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Review: 2016 Mini JCW

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On: Fri, Sep 4, 2015 at 6:38PM | By: Jon Summers

Review: 2016 Mini JCW

I recently learned of a campaign by an enthusiastic British teen to save the original home of Cooper cars, located in a West London suburb. The loss would be a shame, because John Cooper was an engineering visionary who succeeded on the world stage of Formula One, beating Ferrari in the process. Cooper’s genius was welding a pair of Fiat 500 chassis together to create a small, light racing car. Powered by 500cc motorcycle engines, the car made for exciting and close racing, with an emphasis on handling and maintaining momentum, allowing driving skill to shine. Those involved were the same kind of speed-hungry characters who became hot rodders in the US. With contemporaries such as Stirling Moss and Bernie Ecclestone, John Cooper graduated from 500cc racing to International Grand Prix racing, building the first postwar rear-engined Formula 1 Championship-winning car. Alongside this work, and, in much the same way as Shelby tweaked the Mustang, Cooper hot-rodded Minis. The result was a “giant-killing” road race and rally car. As much as clever design, it was motorsport credibility which built the Mini legend.

This modern John Cooper Works Mini genuinely reflects this sporting heritage, while wrapping it in a distinctive, contemporary package. Its 230HP is usable everywhere, the delivery enthusiastic and the driving experience always fun, even at low speeds. Our test car was equipped with a paddle shift, of the type which this tester has traditionally found rather pointless; in this context it was useful, perhaps because the Mini’s revvy, spirited character, tends to encourage the driver to keep both hands on the wheel.

Despite the power going through the front wheels, understeer remains absent long after the in-cabin Gs are uncomfortable; a sweeping freeway on ramp can be enjoyed without needing to footle around changing into Sport mode.

Inside, the fit and finish is high quality, with soft touch plastics. The speedo and tachometer are now in front of the driver, but the feel of the traditional Mini center dash speedo is retained as this is now the interface display. The fun theme is carried over to the interface design: the Sport mode icon a small cartoon rocket. Overall there is the feel of a Pixar movie, cartoon-like, aimed at the young, but with reference points which the more mature appreciate too. I think that’s called good design, isn’t it ?

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Mini was the amount of room for rear seat passengers. It really did feel somewhat physics-defying that a normal-sized adult could feel comfortable in the back. The seating position even reminded me of riding in the back of my mum’s ‘86 Mini as a teenager.

It was my natural inclination to compare the JCW with the Focus/Fiesta ST, but the Mini is on a different level in terms of quality and price. And, indeed, its target demograph. If the ST is a vodka Red Bull, the Mini is a margarita. However, I think there is more to it than that: through some of my projects I have encountered three billionaire car collectors. These are men who can drive whatever they wish. Two of them have modern Minis as their daily drivers.

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wcraig | 1:53PM (Sat, Sep 5, 2015)

Jon great article. Being of the generation that remembers the first Monte Carlo Rally win of the Mini it is interesting to find that the car's evolution has retained the original engaging appeal of excitement and fun driving. After owning several Porsches and driving virtually all of the super cars I find the JCW completely satisfying and crave more time in the seat. The clever technology and design of the "driving excitement" never ceases to amaze me including the dashboard icon of the front end winking at you upon entry. Frankly with the crowded roads, lower speed limits and limited parking the speed, acceleration and overall power of the JCW hits the sweet spot. I can go through the first four gears and still be at the speed limit yet feel as though I have qualified at Monaco. Kudos to BMW for advancing the performance yet reaming true to the culture of an exceptional performance small car. Happy Motoring

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