Mini John Cooper Works

Paul Lang
30 Apr 2009

Our new arrival, a John Cooper Works Mini, wins approval from its first driver

When I was growing up there were two sides. On one was the Volkswagen Beetle, on the other the original Mini. Mates of mine had one or the other, but I always wanted the VW.

I remember watching The Italian Job for the first time, but I still didn’t want a Mini. And so what if Paddy Hopkirk blew away the opposition on the 1964 Monte? My father had a 1972 Beetle so I wanted one. Mine had to be surfers’ spec, though. Even though I lived in Swindon…

So when the new Mini was launched in 2001, I just didn’t notice. And when the facelift came around in 2006 it passed me by too. But then, on the Welsh leg of eCoty in 2008, I had my first proper drive of the latest Mini, and it was a range-topping John Cooper Works model to boot.

It felt wrong. My DNA didn’t want me to like it – I was a Beetle fan! Yet when I returned ten minutes later my face was sporting the biggest grin it has ever created. Wow! What a car! I immediately changed sides. Now I wanted a Mini.

So when I found out a JCW would be joining the Fast Fleet and I was down to run it, I was gutted to find that I wasn’t so sure that I should. On the one hand I’m a family man with two young kids and a brown Labrador called Dave, and the Mini is not the most spacious car on the market. But on the other hand my drive to work is all country roads, roundabouts and overtaking opportunities aplenty. I travel in Mini country. I didn’t hesitate for long…

I’ve never had the pleasure of buying a brand new car, so speccing this one was like writing a wish list to Santa. I was six years old again. The basic list price for the JCW is £21,220, but then I hit the options list. The first thing to be added was the Chili Pack. It costs £1685, but it’s one of those boxes that you have to tick because it adds so many nice bits, including air-con, bi-xenon headlights, a sports steering wheel, an on-board computer, darkened rear glass, front fogs and white indicator lenses. To this we added Rooster Red trim for the doors and dash (£95) to match the cloth and leather seats, a first aid kit and warning triangle (£45), rain sensing wipers and automatic lights (£90), and Bluetooth and USB connections (£285).

The final total came to £23,420, and that was with me being quite reserved. You can go crazy when speccing a Mini as there is so much on offer, such as all-leather seats, a satnav, armrests and all the different roof and mirror colour combinations. Perhaps unusually, I chose not to go for the near-obligatory black roof, mirrors and bonnet stripes for our car, the reason being that I wanted something a little different. Even so, I still can’t help thinking that the JCW doesn’t look special enough for the top of the range Mini. I wish there was something major to distinguish it from other Coopers. The old Works GP had red mirrors, four-spoke wheels and graphics on the roof. You knew it meant business. With the introduction of the Focus RS and Mégane R26.R to our roads, the JCW needs beefing up.

But that’s my only problem with our Mini so far. This car really makes me want to drive. Every trip is a rush. The turbocharged 1.6-litre four is enough for any situation and has a tendency to make you go that little bit quicker than you might in other cars. The sports exhaust sounds fantastic too. Drop a window and its roar, along with the ‘tisssh’ from the turbo on every gearchange, is as addictive as the combination of 208bhp and 1205kg.

With its Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC) the JCW also has a clever faux slippy diff in its armoury. It works by braking a spinning driven wheel so that torque gets redirected to the opposite front wheel where it can be used more effectively. This can make the Mini quite lively when you are pushing hard, especially on bumpy B-roads, but I can’t wait for the start of the evo trackdays season; on a smooth Bedford Autodrome, I reckon this car is going to be a blast.

I’ll be taking our JCW to Silverstone soon, too. Not for a trackday, but for an event called Mini United (May 22-24) that will celebrate 50 years of the Mini. If you’ve got a Mini too, maybe I’ll see you there. (Sorry, Dad.)

Running Costs

Date acquired January 2009
Total mileage 1490
Mileage this month 1080
MPG this month 33.9

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