It is a $10k jump from a standard-issue Mini Cooper to a hopped-up John Cooper Works (JCW) version of the same car.
A $6k jump from the hopped-up slightly less Mini S — which gets to 60 in about 6.3 seconds vs. about 5.9-6 flat for the JCW.
Speed really is a question of money.
How fast do you want to go?
WHAT IT IS
The JCW version of the Mini Cooper is the mightiest version of the Mini Cooper — available in the two-door/hardtop bodystyle only (regular Minis — and the more powerful Mini S — are still available in both two and four-door versions).
JCW is to Mini what AMG is to Mercedes (and M to BMW). You get maximum engine (228 hp — up from 189 in the S and 130 in the standard Mini) as well as a host of high-performance handling/braking and appearance upgrades.
Like the AMG versions of Mercedes vehicles (and the M versions of BMWs) the JCW version of the Mini does not come cheap.
Sticker price is $30,600 — vs. $24,100 for a Mini S coupe (and $20,700 for the base Mini).
The Mini’s most direct competition is the also mini (actually, even mini-er) Fiat 500 Abarth. Which also features a heavily turbo’d four, skateboard handling and almost fits in the beds of most pick-up trucks (as well as almost any curbside parking slot that will take a motorcycle).
The Fiat’s not nearly as powerful (160 hp) but it’s only a bit less quick — about seven seconds to 60 — and it’s much less expensive.
Just $22,495 to start.
You might also cross-shop the VW Golf GTI. It’s comparably powerful (210-220 hp) and dead-heat quick as well as a lot less expensive to start ($24,785) and available in both two and four-door hatchback bodystyles. But it’s a larger car and hasn’t got the cuteness cachet that both the Mini and the Fiat 500 have.
It’s a new model year, but Mini is holding the line on prices. The ’16 JCW (and all other Minis) won’t cost you any more to buy than the ’15s.
“Dynamic damper control” — driver-adjustable adjustable shock absorbers — are now standard. On the other hand, the formerly available Visual Boost package has been dropped.
Small package — big fun.
Not too small.
Actually has more backseat room (by several inches) than a Mercedes CLA sedan. Also more legroom (and noticeably more headroom) than in a new Camaro — which is probably twice the size.
Quicker than the Fiat 500 Abarth; will run with the VW GTI and other (larger) hot hatches.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Drinks as much gas as performance cars twice its size … with twice as much engine.
Fiat 500 Abarth is a much better deal — and though it’s not quite as quick, that thing is a short-fused firecracker to drive due to unmuffled exhaust and massive turbo boost.
Two door-only layout for the JCW version. Similar-performing (and priced) hot hatches like the VW GTI and Honda Civic Si come in two and four-door bodystyles, making them more feasible for people who aren’t single — or just need viable-access backseats.
UNDER THE HOOD
Getting back to how fast do you want to go… .
The JCW package consists of a “tuned” (read — more heavily turbocharged) version of the already-turbo’d 2 liter engine that comes standard in the Mini S. The boost pressure in the JCW is upped to 18.8 psi vs. about 13 for the S. As a result of the extra squeeze, max power climbs to 228 hp from 189 — and the power peak climbs to 5,200 RPM vs. 4,700 RPM in the regular Mini S.
So, how much difference does the additional 39 hp (and 29 ft.-lbs. of torque) make in terms of how quickly the thing launches — and how fast it goes?
It reads like this:
The JCW is capable of getting to 60 in 5.9 seconds vs. 6.3 for the Mini S. Top speed climbs to 153 MPH from 146 for the S (130, for the base Mini).
So, we’re looking at about four tenths of a second’s difference, zero to 60 — and seven MPH on top.
You will have to ponder whether that gain is worth the $6,500 price jump it takes to move up from the Mini S (two-door) to the Mini JCW iteration.
You might choose to buy the lower-cost S and then use a portion of the $6,500 you saved to goose the engine on your own. Adjusting the wastegate for more boost, say.
But, the JCW is not just an engine upgrade. You also get upgraded brakes (huge Brembo calipers at all four corners, a much more aggressive 17 inch (vs. 16-inch) wheel package with tires that have almost no sidewalls at all (see the point above about skateboard handling), a body kit, cinched-down suspension and a bunch of other stuff.
