Fans of bonkers motoring — myself included, it has to be said — like it hot. The really blistering motors truly are those which get the adrenaline flowing simply by looking at them — the really good stuff follows when you get to crank them up.
Cars like the much anticipated and forthcoming Ford Focus RS, the VW Golf R, the Audi RS3, the BMW M235i, and Honda Civic Type R, are all imbued with truly hardcore DNA and while they might be less exotic than a lot of the much more expensive machinery available out there, they do provide the opportunity for ordinary people to experience extraordinary performance.
Ok, so some of these things are not exactly as cheap as chips, but they are not extraordinarily expensive either and they can fulfil a practical family role in day to day motoring whilst also offering the sort of grunt that is not that far shy of supercar proportions. They thus qualify to have the ‘bonkers’ moniker attached.
One such machine is the Mini Cooper JCW (or John Cooper Works, to the uninitiated) which is the apogee of performance when it comes to Mini products. The machine we test this week is the second iteration of the JCW and it boasts a bigger engine and uprated performance over its’ predecessor. And what a blast it is.
The initial JCW, so called in memory of the late John Cooper, the man who created the original and much beloved Mini Cooper and who advised BMW (the owners of Mini) on the development of the new breed of performance Mini. These included the new generation Mini Cooper and Mini Cooper S, but the JCW version represents the pinnacle of performance Minis.
Initially the JCW came with a 1.6 litre four cylinder turbocharged engine which outputted a cracking 218bhp and 280 Nm of torque for a top speed of 242km/h and a 6.5 second 0-100 kph. The new one has a two litre turbocharged unit which boasts new induction and exhaust system, a new turbo and new pistons and consequently has 10% more power and 23% more torque.
Power output has now been boosted to 231bhp and torque to 320Nm (in a narrower band), while top speed is 6.1 seconds and top speed is 246km/h. The test car was also fitted with the six speed auto gearbox which I found to be surprisingly able. A manual version is available but does not apply the power with the same vigour and consequently the 0-100kph time is two-tenths slower.
But as we all know you can have all the power in the world, but if you cannot apply it to the road surface, it isn’t really worth a damn. In this instance BMW/Mini has done a remarkable job of making sure every one of the 231bhp on offer is usable.
The designers have applied loads of mechanical and electronic trickery here to enable the car to do just this. Split shaft driveshafts and raft of electronic systems all but eliminate torque steer and it is something of a wonder to discover that from a standing start and using all the muscle available to you, there is little or no steering distortion as the JCW hunkers down and gets on with the job.
On top of that, and underscoring the thoroughness of the revisions, the front suspension has new dampers and springs, as well as strengthened and lightened supports and wishbones, while the multilink system at the back is tougher and made lighter too.
All this means the karty nature of the Mini has been refined further too and while it is certainly even more grippy than previously, the addition of adjustable dampers — definitely an option worth having — takes some of the harsh sting out of the ride which could otherwise be tiresome on some of our B-roads.
So then, the combination of all these revisions and improvements means that not only is this JCW quicker than previously, it is more refined too, but still has the edginess which stands it out from the crowd as a very polished but still mightily raw performer which will put a smile on the face of anyone with any hint of petrol in their veins.
Aside from the JCW’s performance prowess, it also truly looks the part. Aside from the characteristic outsized rear wing, the standard 17” alloys (18s are optional), bulked out wheelarches and, in the case of the test car, the red, green and white colour scheme (which, can be personalised to the nth degree) give it the sort of head-turning power so many other cars just don’t have.
Add in all the mesh venting and stuff like the centre mounted twin exhausts lay down a visual statement which quite simply spells M-U-S-C-L-E and leaves you in no doubt that this Mini is something special and something very quick indeed. The interior is very Mini with loads of large circular dials and more buttons than a tailor shop. The fire-red start/stop switch is also something of a mission statement in itself.
Some would maintain that the refinement which has been built into the new JCW takes away some of the fizz from the car, but to be honest that is a load of cobblers. Mini might just have polished some of the rough edges that were part and parcel of the original car, but the company has added loads not only in terms of grunt and sparkle to proceedings and the results are spectacular.
So, if you like your motoring chilli pepper hot, the Mini Cooper JCW will deliver in a package which is not only great to look at, but also delivers on the road. Some might say that the regular Cooper S delivers more than enough thrills, but this thing takes the Mini experience to new levels and if you like your thrills to be jalfrezi hot, then this one’s for you.
It’s bonkers, but not mad.
The Car: Mini Cooper JCW
The Cost: from €36,100.
The Engine: Bigger, better and more powerful than before.
The Specification: Basic spec levels are good, but as usual, you’ll have to get a wallet extension if you start adding some of the optional kit.
The Overall Verdict: Cracking drive.
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