Launching the JCW at Phillip Island suggests Mini wants its “most powerful” ever car to be taken seriously because, as a circuit, the consequences of a mistake are nothing to laugh about.
And as it gallivanted around the Island during our press drive, serious was how the JCW felt.
Much of this is due to the new-gen Cooper chassis being wider and longer, but also to the new bits that come with the JCW’s $10,350 price hike over a Cooper S.
Minis engineers have thrown two-stage adjustable dampers underneath the JCW (to accompany the increase in wheel size to 18s), which when combined with its 1205kg weight, ensure the JCW is a circuit carving delight.
Through Phillip Island’s high-speed corners it exuded a fantastic balance, feeling much larger than its novel size suggests, while during slower paced bends it was happy to adjust its attitude with brake or throttle.
Fixed four-piston Brembo stoppers that gnaw 330mm discs round out its dynamic package, which are strong, and felt like they could go ten rounds with Mike Tyson, but lacked finesse and precise feel.
Up front Mini’s engineers have strapped a JCW-specific turbocharger to its 2.0-litre four-banger, stuffed its bores with new pistons, and gifted its snail a bigger intercooler and new exhaust to huff its stuff through.
This means outputs have shot up 29kW and 40Nm from the Cooper S’s to produce a total of 170kW and 320Nm, which makes it the most potent donk in a Mini… ever.
While it is far from face-tearing, the engine piles on urge from down low, pulling hard until it falls off at 6000rpm. And, in line with modern JCW engines before it, overrun hears the engine erupt in to a fit of juvenile crackles and pops.
Away from the circuit, though, and on to Victoria’s pocked roads, its performance isn’t so smooth. Having the dampers in their comfort setting allowed the body to flounder over undulations, and didn’t provide anywhere near the suspension travel and body control a Golf GTI would easily deliver on much worse roads.
Meanwhile, tight winding stuff also exposed a dead spot in the electromechanical steering’s travel when winding off lock, which marks down an otherwise accurate, well weighted rack.
Then there’s the interior, which is rife with typical MINI flair that, while improved over the previous generation, steers its packaging and design in odd directions. We are happy to see the new standard feature heads-up display, though.
Its six-speed torque converter automatic is a keen shifter, being more than capable on track or road, but enthusiasts will also have to wait until this September for the six-speed manual which will leave an extra $2,550 in your pocket.
The JCW deservedly occupies hero status in the Mini range. Its revels being driven hard, unlike the Cooper S, and its personality is woven with flair, style, and speed. But more talent comes with its downsides, as its $49,950 parks it the same league as an Audi S1, VW Scirocco, and Renault Megane RS.
As good as the JCW’s performance is, the aforementioned rivals make seriously tempting performance alternatives.
None the less, with its unique style, the Mini JCW tells us that if you’re a fan of the retro brand, it’s your heart that calls the shots as opposed to your head. And if that’s the case, you’ll be quite happy with your choice. Just promise us you'll try it out on track.
Engine: 1998cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 170kW @ 5200-6000rpm
Torque: 320Nm @1250-4800rpm
0-100km/h: 6.3sec (claimed)
Price: $47,400 (manual); $49,950 (auto)