£23,345 - £32,480 Price range
42 - 68 MPG
Even the standard Mini hatchback offers a driving experience like no other in its class – so we have high hopes for the Mini Cooper S JCW.
It’s the most powerful model the company has ever sold – fitted with a 2.0-litre petrol engine tuned to produce 231hp, it has the power needed to annihilate the likes of the Abarth 595, DS 3 Performance and the Renaultsport Clio.
Impressive though it is, the JCW’s straight-line performance plays second fiddle to its handling in corners – where it could teach a limpet a thing or two about sucking itself to a surface.
Entertainment is the name of the game and the Mini – with its sports exhaust that pops and gargles with comic regularity – is guaranteed to put a smile on your face every time you get in and give it the beans.
In fact, the only part of Mini ownership that might gripe is paying for it – it’s significantly more expensive than direct rivals and not hugely well equipped either. JCW models get LED headlights, cruise control and racy looks, but essentials such as sat-nav remain on the options list.
An even more hard-core model, called the JCW Challenge, has been released and features a new bodykit, upgraded suspension, new alloy wheels and a sports exhaust system with carbon fibre tips.
There’s so much to like about how the Mini JCW drives, it’s hard to choose a particular area in which it excels – but we think it might just be the steering. It’s heavy in a way that’s not often felt in small cars and meaty enough to let you throw the car about without it ever feeling nervous.
Selecting Sport from the driving modes only serves to enhance the feel of the steering, along with sharpening the throttle response and (in cars equipped with active dampers) stiffening the ride. It’s never too hard, though – cancelling out almost all body lean, but leaving enough give in reserve to take the worst out of bumps in the road. It’s particularly impressive in the Convertible model, which suffers from less of the scuttle shake you’ll find in rivals.
If you’re looking for a serious track day car then the JCW does come unstuck. It does without the clever limited-slip differential you get in the likes of the Vauxhall Corsa VXR and, as a result, can’t offer the out-of-corner pull the Corsa can. In the wet, turning off the traction control reveals just how much the electronics battle to stop the front wheels spinning.
Buyers can choose from a manual or automatic gearbox – both with six speeds. For enthusiasts we would have to recommend the former – the automatic is decent enough, but it’s not a twin-clutch unit so doesn’t offer the quickest of changes and can sometimes be caught in high gears when you want to accelerate hard out of a corner. The manual, meanwhile, is slick and more rewarding to use when the going gets twisty.
The drop-top JCW is well worth considering. It’s 100kg heavier than the hard-top – so performance is blunted a touch, but its roof drops electrically in seconds allowing you to take full advantage of those irregular sunny days. It also brings you into closer contact with the spine-tingling crackles and pops emitted by the exhaust.
With 231hp and 236Ib ft of torque – the Mini JCW is quick, however you care to look at it. It bursts out the traps and on to 62mph in just 6.3 seconds and will bound to a top speed of 153mph.
Thanks to its relatively large capacity (the Mini is a 2.0-litre in a class dominated by 1.6s) and turbocharger, the JCW is not a car that needs to be worked hard to get the best from it. Acceleration is linear with plenty of shove available low down in the engine’s operating range. It makes the car easier to drive quickly in everyday traffic, but also means it does without some of the frenetic appeal of the Ford Fiesta ST. It also lacks its addictive induction noise and, while it sounds cool, the noise from the sports exhaust can seem a little manufactured.
We’re splitting hairs here and, in the areas that’ll concern most buyers (even those looking to bag a JCW) such as fuel economy and CO2 emissions, the fastest Mini does well. Fuel economy of more than 40mpg isn’t too bad given the performance on offer and CO2 emissions of 155g/km mean road tax will set you back £185 a year. Go for an automatic and fuel economy of nearly 50mpg should be possible and road tax costs just £130 annually.
While other manufacturers’ cheaper models are often the most popular in their respective ranges, Mini tends to see its buyers target the middle of its line-up – the Cooper being the bestseller. Meanwhile, eight per cent of those choosing a Cooper S are expected to opt for the JCW model and they won’t be disappointed. It’s a fun and quite unnervingly rapid little machine, while still offering the polished behaviour and huge range of customisable options that make the regular model such an overriding success.