MINI Cooper JCW road test review: Small hatch, big thrill everytime!

If ever you are feeling low or want more from your life, take a quick spin in the Mini Cooper S JCW and things will definitely look up. Perhaps momentarily!

By: | Published: November 7, 2019 5:24 PM

It has now become a tradition every Diwali! At least for me. In 2015, I was introduced to a true pocket-rocket car - the MINI Cooper S JCW. It was instant love. The compact dimensions, instant accelerator response and that connected handling just ensured that MINI made a fan for life. It was a coincidence that I had the car with me during Diwali. In 2016, there was another model that came, in a different colour and this time it stayed for a bit longer (20 days) than the previous car. In '17, the Pro edition came, it was limited to only 20 units and boy, did it bring back a lot of memories. For the year 2018, MINI didn't have a souped-up Cooper model on offer. However, they more than made it up with the 2019 edition - a full-blown John Cooper Works model. Can you believe it? A full 21hp over the souped-up JCW editions we have been served before. 'nuff said. Let's get on with the MINI Cooper JCW review.

What do you mean by full-blown?

The earlier Mini Cooper JCWs were all fettled at the dealer level. The kits used to add around Rs 10 lakh to the price of the Cooper. The "full-blown" model we have now is the same one that is sold internationally as well. In essence, the engine has been tuned from the factory to make 231hp of power and 320Nm. This is up from the 211hp and 300Nm that was on offer with the souped-up cars. While the engine cubic capacity stays the same (2.0-litre), new turbos have been added and there is a whole lot of other changes too. An 8-speed automatic Sport transmission comes into the picture, replacing the earlier 6-speed unit. The 0-100kmph time now quoted is 6.1 seconds as compared to the 7.5s earlier. The claimed fuel economy has gone down from the previous 17.5kmpl to now 16.47kmpl.

In reality though, as far as fuel efficiency is concerned, you will barely get 6kmpl in the city. On the highway, the number rises to 10.1kmpl. However, you will not buy this car for efficiency. At least I will not. It is a performance model and if you can't flex the right foot, then there is no point. Flexing the right foot rewards you immensely. In fact, it is more gratifying than even the C43 AMG for that matter (I will come to that in a bit).

There are three driving modes. By default, the JCW starts in the Mid mode. You immediately know that this is a special car from the exhaust note. Fire her up and that addictive bassy note at idle will remind you everytime that you are perhaps driving the best hatchback there is. The 2019 John Cooper Works has dual centrally placed exhausts that don't have an active flap on them. So, there is no Bluetooth-connected exhaust shenanigans from the older models. Instead, even in Eco mode, you will be treated to the loud note all the time. Put her in Sport mode, move the gear lever to manual and all hell breaks loose. There is a moment of hesitation when you bury the throttle but from thereon, it is a blur. The blur because the MINI warps speeds. Within no time, you have left behind a lot of starry eyed passer-bys, some embarassed sportscar drivers and a whole bunch of appreciative feminine glances.

Each time you use the paddle shifters or the manual mode, you feel on top of the world. Even when you lift off, the accompanying crackles from the exhaust will leave you with an unbrindled level of satisfaction. It is gratification personified.  In fact if you have ennui, this is the best solution for it. The only cause of complaint here is that first gear is too low and the rev limiter cuts in way too abruptly. Second gear is sufficiently tall and so are the other gears. Driving in town in Sport mode may result in a bit of jerky progress. Mid is the best mode as it provides a balance of both smoothness as well as speed. Eco does dull the throttle response. In fact, when you select the Eco mode the throttle seems a lot lighter but mashing it to the floor doesn't have the huge corresponding effect on speed that you expect. On the same note, the automatic engine start-stop system is a bit intrusive and I preferred driving with it in the off position.

Features and equipment on offer

I will slip in a little secret. Most of the accessories or features you see on MINI Cooper test cars is OPTIONAL. Yes, a Rs 40 lakh plus car doesn't get sensor-based door lock/unlock, powered seats, Android Auto/Apple Carplay, underthigh support extender, panoramic sunroof, front fog lights and others. The test car did show that there is CarPlay function however, I couldn't connect as it kept asking for a pin. This is a bit weird as none of the Apple CarPlay-equipped cars ever ask for one. Build quality is top notch and everything seems well put together. The main gripe I had with JCW cars in the past were the poor brakes. More often than not, these were never uprated even when power figures went north. However, the 2019 Mini John Cooper Works model has got pretty sharp brakes. These are ventilated through the air ducts in the front bumper and thereby brake fade isn't an issue even after repeated high speed stop attempts. I though wish they had a bit more feel to them. A wee bit, you know.

Ride and handling

MINIs are legendary handling machines. This one doesn't disappoint either. It is a bit too stiff but then the steering is super communicative. So much so that even the slightest of bumps at high speeds will have you scurrying to correct the course of the car. Slight jumps also mean that you have to be a bit wary. If you're driving on uneven roads like the Mumbai-Pune expressway, it is preferable that you stay on the middle lane rather than the right most one. This being said, keep the throttle closer to the floor around bends and the "Holy Sh**t" exclamation is bound to leave your lips more often than not. Everytime you think that this corner has to be taken by a significant reduction of speed, the MINI laughs at your thoughts. It will then go on to show you that its 123mm ground clearance is fictitiously lowered to enable the driver to have fun. The 17-inch alloys and Hankook rubber do their part in keeping the car planted, no delete that - glued, to corners.

The ride quality isn't that bad either. Come to think of it. This is a proper hatchback from the furnace. It still deals with our road conditions in a mature fashion. The only bit is the runflats. I am wary of them. So, you naturally slow down for those potholes. The underbody, surprisingly, didn't scrape against any speedbreaker. However, load her up with two additional prisoners (the entry is by moving the front seats ahead and can be a bit ungainly) and you got to tip-toe over breakers. MINI recommends a tyre pressure of 32psi for the tyres. This is down from the previous car's 35psi.

Should I buy one?

If practicality isn't high on your list, the MINI Cooper JCW makes perfect sense. It has the ammo and more to ensure that there is no dull spot for you as a driver. The service costs are similar to what you will be paying for a 3 Series; roughly Rs 30,000/10,000 kilometres. In comparison, the C43 AMG seems a lot more demure and costs Rs 30 lakh more than the JCW. The MINI is a daily driver too and not just the weekend car. I bet no sub-Rs 50 lakh car will tingle your senses, make you feel alive, live life fully and want you to just let loose for a bit, more than the MINI Cooper JCW. It does bring out all these emotions in me. Every single time I drive it!

Images by Malti Dsouza and Lijo Mathai

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