Pint-sized Punch | MINI John Cooper Works

BY Joel Tam

The previous generation MINI John Cooper Works (JCW) we drove five years ago was a real hoot to steer. Is the face-lifted F56 one just as sharp?

By Joel Tam | Photos Marcus Lim

You don’t get into a MINI and expect a regular drive - every MINI is built with an element of fun and a touch of humour. Even the high-performance variant of the MINI hatch oozes happiness.

Forget the promise of performance and speed for a moment and enjoy the positive vibes this car has to offer. The big round eyes, the gaping smiley grilles and lipstick red side mirrors. Had a bad day? Just walk up to your MINI and you’ll feel a whole lot better. Sure, the car has grown and might not be as adorable to some anymore. But the MINI still retains a lot of its charm and I’ve always been a fan.

Get in and the good-vibes design is carried through. A large centre instrument and media console houses key information and all your entertainment needs. The outer rim of the console glows and the colours can be changed to suit your mood. In Sport mode, the lights even work in unison with the acceleration of the car!

But it’s not just the looks that appeal. Two things rate highly on my list of performance cars: Steering weight and handling. It is in these two areas that the MINI excels in (read more about it in our upcoming features on the Cooper and Cooper Convertible).

You’ve probably heard by now about how MINIs, especially the Cooper S and JCW versions ‘handle like a go-kart’. It’s because they really do. Weighted and pinpoint-sharp steering coupled with super flat cornering capabilities are the orders of the day when you’re piloting the JCW. You always feel confident to push the little rocket a little faster after every corner.

You can too because this little terrier on steroids is really, really quick. With its small size and 228 bhp 2.0-litre engine, you can easily keep up with sports cars that cost twice or thrice the price. With 320 Nm of torque available, the engine responds readily and the crackling exhaust note adds even more fun to the drive.

Even the brakes are phenomenally good. 330mm Brembo discs and four-piston callipers wrapped with the signature 18-inch wheels up front, help keep you out of trouble as you zip about town.

But the handling and quick response comes at a price though. The stiff chassis and suspension setup means ride comfort is compromised a little and you might be surprised to find that you clocked a thousand extra ‘steps’ on your fitbit after your drive to work.

This is truly the ultimate MINI (aside from the GP). Fast, fun with loads of character. You don’t get many cars like these nowadays where every decision made on building a car has to be practical.

The MINI has not been spared this regime, but at least, it still holds true to many of the traits that make it special.