Amidst the groans and cries of purists who can’t stand a MINI that’s grown in size and of those who think that it’s become way too expensive, it can be a tad hard to focus on how good a car the BMW-produced MINI actually is. The MINI range in India might not be as extensive as in other countries, but there’s still a lot to choose from: the MINI hatchback, convertible, Cooper SE all-electric, Countryman crossover, and the MINI John Cooper Works hatch. Among these, if there’s one car that can set the heather on fire, it has to be the MINI JCW hatch, and a short drive is good enough to tell you why.
So why do we keep hearing about this chap called John Cooper?
Before an over-enthusiastic Internet commentator points out that ‘what AMG is to Mercedes, M is to BMW, John Cooper was to MINI…’ and stuff like that, allow me to explain why that hasn’t always been the case. John Cooper wasn’t just interested in making MINIs go faster, his other businesses included making championship-winning Formula cars, driven by the likes of Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren, John Surtees, Stirling Moss… He then dabbled with the idea of making MINIs faster, and it worked. The Cooper-fettled MINI changed the course of history in rallying, too — Paddy Hopkirk went on to win the famous Monte Carlo rally multiple times. And this craze to modify MINIs was born. A couple of decades down the line, John Cooper Works as a company was set up to modify the new BMW MINI, at the beginning of the noughties, and BMW’s takeover of the legendary British carmaker also led to the induction of JCW as an in-house entity. As a result, not only did MINI bring out various highly focussed limited editions of the car, the new buyers could now opt for JCWs in various shapes and sizes.
From Rs 47.7 lakh (ex-showroom), you can get the MINI John Cooper Works Hatch. From the outside, its silhouette is pretty similar to that of a standard three-door MINI hatchback but as you move closer, you realise that it’s anything but standard. Considering that the 3-door non-JCW version is bound to attract everyone’s attention, this one is a proper magnet. It can be due to the visibly more aggressive appearance or the presence of optional stripes on the bonnet, or maybe the low-profile tyres that might give an impression that the car’s running just on larger rims with no tyres at all. The red accents on MINI India’s test car work well with the optional piano black inserts, and the centrally mounted exhaust is a nice touch, too. The overall spec is a boy racer’s dream, and the JCW has enough poke to back its go-faster looks.
Like on the outside, the interior too has special JCW bits that make the whole experience that much more fun. The sport seats at the front are an easy favourite because these aren’t just good-looking but also provide more than adequate support during spirited driving. Practicality isn’t the JCW’s strong point and to many, the cabin might feel a touch too cramped (especially at the back), but given its sporting intent and small footprint, there isn’t much to complain about. Sir Alec Issigonis’ original MINI put frugality and interior space over everything else; this one isn’t too bad considering its size, but the John Cooper influence has the upper hand here.
Where the MINI continues to excel is in the way it drives, and as the top-spec, most driver-oriented model, the JCW is pretty much a segment benchmark. One tends to sit close to the ground, which accentuates its intent to be a fun car. The 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine is a genuine powerhouse that makes 230hp and 320Nm. In a small (and light-ish) package, that firepower is sent only to the MINI’s front wheels via an 8-speed automatic gearbox, resulting in a 0-100 km/h time of just over 6 seconds. The numbers don’t do justice to how good it feels to drive a JCW, even when you’re not pushing it. The steering offers the kind of confidence that most other cars lack; the suspension, while stiffer than in regular cars, can handle everyday driving without sweating, in addition to offering unmatched body control; and given that it’s just about as big as a regular urban hatchback, everything from tackling city traffic to parking it in tight spots is handled with insurmountable ease.
It does miss out on many features that similarly priced cars from other premium carmakers have, but nothing comes close to the MINI JCW as far as outright driving fun is concerned. Its sharp dynamics and the ability to dart from one corner to another make every drive in the JCW an occasion. The list of optional extras is long, and there’s adequate aftermarket support globally if you were to turn this into a track day machine. But even in the stock spec, the JCW serves to be a reminder of why we love driving cars. It’s more than just a wide smile when you feel the adrenaline rush or the aural overload that the sport exhaust bestows upon your ears, the MINI JCW brings a rare opportunity to enjoy your time behind the wheel, no matter how long or short the journey is. And to top it all, just 150 grams of CO2 per km doesn’t sound too bad, either. Isn’t the MINI JCW just perfect?