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Mini John Cooper Works (2008) review

Published:14 July 2008

Mini John Cooper Works (2008) review
  • At a glance
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Mini is attempting to create a sub-brand with JCW – think of it as the company’s own M Division – which means the John Cooper Works is more than the ultimate Mini. It's the first of many high-performance, high-hoon Minis.

The first JCW, just driven by CAR Online, goes to war with the Honda Civic Type-R and Ford Focus ST, and while not as spacious as the Ford or Honda, it promises stunning pace and superb consumption and emissions figures. Or so Mini claims.

So how does the John Cooper Works differ from the Cooper S?

There are many similarities – but a few crucial differences too. First up, the four-cylinder turbocharged engine co-developed with PSA gets 208bhp – up from 173bhp – thanks to new intake valves, reinforced pistons, a new exhaust and revised turbocharger. Mini has confirmed this motor will not power any future Peugeot/Citroen vehicle: it is a JCW motor, and a batty one at that.

Elsewhere, the Mini gets the JCW aerodynamic kit, bespoke 17-inch alloy wheels (18s are an option) and larger discs with upgraded calipers. The suspension and seats are as per the Cooper S, but air-con and Dynamic Traction Control are fitted as standard for the first time on a Mini.

Click 'Next' below to read more of our Mini John Cooper Works first drive

Does the mental motor make the JCW the fastest-ever Mini?

Oh yes. The JCW explodes to 62mph in 6.5 seconds and tops 149mph. It’s not the most vocal engine on the inside, but drop the window an inch and a whole range of artillery-fire noises emerge from that twin-pipe exhaust.

The engine responds best to short-shifting and torque-chasing. The 206lb ft torque is developed between 1850 and 5600rpm, making overtakes easy. Remarkably, Mini also promises 40mpg and 165g/km from this motor.

But 211bhp? Front-wheel drive? Turbocharged? Sounds like a recipe for torque steer!

Yes and no. Mini has thrown a load of letters at the John Cooper Works to try to tame its hedge-hunting potential. There is the aforementioned Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), ABS, Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC) and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC).

The diff, activated when all the other stability functions are switched off, electronically brakes the spinning inside wheel – increasing traction but not eliminating torque steer. It responds well on the surface it was designed for (tracks) but not on rough 'n' tumble B-roads.

For fast and entertaining B-road blasting, a prod of the Sport button (to sharpen the steering and throttle response) and a one-second push of the Dynamic Traction Control works best – delivering enough steering wriggle to feel like you are actually driving the car, but a useful safety net when your ambition gets ahead of available traction.

The suspension is standard Cooper S fare, which isn’t a bad thing. There’s an uncanny amount of grip and security from the JCW, and although not as hyperactive as the loopy Works GP, it still feels suitably go kart-like. Only the slightly numb electronic power steering spoils the show.

Click 'Next' below to read our verdict on the Mini John Cooper Works

OK, how much for all this Mini lunacy?

Admittedly at £20,995 – £4750 more than the S – the JCW isn’t cheap. All the tasty features are on the options list (Sports suspension, 18s, flared Recaros, sat-nav) making the bigger rivals look like bargains in comparison.

However, this is a special car. It signals the proper debut of JCW as a sub-brand and marks the occasion with a machine that is suitably different in character to not only the Cooper S but everything else in the hot-hatch class. It is fascinating – switching from benign to barmy in an instant and leaving a grin on your face like few other cars on sale today. Yes, we like it. A lot.

And if you like your hot-hatches with four-doors (if you can get your head around that), there’s a Clubman model on sale next spring. Sheer madness.

Specs

Price when new: £20,995
On sale in the UK: July 2008
Engine: 1598cc 16v turbocharged 4cyl, 208bhp @ 6000rpm, 206lb ft @ 1800-5600rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 6.5sec 0-62mph, 149mph, 40.9mpg, 165g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1205kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3730/1683/1407

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