What is it?
No prizes for guessing – it’s the John Cooper Works version of the Mini Paceman. Which, to refresh your memory in the face of Mini’s product blitz, is the three-door version of the Countryman baby SUV. Meaning that it should be the logical end-point of the current generation of the sprawling Mini clan, as the most expensive model in the range, even including the limited edition John Cooper Works GP hatchback. The Paceman JCW is yours for £29,535 – or £940 more than its Countryman sister.
Mechanically, the Paceman JCW is identical to the Countryman. That means the 214bhp version of the familiar 1.6-litre turbocharged transverse four, driving all four corners via standard ‘All4’ all-wheel drive. Mini claims a 6.9-sec 0-62mph time and a 140mph top speed.
Springs and dampers are firmer, and the JCW sits 10mm closer to the ground than the standard Paceman, which is itself 25mm lower than the Countryman. Anti-roll bars are thicker and larger 307mm diameter front brake discs are fitted as standard. As with all quicker Minis, a ‘Sport’ button can be used to sharpen throttle response. The stability control system also includes an ‘electronic locking’ function to replicate (some of) the effect of a proper limited-slip differential, braking a spinning wheel to redistribute torque with DSC off.
How does it drive?
Very similarly to the Countryman JCW, with good manners and plenty of grip. But, it must be said, a shortage of the sort dynamic fireworks that you could justifiably expect from a car wearing the John Cooper Works badge.
The reworked springs and dampers are noticeably firmer than the standard Paceman, with sharper initial responses and more enthusiasm when asked to turn in. Our test car was running on optional winter tyres, limiting overall grip, but in faster bends the car was still happy to adopt a neutral and adjustable stance. In slower turns it suffered from the same nose-heavy feeling as the standard Countryman, with the front fading into unremitting understeer when the tyres’ limits were breached.
The ride is also very firm – borderline uncomfortable on the few bumpy surfaces that our German test route produced. On the rougher roads of the UK, and the standard 18-inch alloys instead of the winter-shod 17s of our test car, we suspect things could get very choppy.
The engine also struggles to provide the sort of acceleration you’d expect considering the JCW’s position at the top of the corporate tree. Working against the Paceman’s 1475kg kerbweight, it feels barely faster than the Cooper S version we drove last year. At least it sounds good when worked hard, rasping through a standard-fit sports exhaust and with a popping overrun in ‘Sport’ mode.
Pluses? Well it cruises well – flat, stable and quiet on the Autobahn at an indicated 130mph. And the four-wheel drive system copes well with low grip surfaces, juggling power between front and rear axles impressively quickly.
How does it compare?
Poorly, certainly when it comes to money. Follow the logic of Mini’s incremental pricing and the JCW’s near-£30K pricing makes a degree of sense, to BMW’s accountants at least. The Paceman is more expensive than the Countryman, the JCW has to be pricier than the Cooper S.
The problem is that the über-Paceman ends up wearing a pricetag it struggles to justify considering rivals you can buy for similar money, including some from elsewhere in the BMW clan. The JCW looks a bit silly when compared directly to the 316bhp M135i – which is just £1020 more expensive.
Still, Mini would counter that the Paceman JCW is still £12,000 cheaper than the equivalent Si4 Dynamic version of the Range Rover Evoque coupe.