MINI John Cooper Works hatchback
"The MINI John Cooper Works is quick enough to worry larger hot hatchbacks – just be mindful of the cost of options"
- Funky interior
- Stand-out looks
- Entertaining to drive
- Cheaper Cooper S almost as fun
- Pricey compared to rivals
- Uncomfortable ride
The most powerful production MINI you can buy, the MINI John Cooper Works hatchback ups the ante from the Cooper S and serves as the flagship of the range. The other hint to its potency is that it uses the name of one of the biggest influences on this small car's history – engine tuner John Cooper.
The JCW builds on the MINI brand’s famous 'go-kart' handling with stiffer and lower suspension than other models and a more powerful version of the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine of the Cooper S.
Its dimensions are the same as the rest of the range, so rear passenger space is still cramped and the boot size isn’t much to shout about. However, the JCW does come with unique styling additions, including a chunky bodykit, smart alloy wheels and flashes of red, including an optional red roof. A Harman Kardon stereo can be included, too.
Smaller than a Golf GTI, the JCW is a better match for cars like the Audi S1 and Abarth 595 Competizione – a hot version of the chic Fiat 500 city car. The JCW starts at just over £23,000 – around £2,000 cheaper than the S1, but roughly £2,000 more expensive than the Abarth. And it's a massive £5,500 more than the cheapest version of our favourite hot hatch, the Ford Fiesta ST.
In fact, the price is probably the most contentious issue: the JCW is definitely an entertaining car, but the Cooper S costs around £5,000 less and almost as fun to drive. However, the JCW will be a rare sight on the road and that 'most powerful production MINI' tag gives you serious bragging rights.
MPG, running costs & CO2
The rest of the MINI hatchback range has some very efficient engines and even the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol in the JCW is relatively economical – particularly considering the performance on offer.
When fitted with the six-speed Steptronic automatic gearbox, it’s capable of up to 49.6mpg and emits 133g/km of CO2. The six-speed manual version is less efficient and costs £1,300 more. Even so, it still manages 42.2mpg and emits 155g/km, for £180-a-year road tax. Plus, the manual version is arguably more fun to drive.
Insurance premiums will be high, too, but MINI offers a very good five-year/50,000-mile TLC service package, which helps keep servicing costs to a minimum.
A high price prevents it from scoring better here. The JCW costs some £3,500 more than the most expensive Ford Fiesta ST and that gap widens further if you get carried away with optional extras. Although the MINI will retain a good percentage of its value when you come to sell, you won't see much return on your investment in those options.
Engines, drive & performance
The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine in the John Cooper Works is basically the same one used in the Cooper S, but it’s been upgraded and fettled by MINI engineers to increase power from 189 to 228bhp. The sprint from 0-62mph is dealt with in 6.1 seconds by the six-speed automatic version and the JCW can manage 153mph flat-out.
Even from low engine speeds, the power increase over the Cooper S can be felt, as the car pulls well even if you're in too high a gear. The six-speed automatic gearbox is quick to change up, but hesitates a little when you want a lower gear, so we’d suggest the six-speed manual version instead for an even more involving drive.
Gearchanges are slick and rewarding, adding an extra layer of interactivity to an already-good hot hatch. The JCW is a very entertaining car and has a decent chunk of that famous MINI character, but the steering lets it down a little – it’s weighted well but it lacks overall feel.
At least the JCW sounds good; the optional sports exhaust on the Cooper S is standard on this model. But it could become tiring if you plan on taking it on frequent long motorway journeys. The run-off valve means the car makes little popping noises – fun, but not particularly sophisticated!
Interior & comfort
The JCW gets the same distinctive interior as other MINIs, with a huge LED light-decorated infotainment system dominating the dashboard, along with aircraft-style toggle switches for various functions.
Body-hugging seats trimmed in leather and Alcantara set the JCW’s cabin apart from the crowd, along with loads of red trim. There’s also a click wheel (similar to the iDrive system in BMW cars), which controls many of the on-board functions.
The famously stiff suspension found in the rest of the MINI range has been hardened further in the JCW model. However, you can use the drive model selector to fine-tune things a bit – in Sport mode, the car is firmed up enough for track driving or a B-road blast, but in Normal, it’s a bit less jittery for everyday driving.
Practicality & boot space
Rear legroom in the JCW is famously miserly and made even worse by the addition of sporty bucket seats. Headroom is acceptable, because of the car’s flat roof, but overall rear-seat passengers will feel cramped on anything other than a short journey.
Boot space remains small, too, at just 211 litres. In comparison, a Volkswagen up! city car has more boot space but is far smaller on the outside. The MINI’s rear seats can be folded down to improve that space, but the boot is still hardly class-leading for a car of this size.
The MINI’s size does count in its favour when parking, though, as its almost flat ends mean you should find it easy enough to slot into a tight space.
Reliability & safety
The MINI hatch scored well for reliability in our Driver Power 2015 customer satisfaction survey, taking 40th place in that category. Overall, the hatch finished ninth, as buyers praised it for its performance and road handling abilities. Unsurprisingly, the hatch didn't score well on practicality, thanks to its small boot. The brand secured a mid-table result of 16th in the manufacturer rankings, which was much improved compared to the 30th place achieved the previous year.
The engine used in the JCW is similar to the one in the Cooper S, as well as some BMW 2 Series Active Tourer and BMW 3 Series models. The JCW also feels pretty well put together, save a few rough plastics here and there.
The MINI hatchback received four out of five stars in Euro NCAP crash-testing. It didn’t do enough to merit the maximum five-star rating, but the hatchback does come with front, side and curtain airbags and electronic stability control.
Price, value for money & options
The major stumbling block if you’re thinking of buying a John Cooper Works rather than a Cooper S or one of its rivals is the hefty price tag. Priced from £23,050, the JCW is more expensive than a Ford Fiesta ST or a Vauxhall Corsa VXR, but does have more power.
However, kit that’s standard on those cars, such as automatic climate control and parking sensors, is optional on the MINI. The example we drove cost more than £30,000 thanks to the inclusion of those items and some other optional equipment, which is a frankly eye-watering amount for any hot hatchback, let alone a small one like the MINI.
On the plus side, JCW is a desirable brand in its own right, so you'll likely recoup a larger percentage of your original outlay than you would with a Fiesta or Corsa. But few of those expensive options will add value to your car when you sell.
As of March 2018, MINI offers optional 4G connectivity for all MINI hatchback models, including the JCW. Dubbed ‘MINI Connected’, the system offers a concierge phone line service, real-time traffic information and improved integration with smartphones, including the ability to send sat-nav information to the car and even operate functions such as the door locks.
Hot hatchback fans and trackday drivers alike will jump at the chance to pick up a used performance MINI, especially one with the coveted John Cooper Works badge, so values should remain high.