- What’s Good: Mind popping handling and solid straight-line acceleration.
- What’s Bad: Meager rear seating, but who cares?
THERMAL, CA: The 2019 MINI John Cooper Works hatchback is hard to beat when it comes to pure, unadulterated fun.
Light (curb weight 1,290 kg), quick (0-100 km/h in 6.1 seconds) the MINI JCW excels at the kind of point and squirt motoring that has made it a blast to drive since it was introduced to the world back in 1959.
Based on the MINI 3-door model, power comes from its parent BMW Group, in the form of a 2.0-litre turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine producing 231 hp and 230 lb/ft of torque.
With drive to the front, there is a choice between a six-speed manual or a six-speed Steptronic automatic.
The automatic is a tad quicker from 0-100 km/h at 6.1 seconds, compared to 6.3 for the manual with both having a top speed limited to 246 km/h.
With the manual, there is automatic rev matching that makes for smoother, faster shifts. The automatic can be shifted normally or with paddles on the steering wheel.
Along with its already low centre of gravity, the suspension includes aluminum and high-strength steel to keep the weight down — all augmenting the sharp handling on the JCW.
Brembo supplies JCW-specific 330 mm rotors up front with four-piston fixed calipers for outstanding stopping power.
In real life the rotors are massive, fully filling out the standard 17-inch alloy wheels and even the optional 18-inchers.
An interesting feature is the exhaust system, which is designed to scavenge spent gases but also tuned for a rich tone, which can be enjoyed with the automatic rev matching for a nice little burble.
And you can take it up a notch with the JCW Exhaust Remote Control option where two clicks on the Bluetooth remote opens a valve, bypassing the rear muffler and accentuating engine acoustics.
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Electronic driver assistance features include Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) as standard, but capable of being fully disconnected if required. It incorporates Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC) and Performance Control to improve stability at any speed.
You’d think that what is essentially a box with four wheels couldn’t be aerodynamic, but the JCW will surprise you.
If you look directly at the nose, the whole thing is rounded for the smoothest possible airflow.
At the top of each wheel well surround there is a little protruding lip that deflects air up and back, not into the wheel arch and creating drag.
The rear apron with flaps and diffuser quells drag, while the functional spoiler up top reduces rear lift by 30 per cent — which is a lot.
Inside, the charcoal with red accent interior boasts JCW sport buckets with everything focused on new JCW-exclusive instruments, including a large dial speedo that is easy to see.
A now integral part of the handling syllabus is MINI Driving Modes selected by a rotary switch aft of the shifter.
The modes are Sport, Mid and Green, each of which describes the response the driver can choose from the engine/transmission.
In the real world, you can feel a big difference especially at highway speeds, where there is a noticeable sensation of more power available, particularly when switching from Green.
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The standard sports suspension with wide stance, short wheelbase and low centre of gravity results in a car that sits “four square” with the nexus of the wheels crossing between the front seats.
This really lets the driver know where the wheels are so he/she can get on with the job of enjoying all that JCW has to offer.
The 2019 JCW Hatch tested here was part of the recent BMW Group “Test Fest” in Thermal, CA, where the brand trotted out all its new and current models including 16 BMWs, 11 MINIs, six motorcycles and a Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV priced at about (Cdn)$480,000.
Along with the latest MINIs there were three of the original cars that ended production in 2000, one being a 1965 Mini Cooper S, the hot-rod version of its day.
Taking the route over to California’s Salton Sea in the JCW, there was a lot of traffic, but with the near instant response from the engine/turbo passing was quick and clean.
And while I was doing that, the roarty sound of the twin exhaust was pure fun.
You’re seated pretty low with a ground clearance of just 143 mm, and coupled with the short wheelbase of 2,495 mm, you soon see why handling is referred to as go-kart like.
Bang the throttle, crank the wheel in any direction and the JCW Hatch responds in a way that makes you want to do it again and again.
People think of the MINI as a great little urban car and it’s true – but the JCW is a much different creature all together.
Yes, it’s good around town, but when you really want to go out and revel in its performance side, the MINI John Cooper Works Hatch is simply great.