Pardon me for oversharing, but the last couple of years have been personally tumultuous, emotionally speaking. Pair that with the pandemic and the picture it paints isn’t one to hang up on the wall. On the professional side of things, driving all these new SUVs that feel exactly the same as the last one or the one after, lacking any sense of personality or quirks have failed to excite me as well. The imagination ran thin as I sat and watched reruns of old car shows, Brooklyn 99, and the timeless classic — Mr Bean. A show that reminds me of the good old days of the “old normal” as opposed to the dreadful “New Normal”.
Then the folks at Mini launched the brand new 2021 range including the 3-door, Convertible and John Cooper Works (JCW) version. When they asked which one I wanted to drive, I wanted the Convertible as press car came in the lime-green paint to use for the obvious Mr Bean references, but then decided to try out the JCW instead.
Like I mentioned, the new crop of SUVs fail to excite me. So surely, a Mini is the obvious choice to light up your spirits. I mean if you want something quirky and packs a large personality while being humble and cute, the Mini is the obvious choice. But with the new one, it’s not that simple. Let me explain…
The updates to the styling are a little hard to differentiate with the JCW. From the side and the rear, I think the new Mini looks quite nice and quirky. Yet, ever since this new generation of Minis has been revealed, that front look hasn’t grown on me one bit. I know they are trying to look retro, reminiscent of the original, but it isn’t working if you ask me. But never judge a Mini by the look of its front bumper.
Because, under the clamshell bonnet is a 2.0-litre, turbo petrol engine which in the JCW packs a whopping 231hp and 320Nm of torque. The 8-speed automatic transmission sends all of that to just the front wheels.
As I say that, many may be rolling their eyes, advertising their unimaginativeness, claiming — “front wheel drives are boring and no fun. All they do is understeer” as they make u-turns or drive in circles at a roundabout. Oh, how wrong they would be, as multiple Monte Carlo rally wins would also corroborate my logic.
I spent the day driving the new Mini JCW in the pouring rain. So finding grip from the tyres was a bit of a struggle, especially when tasked to handle 320Nm of torque delivered quite rapidly. Stick it into Sport, and you get such a thrill every time you kick the throttle! The engine doesn’t just punch, it kicks you back right into the seat and the result is a smile bigger than the Mini’s own front grille.
In the dripping wet, you could attempt to drive it in a straight line, the traction control would keep intervening to try its best to keep you relatively in the same direction. The steering in Sport feels quite responsive and weighs up well, so you can predict what it’s about to do.
Flick it into a corner at even 50km/h, you can feel the mechanical grip giving up on the wet tarmac. But the clever diff and the optional adaptive suspension does well keeps you in the correct trajectory, egging you on to give it the Mr Beans. You can sense that it’s quite light as you drive it, quite GoKart like actually. A touch nose heavy of course, yet extremely playful. The gear shifts are quick on their own, and you can of course take full responsibility for the transmission with the paddle shifters. It will truly excite you from behind the wheel. It is quite easy to push the JCW, but just as easy to go over the limit. You really need to know how to manage it, at least in the wet.
With the adaptive suspension, of course, firming up in Sport mode, you can definitely feel the change. But it’s pliant enough to remain forgiving. However, Sport mode I believe is best reserved for when you really want to push things, or you want to cruise on the highway. It is best to keep it in “MID” for everyday driving, if not “Green” mode to save some fuel along the way. Also, when in Sport, the JCW is a little too eager and responsive to the throttle turning you into a bobblehead at every red light. Thankfully, it’s easier to live with, in the two of the tamer settings.
All of that makes me believe that the new Mini JCW would be the ideal car if Mr Bean and Johnny English needed a ride together. The Mini John Cooper Works is the perfect tool for the job.
However, to address the elephant in the room, the ex-showroom price of the new Mini JCW is a whopping Rs 45.5 lakh. That does not include the panoramic sunroof, heads up display, adaptive suspension or the sportier paint schemes, all of which cost a pretty penny.
But the problem with Minis in the past had been that while the cabin looked quite nice, it didn’t feel as special for the price. Thankfully, that has been addressed. The wide-screen 8.8-inch touchscreen is standard, but Apple CarPlay is an additional Rs 40,000. What I’m most impressed about, is the brand new 5-inch digital instrument cluster. The old and difficult to read unit has been replaced with a new digital one that looks extremely cool. It also features what is probably the largest fuel gauge I have ever seen in a car. Quite handy in the JCW!
Additionally, the materials in the cabin feel as bit as premium as you would expect for the price. They do really well to make you feel special. The screens, the retro toggle switches, the overhead switches look very cool, something I imagine Bean would love to fiddle with, as English drives along all annoyed. It does take a moment to figure out how they work, but I do not care, they are extremely cool. As for practicality, the boot is quite ample, and the rear seats in a 2-door are actually usable! In fact, it’s good enough to seat adults over 6 feet.
I will admit, if you’re going to buy a standard Mini for Rs 38 lakh, you may just end up spending some extra cash to kit it up. If are to do that, then you land up pretty much in the JCW territory. And if you are already in the JCW territory, might as well spend a little more on the JCW with a few options. Yes, you might end up shelling out around Rs 65 lakh in the process. But if you are in the market for a Mini, and are looking for something quirky, with some personality, the Mini JCW is the obvious choice!
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