► The ultimate road-going Mini
► With track-biased upgrades
► Limited to 100 examples at £32k
There’s no point having a race series unless you make a metaphorical spin-off road car. Happily Mini knows the rules of the game and inspired by the Mini Challenge racers as sampled by our own James Taylor and Ben Barry, a Mini JCW Challenge has been created that you and I can buy, assuming we can find one - production has been initially limited to 50 cars.
Something of a skunkworks project, it was put together in the Oxford plant by a Challenge race team staffed entirely by Mini employees – certainly a promising start. Initially 100 cars were planned, with a first run of 50, all of which have been sold. At the time of writing, Mini UK is yet to approve production of a further 50 cars.
Blimey. What do I get for my cash?
More than just some fancy stickers, you’ll be pleased to know, although you might be surprised to find you get no extra power.
The JCW Challenge takes the regular JCW Hatch as the starting point, so you get the same 2.0-litre twin-turbo four-cylinder engine and the 228bhp and 236lb ft it dishes out. But before you dismiss it altogether that’s still enough to hit 153mph and 62mph from rest in 6.3 seconds.
You also have no choice over the gearbox, which is strictly manual only – not a bad thing.
But where the JCW Challenge starts to get really interesting is when you look down the list of upgrades, all sourced from the same suppliers used for the race series. So there are high-spec Nitron NTR R1 coilover springs and dampers, a Quaife ATB limited-slip differential, Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres on Team Dynamics alloys and Mintex brake pads.
It’s not just had a catalogue thrown at it either; adjustment plates fitted front and rear mean the JCW Challenge runs two degrees of negative camber on both axles, and damper settings you can fiddle with until the balance is just right – so you can declare yourself a set-up genius based on someone else’s hard work.
But how will people know it’s a special Mini?
As well as the race-spec bits, the JCW Challenge scoops up a handful of choice items from Mini’s ‘JCW Pro’ accessories shop. The Aerokit adds a front splitter and rear spoiler extension, rear diffuser and carbon on the air intake and door mirrors.
All cars are finished in White Silver and get some beefy black stripes running front to back, mirrored in the fabric seat trim.
Also worthy of note is the carbon-tipped JCW Pro exhaust. It comes with a fabulously over-the-top Bluetooth-enabled switch, mounted in foam and designed to fit in a cupholder (pictured below). It’s marked with a shouty tag warning that the equally shouty Track mode is not suitable for road use.
It might as well be a button marked ‘Do not touch’, because inevitably you’re going to use it as often as possible. It’s a typical Mini touch and all the better for it.
So it’s got all the kit, but is it any fun?
With its ‘cheeky’ looks, calculated urbanity and sheer popularity it’s easy to forget that the hardware under the standard Mini has been engineered by people who really know how to make a car handle. So the injection of the kick-ass suspension, diff and tyres means you can dig right down into the chassis’s depths and exploit its ability to the full.
The first ten feet will tell you that this car is stiff on the supplied settings, but if that bothers you then you’re in the wrong Mini. Yes you can feel the bumps, but it’s a cultured firmness; zip over an undulation and while you feel most of it the car barely deviates and settles down in a flash.
It’s an exaggeration to say it feels like a racing car on the road, but the tautness of the damping marks it out as something special.
Upping the pace is easy with so much torque from low down, and while the 2.0-litre motor isn’t thrilled about running all the way round to high revs it’s an able companion. Switch the exhaust into naughty mode and it is hilariously raucous too, popping and banging like a cinema concession cart pushed down the stairs.
But the engine is almost a bit player here, a device to help you get the most out of hugely capable chassis. The steering is meaty and quick in its most aggressive mode, and with just a little lock on you can sense the car gaining grip as you lean on the outside wheels.
The diff joins in on exit too, requiring a firm hand but allowing you to fire out of corners more quickly. Tackle a sequence of bends and you find yourself hitting them faster and faster, the car in its element and capable of a pace that more expensive sports cars would struggle to match.
There’s still the scope to flick the tail around too, it just requires more commitment to break the hold of the Cup 2 tyres. Whether you’re neat and tidy or all flying elbows and Scandinavian flicks, it’s an absolute blast.
Sounds fun. Is it worth the extra dough?
Depends entirely upon how hardcore you are. It is undeniably a heap more money than the regular car, and you could go out and buy all the extra bits separately.
But unless your surname is Cooper it’s unlikely you’ve been running a Mini race team and have spent as much time in and underneath them as this lot have.
Yes, the ride is firmer, but if it’s too much then go buy the standard JCW. And a backbone.
What else do I need to know?
You might find this hard to believe, but this is a Mini with no options. None. That’s how serious this car is.
A rational mind would call this the silliest Mini you can buy, but that’s precisely what makes it so brilliant. This is a car you’ll want to drive hard and often, and it’s physical proof that underneath all the marketing puff and cutesey image there’s roaringly good hot hatch raw material.
Limited run, engineering pedigree and label-conscious upgrades – sounds like a future classic to me.