Still, it’s expensive — relative to what else is out there as well as considered in relation to the regular Mini S.
The snarky Fiat 500 Abarth, for example.
It costs less than the regular Mini S — and $8,105 less than the JCW.
And it’s only about 1 second less quick to 60.
How much quicker could you make one with a littler work — and lot less than $8,100?
Or, the VW GTI.
Virtually the same power: 210-220 hp and zero to 60 in about six seconds flat … for $24,785 to start.
The JCW is all kinds of fun (more below) but it is arguably not fun enough — in a straight line, at least — for what it costs.
It’s also very thirsty for what it is.
That 2.0 liter turbo four sucks gas with gusto.
EPA says 23 city, 31 highway with the standard six-speed manual (25 city, 31 highway with the optional six-speed automatic).
But dinna believe it, cap’n.
In Let’s Motor Hard! mode (rotate the ring surrounding the gear shifter to the left) and driven that way, the JCW will drain its mini-sized (11 gallon) tank in about 190 miles, which works out to about 17 MPG.
Now, to be fair, you can also rotate the ring in the opposite direction — Let’s Minimize! (cue green backlighting instead of red) and it’s possible to average about 29 MPG — which is quite good.
Still, the Mini’s surprisingly thirsty relative to the bar today. For instance, a new Ford Mustang with the “EcoBoost” turbo 2.3 liter four manages about the same mileage (22 city, 31 highway) in a much larger car — and with much more engine (310 hp and 320 ft.-lbs. of torque).
On the other hand, the Fiat 500 Abarth is just as lusty — when driven similarly.
The problem — with both cars — is the Catch 22 of on-demand (turbocharged) performance. If you don’t call upon the turbo, you can get almost-economy car mileage out of either.
But who drives either like an economy car?
Doing so is like buying a nice ribeye steak… and then just looking at it.
ON THE ROAD
The JCW’s not the quickest thing (a six second to 60 time is decent but no longer spectacular given the ready availability of high four second cars like the Mustang GT that cost about the same) but it is just about the most agile thing there is that’s not also a sport bike.
At just over 12 feet, bumper to bumper, the JCW is actually not much larger end to end than a sport bike. In any event it is much smaller lengthwise and wheelbase-wise than sporty hatchbacks like the VW GTI (which is more than a foot longer overall and rides on a wheelbase that’s almost half a foot longer (103.6 inches vs. 98.2 for the Mini).
“Flickable” is the word.
It’s a word usually found in reviews of sport bikes, denoting their ability to instantly translate the slightest input into action. To be able to exploit the slightest — and briefest — windows of opportunity in traffic. In the Mini — as on a bike — you can Frogger through traffic clots that stymie larger sporty cars, no matter how much engine they’ve got.
And this is what makes the Mini so much fun — more fun, even, than stronger (and quicker) cars.
It’s almost like being able to see the pavement, just inches away — as on a bike. The hood is barely there. You sit low in the saddle. There is very little in the way of car surrounding you.
The experience is elemental, especially with the windows (frameless door glass) down and the (full-length) sunroof open. If you were to remove the doors… .
That business about riding a skateboard at 80 through your favorite apexes? That’s what you’ll get — and which no other car you can buy right now delivers, except maybe the Fiat 500 Abarth. Which is even more skateboardy, given its 90.6 inch wheelbase (which makes the Mini’s 98.2 inch wheelbase seem almost limo-like).
But smaller is not always better.
I have driven both of these cars at unmentionable (in print; ask me off the record and I will spill) speeds and the Fiat — though as entertaining as a hand-held roman candle — gets twitchy over 80. I’d take the JCW all the way up to its 153 MPH maximum (on a test track, of course) without first making sure my affairs were in order. In the Fiat not so much.
On the track or the street.
