For 2014 the Mini Cooper Hardtop received a full overhaul. As the third-generation model for the company, the new Cooper received a new platform, larger size inside and out, completely reworked exterior styling, and a while family of band new engines. With a new Cooper means a new John Cooper Works car, and this one is the fastest and most powerful JCW that Mini has produced yet. With such a drastic change from the old car, I was curious to see if the new Mini JCW was as fun and memorable as its older sibling. Cue the scene of me standing in the yard holding the keys to a new 2015 Mini Cooper JCW in stunning green paint.
Let’s put this thing through its paces.
Visually the 2015 John Cooper Works Hardtop beats you over the head with interesting and sporty touches. The red outlined side lights with JCW logo, Works Exclusive 18-inch alloys, and dual center exit exhaust work with the car’s spoiler, and optional Rebel Green paint to make a hot hatch that looks fast and aggressive. Even with the larger nose with its various grilles, this JCW three-door still maintains the classic MINI looks and proportions.
But while it still maintains those proportions, it’s easy to tell just how large this machine has become over the years. While only fractionally taller, the third-gen mini is almost two-inches wider and nearly 4 inches longer than the outgoing model, with a wheelbase that has been stretched by an inch and a half. The front and rear tracks have been widened accordingly as well.
Of course, that modest increase in exterior size paid some pretty big dividends on the inside. A more spacious interior means that shoulder and legroom is increased for all four passengers, and the total cargo space has been boosted by 30-percent.
Beyond the increased space, the 2015 JCW Cooper is a pretty great place to spend time. The seats are upgraded buckets with impressive bolstering, and they feature this great looking checkered stripe that is set off-center. The headrests are fixed for that extra dose of sporty design, and they feature suede covering.
The dash of the new car is a pretty big departure from some of Mini’s past offerings as well. The large speedometer in the center of the car has been replaced with a large LCD display, a few controls for the stereo, and an LED ring of light that doubles as a volume meter and light-up tachometer. The actual gauges look more along the lines of what you would find on a motorcycle with a floating round speed that has a small tach attached to it, with a single set of lights on the right edge to indicate fuel. The steering wheel is molded and sculpted in all the right ways, and the rim itself is thick, sturdy and wrapped in leather. Some red contrast stitching holds it all together.
While some of the crazy has been toned down in the JCW’s interior design, it’s not all boring. The big “fighter pilot” switches for things like the start/stop system, traction control and engine start are still there, and the shifter feels comically large and oddly placed. Also, the control for putting the car into sport or eco mode is actually the bezel around the shifter. Just rotate it left or right.
As interesting as this looks both inside and out, its what’s under that skin that really counts. After all, you don’t buy the John Cooper Works edition to look good. You buy it to go fast, and it comes loaded with extra bits and goodies to make it as fast as possible. Just look at this list of things that come on the JCW: electromechanical power steering with Servotronic, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) including Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC) and Performance Control, and this particular tester came with the optional Dynamic Damper Control. You’ll also notice the big JCW Brembo brakes.
The real secret sauce to this car though, lies just in front of your feet. The new engine inside of the JCW Cooper is an honest BMW engine that will be found in the 2 Series. It is a 2.0-liter mill with four cylinders and a pair of turbochargers, and it produces 231 horsepower and more than 240 pound-feet of torque. In a car this small, that makes for a pretty powerful punch. To put it in comparative terms, the Mini JCW has more horsepower than a Volkswagen GTI, but it weighs a few hundred pounds less. That means a 0-60 time right around 6 seconds flat.
This thing feels stupid fast.
When you stand on the peddle, the car launches forward with almost no torque steer, and the angry exhaust howls, snaps and barbles like it’s trying to impress the old man John Cooper himself. It’s the best hot hatch engine note I have heard since the Fiat Abarth.
Every moment I spent inside of the JCW I wanted to just go fast. I wanted to dart through traffic, take every back road I passed, and generally I just wanted to ignore the world of being a productive and responsible adult in favor of hooning a silly hatchback. It was glorious, and it was fun, and I never wanted to stop. It sort of had that same kind of silly magic as a Miata. While the JCW is not as pure as the Miata in the way it drives, it made me smile just as much.
Grip was impressive, the steering was lightning fast to respond to inputs, and the brakes brought me down from “arrested” to sane speeds with enough force I could legitimately scare passengers. The only issue I had with the entire driving experience was the automatic transmission in the middle. This car begs and begs and begs for a proper three pedal setup. I’m surprised I didn’t kick a hole through the floor of the thing with how often I went instinctively for the clutch. The automatic transmission is a willing dance partner that does its part to keep the fun coming, but I just missed that last little bit of involvement in the whole experience.
Now all this style, speed and technology is wonderful, but it’s not exactly cheap. As it sits with all the options, it would cost you $39,800 to own this particular car. That is borderline insanity. I could not in my right mind ever imagine blowing that kind of cash on what equate to little more than a turbocharged clown shoe. But if you take a look at that options sheet, you start to realize that you can save some serious cash without losing out on all the fun. That sweet Rebel Green paint? That is a $1000. Folding mirrors and heated seats? That is another $650. In fact, you can buy a base JCW car for less than $31,000. The only option on our car that I think is a “must buy” would be the Dynamic Damper Control for the suspension, and that’s only $500. That puts it in the price realm of a well-equipped Golf GTI or Focus ST, and makes it much more appealing.
I still don’t know if I could ever park one of these cars in my garage. As much fun as I had in the Mini Cooper, I think the Miata is a little more enjoyable, the Focus ST is more powerful, and the GTI is more practical, and all of those cars would probably better serve my personal needs. That said, if I ever found one of these things on sale, or if I woke up and found one just sitting in my driveway, I would grab the keys and never look back.
I’d also probably never stop smiling either.