Whatever diet BMW is on at present, it is sure to send Mini fans scurrying to the latest John Cooper Works variants to discover their headlining figures, which Iain Robertson suggests are now pegged at premium-priced super-hot-hatch levels.
How does 306bhp sound for a start? Using BMW’s TwinPower turbocharger technology, already applied to several models in its broader range, the throttle response is no less than electric. Of course, the much-revised 2.0-litre petrol unit is not an EV but with power increased by 75bhp over the previous iteration, which could scarcely be described as ‘sluggish’, the new versions can scorch from 0-60mph in a mere 4.6s, before reaching an electronically limited maximum of 155mph.
Naturally, much of this fresh performance perspective has come from BMW adopting the Mini’s platform architecture for its comprehensively revised new 1-Series models that feature the transverse engine and front-wheel drive as part of their set-up. The 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine has been adapted for the new transverse installation but carries over all of the performance enhancements that used to apply to both 1 and 3-Series models. Hopefully, that does not understate the giant’s leap made to turn Mini into a car to compete with the hottest hot hatches already on sale across Europe.
In Clubman hatchback form, the engine emits around 161g/km CO2 but still returns up to 39.8mpg, figures that are typical of the BMW unit and the company’s dedication to efficient dynamics, despite driving through an 8-speed fully-automatic gearbox, complete with steering-wheel paddles for manual shifts. According to BMW, the larger, six-door Countryman’s figures are only a few tenths off those of the smaller and less chunky Clubman model. Intriguingly, despite the ‘hair trigger’ throttle, the new car is significantly smoother and more progressive to drive even than the regular Cooper S versions. In fact, the cars impart a strong impression of having grown-up and matured quite nicely. The JCW models benefit from a new exhaust system that can still crackle and pop on the over-run but not with as much eagerness or vigour as before.
The in-built electronic differential lock can be felt working on the front axles, although the standard ALL4 4WD system provides masterly control of the overall drivetrain, with its management of stability, grip and power apportioning capabilities. Biased towards front-wheel drive, if slip is detected, an electro-hydraulic pump brings in the stabilising effects of the rear axles. Fitted with the optional twin-mode damper control, either sport, or comfort settings can be switched into play, along with a 10mm lowering facility for an even more focused handling envelope. Of course, as the most focused of Minis, most actions still feel sword-edged in their immediacy.
Featuring bright red callipers, larger diameter brake discs are now fitted all-round, with four-pots on both front and rear rotors. The arresting power is eye-poppingly prodigious. A new design of 18.0-inch diameter alloy wheels is fitted as standard, with larger options available. The amount of mechanical grip that results is simply excellent. I was surprised by the fluency of the chassis, which feels markedly more compliant than in other Minis. However, you need not worry, given a typical British back lane, these Minis still scurry like frightened rabbits having lost none of their signature damper reactions, after all, they would not be Minis, if they did not.
The cramped cabin has been retrimmed with natty-looking JCW sports seats in a new crosshatched pattern. Regardless of model, while front seat legroom and headroom is actually rather good, shoulder-room is compromised by the position of the car’s B-pillars and you can rest assured that there is NO space behind taller front seat occupants, despite the longer wheelbases of both models. Fortunately, despite favouring occupants with narrower beams, the seats provide snug comfort and hip-hugging support.
The soft-touch dashboard is the same as usual, the driver fronted by a pair of analogue dials for rev-counter and speedometer, with the large centre dial containing the touch-screen sat-nav and other connectivity options. As the top models in the line-up, the JCWs benefit from a packed specification, which is reflected in their respective list prices of £34,250 (Clubman) and £35,550 (Countryman), when the models go on sale in July. Needless to say, there is also an extensive options list, from which to personalise the cars even more.
As with previous generations of John Cooper Works Minis, this one will sell like hotcakes. Its enhanced performance envelope will be the main attraction. However, while the name might remain for future models, this one could easily be BMW’s high-performance swansong for the Mini. A plug-in hybrid version already exists and, behind the scenes, BMW is fast-tracking its all-electric model. As a trim level, JCW carries a lot of weight for the brand, so do not discount the future appearance of a really zippy EV from Mini and BMW.
Even though I am not the BMW Mini’s greatest fan, not a lot of people dislike the BMW Mini, as witnessed by the brand’s consistent growth and, in terms of ‘performance-per-Pound’ investment, the JCW versions are like the cream on the current cake. The bottom-line is, could you live with one as a business tool? In many ways, the Mini is far too compromised. Yet, to those company car operators seeking a stand-out motorcar, it possesses a number of positive benefits.