MINI John Cooper Works | Grown Up

BY Azfar Hashim

The JCW becomes significantly more fun with the bigger engine — growing up isn’t all that bad in this case

Photos by Azfar Hashim

I love hatchbacks. To be even more specific, the ones with three doors are much preferred – yes, I’m a selfish person that way. With a three-door hatchback, friends and relatives won’t bother asking you for a lift; well maybe they sometimes would, but after just one ride, they never ever want to be in your car again. The usual complaints, I mean reasons, normal human beings do not enjoy sitting at the back are due to the lack of both leg and headroom; and those who are claustrophobic get into panic mode just after four minutes.

Good for me. On the flipside, since I own one such car, I must confess over the years my social circle is getting smaller and smaller…

Anyway, this is the third-generation John Cooper Works MINI I’ve driven; and I would like to begin by saying how slightly ‘softer’ it is right now. ‘Soft’ not only in terms of suspension, but as a whole — more sound dampening means you get less gregarious exhaust note in the cabin, the springs felt softer than the previous model and the stock rubbers that came with it were — egad — comfort-biased (Pirelli P7 Cinturato. Like, whaaaaat?).

I could understand why. You see, the Mini Cooper S is a niche car; thus making the JCW a niche within a niche. Hence to give it a wider appeal, some tweaks must be made, to make it more desirable. If you’ve driven the JCW from two generations ago, like me, you would surely love it: Loud exhaust that crackles and pops like a monkey high on sugar, sharp handling (you just need to tell the car mentally when you feel like changing directions and it would do it in an instant), proper Recaro race seats and less creature comfort — and it’s only available in manual, mind you. It’s a crazy car with, alas, a matching crazy price tag unfortunately — you need to be patient to find one in the used car market today.

Its replacement was almost identical, with lesser exhaust noise. On top of that, some additional creature comfort that added more weight. But that aside, it still was madly stiff and torque-steers like it’s on fire — two main reasons I liked it. The auto ‘box matched to it made the car even more liveable with.

Sorry for reflecting on the past a tad too much. Now back to this JCW. As mentioned, it’s now softer and gets additional touches of comfort (you get factory-fitted harman/kardon speaker system as well). Overall build quality feels solid in a BMW way, the seats do provide some comfort for the expressway drive, rear passengers get more space than before, the boot is now (slightly) more useful and in terms of styling, you could just know even from a distance this is no ordinary Cooper.

Because it now comes with a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine (a 1.6-litre unit previously) and is mated to a quick shifting 6-speed automatic ‘box that sends power to the front two-wheels, the way it accelerates forward is oh-so-entertaining; in fact when you weld the accelerator pedal dead onto the floor, you reach the next traffic light junction last week. Off the traction control and entertain yourself with wheelspins and torque-steer all at the same time — pretty scary stuff if it’s your first time driving this car (of course, this is done in Sport mode). Silent the audio system, bring the windows down and you could still hear the exhaust crackling away at high revs.

That said, leave the car to run on its own and the level of comfort is quite surprising — not exactly S-Class like, but much closer towards the Golf Sport. You get some wind noise at three-figure speeds and tyre noise 24/7, but it’s still pleasant.

In terms of handling, things are quite interesting in this particular JCW. As mentioned, it doesn’t get the stickiest set of rubber fitted on all four corners, but somewhat it still manages to deliver fun by the bucket loads; a little bit of understeer when you decide to push it very hard, but magically the car would correct itself.

Throw it into a series of corners, and the JCW shows off a high amount of balance despite the Pirellis screaming and the body rolling quite obviously. If you’re the sort used to an Elise or Cayman, this part of the car might intimidate you a little — but if you’re very used to a hot-hatch, it provides laughter and more laughter. Colleagues in the office needn’t asked me why I came back with a wide grin and the back of my shirt all wet (from my sweat, FYI)…

As a whole, the JCW retains its permanent happy mode — meaning if you don’t want a dull motoring life, this is one car you should get. Forget fuel economy, ignore passenger comfort; it’s ok to be selfish. And I love it even more still this time around.

One of the loveliest pair of paddle-shifters sampled this year; nicely sized too

One of the loveliest pair of paddle-shifters sampled this year; nicely sized too

Head-up display comes standard in the JCW

Head-up display comes standard in the JCW