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Mini Coupe JCW (2011) review

Published:02 September 2011

Mini Coupe JCW (2011) review
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Steve Moody

Contributing editor, adventurer, ideas pitcher, failed grower-upper

By Steve Moody

Contributing editor, adventurer, ideas pitcher, failed grower-upper

Mini-logoed London buses, references to go kart-like handling, and a load of old nonsense about adventure. Yes, we’re here again with another Mini and all the usual brand messages are being poured out by the bucketload.

This rather camp caravan of pastiche follows the brand wherever it goes and in the Countryman and Clubman, perhaps the buzz fell a little flat. Not this time though, because the Coupe is faster, harder and smaller (yes, smaller – remember that approach?) than any previous BMW-generation Mini. It’s even got a useable 280-litre boot. Whatever next?

Mini Coupe: the tech spec

At the top end is the petrol John Cooper Works (tested here) with a twin-scroll turbocharged 1.6 developing 208hp. It's followed closely by the similarly powertrained Cooper S with 181hp, a 121hp Cooper managing without forced induction, and the diesel Cooper SD, producing 141hp and 225lb ft from its 2.0-litre unit. Mini reckons this one will manage more than 65mpg combined.

The wheelbase is pretty much the same as the hatch, and the customary Mini front-wheel drive, MacPherson struts at the front axle, a multi-link rear axle, and electric power steering are all in evidence while Sports suspension, which brings stiffer dampers and sturdier anti-roll bars, is available as an option.

The side sills have been beefed up to give the body extra rigidity over the hatchback, and with that little pod on top, the centre of gravity has dropped a bit too as the roof height is as much as 5cm lower than the hatch. Which should mean even more fun than usual.

So is this a Mini marketing exercise, or the real thing?

More of that lukewarm brand-extending epitomised by the Clubman and Countryman? We forced ourselves to two days ragging the JCW version about to find out, and the question I found myself asking was ‘can a car have too much grip?’. You sit slap bang in the middle of the chassis, the fat 205/45 17-inch ContiSportContacts and lightweight alloys pushed out to the extremes of the bodyshell and carrying very little mass above them. The result is a little car that carries a lot of speed, all the time. It’s on-paper figures suggest parity with the hatch, but in reality, it’s sharper, and feels quicker too.

Turn-in is typically alert if a little robotic in feel, but you floor the accelerator really early, there’s just a small amount of scrabbling from the inside front, before it grips, points and squirts. Set a continuous curve and throttle and you can just sling flat and hard through corners. Understeer is almost completely banished – you’ve got to do all the wrong things to find some, and even in the wet, the JCW clings on with surprising tenacity.

That barky little 1.6 motor offers some serious thrust, although the gear ratios are very tightly spaced and it doesn’t feel the most flexible unit as a result. A wrong selection finds you quickly below the turbo’s influence, or revving the nuts off it. Some good old-fashioned heel and toe is helpful, and you’ve really got to concentrate on gear choice going into corners to get the most out of it. The JCW is a car that rewards a driver really committed to their job, and getting it right results in huge satisfaction.

So short is the gearing that on a long motorway run in sixth, you’ll get out with your head ringing. And that stiff ride is always there to remind you of road surface shortcomings. But all in all, this is Mini back on top form.

It’s not the prettiest thing though, is it?

No, in fact it’s a bit ugly: the window area is a mish mash of tessellating glass, metal and plastic and there’s no traditional coupe elegance on show here at all. The cabin is what you’d expect, with all the usual Mini trinkets but the view backwards is laughably bad, and there’s a huge blind spot thanks to all the B-pillar shenanigans. But with the doors and huge boot lid open, it looks like a Group B rally car in service, and the lack of pastichey, derivative design language is a refreshing change. It’ll do for me.

You can jazz it up with all the usual stickers and gadgets, which will take the cost even higher than the already hefty £23,000-plus figure, but with the market for small performance coupes disappointingly barren, on the used market these Minis will sell and sell for years, so prices will be high, offsetting a lot of the initial outlay.

Verdict

Pricey, but spicy. The Mini Coupe, and the JCW version in particular, distills everything we love about MINI into its purest form yet, without a lot of the stagey, branding stuff. At last, another Mini for the real enthusiast.

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Specs

Price when new: £23,795
On sale in the UK: October 2011
Engine: 1598cc 16v turbocharged 4-cyl, 208bhp @ 6000 rpm, 192lb ft @ 1850 – 5600 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 6.4sec 0–62 mph, 149 mph, 39.8 mpg, 16 g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1240kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3734/1683 /1384

Rivals

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  • Mini Coupe JCW (2011) review
  • Mini Coupe JCW (2011) review
  • Mini Coupe JCW (2011) review
  • Mini Coupe JCW (2011) review
  • Mini Coupe JCW (2011) review
  • Mini Coupe JCW (2011) review
  • Mini Coupe JCW (2011) review
  • Mini Coupe JCW (2011) review
  • Mini Coupe JCW (2011) review
  • Mini Coupe JCW (2011) review
  • Mini Coupe JCW (2011) review

By Steve Moody

Contributing editor, adventurer, ideas pitcher, failed grower-upper

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