It’s almost frightening how easy it is to get in a MINI and feel ready to hit the road once I’ve found a comfortable driving position. I can already imagine the long patronising sigh followed by the seemingly obvious truth that it’s a small car to begin with, so driving it around genuinely isn’t difficult. But while its small dimensions make the MINI hatchback a simple point-and-shoot set of wheels, things become a little more interesting when I have 231 hp under my right foot.
This is the twice-facelifted MINI John Cooper Works (JCW), presented in its purest three-door form with a fixed roof. I reviewed its predecessor in 2018, which is a fairly long interval as far as automotive updates go. A lot has happened in that time, but there are still some constants in life to be grateful for.
The responsive and darty drivetrain remains the same in this iteration: a 2.0-litre four-cylinder TwinPower turbocharged engine that produces the aforementioned 231 hp and 320 Nm of torque, sent to the front wheels via an eight-speed Steptronic Sports transmission. The car rushes from standstill to 100 km/h in the same 6.1 seconds, no more and no less than before.
The minimal lag in throttle response made weaving through traffic and slotting into gaps effortless and—when done safely in consideration for other road users—a fun part of the drive. Stopping performance from the sports brake system, which was developed with Brembo, seemed to grab a little too eagerly near the top of the pedal at first but quickly became easy to precisely control, whether on fast drives across the country or a slow and patient search for an elusive parking space.
Given the JCW’s performance numbers, I was surprised the car meets the road through a set of 205/40R18 Goodyear F1 Asymmetric 3 rubber, presumably fitted as standard. Did time stand still on the tyre selection through the years, or is this a conscious specification to inject more playfulness into the JCW’s driving characteristics? It wasn’t difficult to unstick the rubber while turning under hard acceleration, but the JCW never felt out of control as the car was always planted around bends, over expansion joints and sudden dips.
Key changes in this facelift include exterior updates, which bring the JCW up to speed with MINI’s current design language: the round adaptive LED headlights are iconic to the brand; the larger hexagonal radiator grille and side openings provide improved temperature control for the mechanical components of the drivetrain; and a rear diffuser helps optimise airflow for the car’s underbody. A keen eye would notice the left side of the front bumper houses an additional cooler, performing the important role of keeping the JCW’s engine and brakes at the optimal operating temperature for the car’s performance and durability.
Unlike most other MINIs, the press car’s MINI badges in the front and back were blacked out—part of the Piano Black package which comes as standard for the JCW three-door in Singapore. This may not be to everyone’s taste but I particularly like the aesthetic for the type of car it’s meant to be.
Inside the cabin is the now-familar digital update to the infotainment system across the range, featuring the Nappa sports leather steering wheel with newly designed multifunction buttons, a five-inch digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel, and the MINI Head Up Display, which discreetly retracts out of view when the engine is turned off. Support for wireless Apple CarPlay makes iPhone pairing less of a cluttered affair, while the 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system uplifts the listening experience with improved clarity and bass output.
This generation of the JCW comes with the Driving Assistant package as standard, although it felt slightly over-sensitive at times; the lane departure warning, which does as its name suggests at speeds of 70 km/h and above, seemed to have a penchant for early interventions.
The JCW is quite possibly near the limits of its potential based on the available technologies of its generation, but it’s still an objectively competent car delivering a driving experience that’s difficult for any other hot hatch to beat. I may have declared it’s unnecessary to go fast in order to enjoy driving a MINI in my reviews of the MINI One, but I would never turn down the option of having more power on tap.
So while the time for something new may be approaching, if this is the last hurrah for the current generation MINI as we prepare for an electrified future of motoring, it’s a fitting send-off. And if future MINIs continue to be this fun and easy to drive confidently, perhaps an electrified future may not be so bad for the driving enthusiast after all.
Special thanks to Eurokars Habitat for this opportunity.
The original version of this article first appeared on Eat.Fly.Drive.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
You may not need a lot of power to have fun driving a MINI, but the John Cooper Works remains a riot to drive.
Handling - 9/10
Performance - 9/10
Design - 8/10
Comfort - 7/10
Practicality - 6/10
Value - 7/10