It’s a long time since a Mini has won Bathurst or an international rally.
This was first published in MOTOR's November 2008 issue.
So what is the new John Cooper Works Mini actually about? It’s about control – more, a reinvigoration and ‘repositioning’ of the JCW brand as BMW takes the reigns after purchasing JCW outright last year.
The JCW is now a performance model in its own right – the halo model of the Mini range – as opposed to an add-on kit of the previous R53 model, according to Mini’s PR. And they’re quick to harp on the car as road-registered racecar, linking it to the Mini Challenge series and yep, even back to those multiple victories on the Monte Carlo rally in the ’60s.
Over the Cooper S, the JCW gets more power from the same turbocharged 1598cc turbo’d four-cylinder (up to 155kW form 128) and 20Nm additional torque, the overboost function offering yet a further 20Nm to 280Nm when in full song.
The gearshift on the strengthened six-speed manual ‘box (which keeps the same ratios as the Cooper and Cooper S) is a little notchy, while the throttle response is smooth but a little laggy and lacks the kick that the old supercharged version offered (which are still available in the cabriolets for the time being).
Still, on country roads we found it easy to cruise in and found burying the throttle out of corners showed that the Mini had more than enough power to cause its Dunlop rubber to squirm. Under brakes the car is skittish and, with the traction on, will understeer on the limit.
The JCW is fitted with DTC and TC. With DTC on, it’s highly intrusive and you’ll find gaping throttle response as the computer struggles with the excessive wheelspin. With the DTC off, TC will still intervene, so its; best switched off altogether, where you’ll come into a corner and be able to slide the Mini’s tail around the bend in an overdose off lift-off oversteer.
And for the first time, the JCW badge has been fitted to the Clubman. You can’t tell the difference from the driver’s seat – until you adjust the rear vision mirror and see the split windscreen rear doors.
The Clubman also gains an additional (small) seat, making it a five-seater over the hardtop’s four. The lift-off oversteer is somewhat reduced, as the additional stability means the Clubman holds on a lot better, yet it still retains the understeer with the traction on.
The front are rear discs are larger (now 316mm front and 280 up back) with four-piston calipers painted red on JCWs, while the car’s now fitted with 17s, up an inch over regular Cooper S, while the JCW actually has 5mm ground clearance than the regular S. It rides well, with bumps noticeable but not overly intrusive.
Apart from the visual and (arguably practical) advantages of the Clubman, the kilos and inches means that it actually sits more firmly than the hardtop. Still, it understeers drastically in long, opening corners if you push it, and it’s not helped by missing out on the hardtop’s electronic diff lock.
The increased mass means that it’s less prone to snap oversteer, and can be pushed a little harder due to the superior stability. It’s only marginally slower and uses a drip more fuel, so it’ll outperform regular Cooper S hardtops aplomb.
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Pricing sees the JCW cost an additional $8,900 over the regular Cooper S, while the Clubman ups the ask $8,100. Despite the extra power and grip, it’s hard to see the value in the car over a Cooper S, so while BMW harp that the model is no longer an upgrade pack, it’s little different: could it simply be that it’s marketed properly now?
Admittedly, some items on the previous JCW kits were fitted at the factory, some not. Now, BMW can fit the complete JCW kit in-house. Perhaps it’s just mincing words: does it really matter where it’s done? Apparently…
Mini Cooper S JCW specs:
Engine: 1598cc 4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 155kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 260Nm @ 1850-5600rpm
Top Speed: 238km/h (claimed)
0-100km/h: 6.5secs (claimed)