it was functional and a bigger screen is available as part of an option pack if you are willing to pay for it. Everything else is easy to use and feels high quality and delivers big car refinement. You could do long journeys in the Mini without any discomfort which isn’t something you can’t say about many city cars, particularly hot ones!
Are there any negatives? Space in the front is plentiful but the rear is a little compromised but we managed to fit two adults and a 4 year old in pretty comfortably over the weekend. Again, the boot isn’t very large but big enough to get some shopping in or enough stuff for a weekend away. You don’t buy these cars for their big boot or rear legroom do you? The JCW isn’t available as a 5 door, it’s reserved for the smaller 3 door car but it is also available as a convertible if you so wish. My only other slight gripe is the sound on this 2019 car with its new mandatory particle filter is more muted and has fewer pops and bangs than I expected but this isn’t just a Mini thing, it’s affecting all new cars now.
So did the Mini JCW live up to the lust I had for this little car before I drove it? Absolutely. It had me glued to Autotrader several times and I literally did not want to stop driving it. It was a sad time handing back the keys. Whilst there may be other hatchbacks out there with similar performance there are very few as good on a twisty road and I cannot think of another car that combines all of that with the premium build quality and most importantly the character of the Mini in a small car package. When BMW took over the Mini brand many people were concerned as to what they would come up with in replacing the old car but why did we worry? Fears of losing the brands British identity were completely misplaced thanks to the car being built in the UK still and Union Jacks aplenty, noteably in the rear light cluster if you opt for the adaptive led headlights on this latest car. Whilst the dimensions of the car have changed significantly it is instantly recognisable as being a Mini both inside and out but it now integrates all of the comfort and technology you expect from a modern car. The way BMW marketed this car and continue to do so with customisable paint jobs and interiors as well as making the buying experience an event in itself with their modern, welcoming and most importantly fashionable showrooms, helps to create a brand that is massively desirable across the classes and age groups, much as the original Mini was back in the 1960’s and 70’s. In buying a Mini you are buying not only a car, but investing into a lifestyle and becoming part of a family. Driving the JCW I got waves from other Mini drivers and there was obvious love for the car from people of all ages during my time with it which in an era where people would rather send a Whatsapp to the person sat next to them than actually interact with them is an incredible thing. You just don’t get this with other small cars despite other manufacturers attempts to copy on the customisation front. I desperately want a Mini JCW and if I could justify it as practical for my current needs I would buy one.
One day I will own one. I need one in my life!
A huge thank you to Rybrook Mini Worcester for arranging the car for me and being so welcoming and accommodating. All of their social media links are below and make sure you check out all of the photographs over on my Instagram.
Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/worcester_mini/