Something to know about the JCW before you go shopping: The automatic version is the quicker version. There is about two-tenths of a second’s difference between them (5.9 and 6.1, respectively). But the manual will let you chirp the tires on a hard 1-2 upshift and it also feels (and sounds) quicker, even if it’s not. Precisely because you can hold each gear as long as you like (until the rev limiter cuts in), downshift to whatever gear, whenever you like. You have more control. Full control. The automatic is smarter than you are; it knows exactly when to upshift — and can do it faster than you can, too.
But it pre-empts you, does what it thinks best when it thinks best.
And those extra two-tenths of a second? Such things matter only when fractions of a second matter — as on the race track.
On the street, the manual (which features automatic rev-matching downshifts) is the one that will put a bigger smile on your face.
AT THE CURB
The Mini is mini… but not too mini.
Its back seats, for example, are actually fairly roomy — for what it is and relative to what’s available. You have 30.8 inches of legroom and 36.9 inches of headroom back there.
I mentioned the Iron Maiden-esque back seats in the Mercedes CLA sedan as a comparison point (27.1 inches and 35.4 inches of headroom). Also the (closer to being comparable) two-door Chevy Camaro (29.9 inches and 35.3 inches, respectively) which is a much larger car overall.
Point being, the JCW — despite its tiny footprint — is surprisingly passenger friendly. The hatchback layout also literally quadruples the available square footage for cargo. Drop the second row and the space expands from 8.7 cubic feet to 34 cubic feet — in the same ballpark as many compact crossover SUVs and significantly more cargo-carrying potential than in conventional two-plus-twos like Camaro and Mustang (which have trunks… very small trunks) and even sedans (the CLA’s trunk — it’s total capacity — is just 13.1 cubic feet).
On the tails side of the coin, a VW GTI has more second row (and cargo) room. But it is also much larger, footprint-wise. And though a great (and very fun) car, it lacks the Mini’s intangible Cute Appeal.
The only sort-of-similar car that can match that is the Fiat 500 Abarth. It’s definitely got cute covered. And it’s also commendably — surprisingly — space efficient (31.7 inches of rear seat legroom — more than the Mini — and nearly as much total cargo capacity, at 30.2 cubic feet).
But the Fiat’s just not quite as finished as the Mini — which, you may recall, is made by BMW. This luxury car connection is apparent in the finer cut of the Mini’s jib. The materials seem (and feel) higher-end. This is true even of the base Mini (which starts at a very un-BMW $20,700). But by the time you get to the JCW, you’re in a car that more than cuts the entry-luxury mustard.
Which of course it ought to, given the entry luxury price.
Still, the point here is you do get what you pay for. Beyond the JCW performance enhancements (which include a more aggressive final drive ratio, hood scoop and twin gatling gun exhaust tips), you also get a bevy of standard amenities that include a beverage chiller glovebox, adjustable ambient lighting and an available heads-up display.
The unique and cheerfully retro interior layout is another Mini draw. The main cluster is designed to replicate the appearance of an old-school/bolt it to the steering wheel with a radiator hose clamp aftermarket/accessory tachometer and speedo while the center stack gets (your choice) of large — or larger — LCD display, with (in JCW version) a checkered flag surround. Through this — and using the mouse input on the center console — you access and control the various infotainment features.
As before — as traditional — you can customize your Mini with an almost limitless array of factory/dealer-installed paint/decal combos.
One not-so-great-thing the Mini shares with its BMW brethren is a less-than-smooth Auto Stop/Start function — which is, unfortunately, standard equipment. They install these annoyances — not just in BMWs and Minis, but in a growing roster of new cars — to try to squeeze out another MPG or two overall (maybe, if you do a lot of idling in stop and go traffic). The mileage gain — if any — is minimal. Not (in my opinion) worth the somewhat disconcerting sounds and sensations of the engine turning itself off and on, repeatedly.
Fortunately, you can turn the system off via one of the retro-styled toggle switches ahead of the gear shifter.
You will want to take an extended test drive (at least an hour) in the JCW before committing — because the suspension is extremely firm. So much so, in fact, that Mini offers as a no-cost “upgrade” the option to revert to the Mini S’s softer-riding suspension, which strikes a more even balance between track-day and driving-to-work-today.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Is the extra speed worth the extra money?
Take a test drive and decide for yourself!
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos