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Mini Cooper JCW 2015 review

EXPERT RATING
8
Paul Gover reviews the Mini John Cooper Works at its international launch.

The sun shines as we have a good run in the latest hot Mini hatch.

That's what you do in Spain in May when the temperature is nudging 30, and Mini has a tasty all-new John Cooper Works car ready for action.

There are even track laps behind 1966 Bathurst winner Rauno Aaltonen, who is now 77 but still as fast and full of finesse as he was as a kid in an original Mini at Mount Panorama.

Things look better now the price of the changeover JCW is down and power is up, with more standard equipment and improved safety, but the car is all about driving.

This one is a proper package

And, unlike earlier JCW Minis, it's a drive to enjoy and not like strapping in for a rodeo ride on an unruly bull.

Yes, the earlier JCW cars were fun and feisty, but they never felt happy or complete. Going fast was always a battle.

This one is a proper package that's been engineered right from the start and will hit the sweet spot when it reaches Australia with a $47,400 base price in July.

"This takes the Mini to a new level. There has never been a Cooper Works with this sort of complete package. It could handle another 100 horsepower," Aaltonen tells me.

After a couple of hours on all sorts of public roads, and then a thrash around the twisty little Palma racetrack, I agree. The car feels under-powered despite 170kW in the engine room and there is no sign of the steering tug or crashy suspension that flawed my drive time with earlier JCWs.

This car feels planted, the brakes are great, and I love the new sports seats

I'm really enjoying myself, romping around roundabouts and dashing up Mallorca's hills, using the paddle shift on the six-speed auto to keep the car flowing smoothly. There is workable torque from less than 2000 revs with 320Nm at the peak, a nice exhaust bark from 4000, and a top-end shove that goes all the way to the redline.

This car feels planted, the brakes are great, and I love the new sports seats. But I'm less impressed with the bulging retro dash that's over-designed and in my face, a heads-up display that looks tacked-on, and the plain 17-inch alloys that will be (thankfully) missing from Oz cars.

The deal for the 2015 JCW is typical of BMW Group, which is adding equipment and trimming prices as it fights off a range of Mini rivals including Mercedes-Benz and Range Rover with the Evoque.

The three-door JCW hatch is now cheaper by $3000 yet picks up everything from 18-inch alloys and LED headlamps to the head-up display, 'professional' navigation and dynamic damper control. There is also a standard reversing camera and parking radar in a safety package that includes auto emergency braking.

But Mini's Australia sales chief, Kai Bruesewitz, knows what the car is about and its importance in bringing people to Mini and out-flanking rivals from the Golf GTi to Subaru WRX and Audi S1.

"It is lighter and it is faster and it has less emissions. It's the best JCW we have ever had, as well as the quickest with a zero-to-100 time of 6.1 in the auto and 6.3 in the manual," he says.

"The flexibility is the big thing. It's faster than a Porsche Carrera S from 80 to 120."

The John Cooper connection being tapped for the car goes back to the original Mini in the 1960s, and JCW has now become a Mini sub-brand in the same was as M means performance at BMW.

But there is a difference this time, as BMW's in-house engineers got the go-faster package going from the start. They were not just relying on JCW after-the-fact additions.

"For the first time, we were in from the first day. This makes a big difference," the project manager for the third-generation JCW, Fredy Schnitzlein, tells me.

"The key word is go-kart feeling. We've moved the boundary regarding this attribute even further.

"We got the ability to create these attributes from the start."

The car just grips and goes

It's obvious in the gaping inlets below the bonnet to feed both the latest-generation 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder - capacity is increased 20 per cent , power is up by 10 and torque by 23 - and the bigger Brembo performance front brakes, as well as the rear wing, and even the suspension set-up work.

Once I get to driving, I'm quickly convinced that Schnitzlein's words are not the usual car company blah-blah-blah.

The acceleration is strong but there is no sign of flashing yellow lights to tell me it needs traction control to stop it jumping off the road, the six-speed auto ratios are well spaced and quick to engage, and I'm sitting comfortably in a cabin that's got nice finishing work.

In corners, despite narrow roads and hundreds of holidaying German cyclists, the car just grips and goes. It feels as if it will easily handle Australia's lumping country conditions, although I cannot try the dynamic damper control that will be standard here.

Back at the track, hot laps are even more fun and surprisingly untroubled. The car sits flat, the power delivery is strong through to the top of fourth gear, and the braking is good. It even squats through high-speed direction changes with all the electronic nannies turned off.

I'm far less happy with the manual gear shift, which tries twice to trick me on a downshift to second - something experienced by the others trying the JCW Mini - and I could really do with more power.

Verdict

In Australia, 2632 Minis were delivered in 2014 and close to 10 per cent were JCW cars.

For 2015, Mini is targeting an overall increase in sales and I'm predicting an even higher percentage will be go-faster cars with a JCW badge.

Pricing Guides

$24,990
Based on 106 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$14,990
Highest Price
$39,800

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(base) 1.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $24,950 – 24,999 2015 Mini Cooper 2015 (base) Pricing and Specs
5D HATCH 1.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $17,888 – 28,999 2015 Mini Cooper 2015 5D HATCH Pricing and Specs
D 1.5L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $17,930 – 22,660 2015 Mini Cooper 2015 D Pricing and Specs
D 5D HATCH 1.5L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN $16,940 – 21,780 2015 Mini Cooper 2015 D 5D HATCH Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8