MINI John Cooper Works hatchback
- Exhaust note
- High resale value
- Great fun to drive
- Lack of boot and rear seat space
- Some cheap interior plastics
- Poor standard spec
"With 208bhp, the MINI John Cooper Works is the fastest production MINI yet, offering cracking performance in a desirable hot hatchback package"
The MINI John Cooper Works hatchback is the fastest MINI that you can buy in the UK, although the limited edition GP model takes performance one step further. It's a rival for the likes of the Vauxhall Corsa VXR, Ford Fiesta ST and Renault Clio Renaultsport. The signature excellent MINI handling is paired with an engine that offers extremely fast straight-line acceleration and a pleasing exhaust sound. An extensive options list means that you can personalise a MINI to your heart's content, with high-quality materials used throughout the interior. Strong resale values and an efficient engine also mean that this performance MINI is a sensible – if undeniably more expensive – choice. Sharing many parts and components with the MINI Challenge race cars, the JCW is fast, provides genuinely fun handling and combines those qualities with a practical hatchback body.
MPG, running costs & CO2
MINI offer the excellent 'tlc' package
This is relative, but given that the MINI JCW is a performance model, fuel economy of 40mpg is pretty good. Emissions of 165g/km, meanwhile, mean the MINI will cost £175 in road tax annually. MINI also offers a TLC Plus package that, for around £275, offers servicing for eight years or 80,000 miles.
Interior & comfort
The ride is firm and back seats are very small
The cost of the MINI John Cooper Works' sporty drive is suspension that is quite stiff and while it is no worse than other sporty models, such as the Renaultsport Clio, it will be noticeably firmer than the standard car. A problem that's confounded by the MINI JCW's larger 17-inch alloy wheels. Headroom is adequate, while the front seats slide back far enough for all but the tallest driver to get their legs in. The JCW also offers a good amount of adjustment for the steering wheel. The massive central speedometer is clear to read if oddly placed, while a digital readout on the rev counter behind the wheel is much more sensible. Some of the toggle switches are difficult to read, though, due to being mounted low on the central column.
Practicality & boot space
Small boot and limited rear seat space
Everything you need to know is in the name – a MINI has small dimensions that leave little space inside for flexibility. There's very limited legroom in the back, while the 160 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place will be quickly filled by four carrier bags of shopping. Fold down the standard-fit split-folding back seats and the capacity expands to a more useful 680 litres, but that still lags behind the 980 litres of space offered by the Citroen DS3. The MINI's interior also makes style a priority over substance, so the door bins aren’t deep or wide and storage places are limited. There is a pair of glove compartments, however, and a couple of cup holders. You can get some optional accessories to augment the practicality issues, such as roof boxes and roof racks.
Reliability & safety
Five star Euro NCAP rating
Given that it's owned and operated by BMW, you’d expect a high level of reliability from MINI, but that isn’t actually the case. In the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, MINI dropped seven places down the manufacturers' rankings to come 28th out of 32. Neither the JCW nor the standard MINI hatchback makes the survey's list of the top 150 cars, with the MINI Countryman the highest-placed model in 125th place. The Oxford-built car does have some faults, but the strong dealer network also delivers a high standard of customer care. Expensive to replace run-flat tyres are a common customer complaint, however, while some of the lower interior plastics do wear badly. The MINI is safe, though, being awarded the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests. It comes fitted with lots of airbags and electronic stability control (ESP) as standard.
Engines, drive & performance
Few cars are this much fun to drive
The JCW sits low, close to the road, and you sit behind a small sports steering wheel leaving you in no doubt that this is the fast MINI. The 208bhp, 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine offers superb performance for such a small car, accelerating from 0-62mph in just 6.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 148mph. It also has loads of grip and traction in the corners, although the powerful engine can make the steering wheel squirm in your hands under hard acceleration. Nonethless, the steering is fast and precise, which adds to the enjoyment, and the excellent brakes come from Brembo (a company that supplies brakes for motor sport teams and sports car makers).
Price, value for money & options
Residual values are very strong
For the top-of-the-range model, the MINI JCW doesn’t have a lot of equipment as standard, MINI preferring to direct customers to a series of option packages. Standard quipment does, however, include alloy wheels, air conditioning, electric mirrors and windows, plus a cd-player capable of playing MP3 discs. Options can be quite pricey, though, with a sunroof costing around £700, while leather seats will set you back around £1,200. Playing in the MINI's favour are depreciation figures, which mean it is likely to keep more of its value over a three-year period than some of its rivals.
What the others say
The basic list price for the JCW is £21,220, but then I hit the options list. The first thing to be added was the Chili Pack. It costs £1685, but it's one of those boxes that you have to tick because it adds so many nice bits, including air-con, bi-xenon headlights, a sports steering wheel, an on-board computer, darkened rear glass, front fogs and white indicator lenses.
But more than that, the JCW's snappy responses mean you won’t need to spend long behind the wheel to realise this is more a thinly disguised race car than anything else.
All that power should be easily accessible, too: because the ducts in the exhaust manifold and turbocharger are split between two cylinders each, Mini says the engine shouldn't suffer the traditional problem of turbo lag.
It may be built for speed but it is surprisingly comfortable, rides bumpy roads exceptionally well and corners as if on rails. It's also astonishingly fast in a straight line.
Last updated: 6 Dec 2013