Mini John Cooper Works

Now with the Works, and extra attitude

ALEX INWOOD

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

IF SUBTLETY is your thing, this isnít the car for you.

No Mini is known for flying under the radar, but in a family of loudmouths, this new JCW is the shoutiest of the lot. Youíve only got to look at that pumped-up, grille-punched front bar, behind which hides the most powerful engine ever fitted to a Mini, to know it means business.

The 170kW/320Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged four is from BMWís new family of modular engines, but fitted with unique pistons and a new turbo to make the JCW the quickest Mini on sale. A 0-100km/h dash of 6.1sec for the six-speed auto is even quicker than the track-honed Mini GP.

And donít panic about all that power turning the JCW into a snorting, torque-steering beast.

An electronic front differential shuffles the grunt through the front wheels commendably, while the donk spreads its power nice and evenly to ensure thereís none of the manic turbo rush found in some hot hatches.

The handling is sharp, direct and reassuringly stable through high-speed corners, which was appreciated at the local launch on a biblically wet Phillip Island.

Bigger brakes (330mm four-pot calipers up front) pull the JCW up on its nose, while a rorty soundtrack goads you to chase the redline when youíre on it, yet is agreeably refined when youíre not.

Adaptive dampers are now standard and offer two settings: hard (Mid) and spine-destroying (Sport). On public roads the ride in Sport is almost too firm and means mid-corner bumps jolt and shoot feedback through the steering wheel.

Itís rare to find such a garrulous electric-assisted steering system and in most cars this would prove tiresome, yet somehow the unsettled suspension and a bucking steering wheel suit the Miniís frenetic character.

What is annoying is the lack of a dynamic damper button, or an ĎIndividualí setting allowing you to keep the engine in attack mode while softening the dampers. This is possible, but only by filtering through four sub-menus in the on-board computer.

Inside, thereís plenty of standard kit, including a head-up display with JCWspecific readouts, an 8.8-inch touchscreen, sat-nav, reversing camera, park assist with front and rear sensors, and Bluetooth.

The sports seats are comfortable and supportive, but materials quality is considerably short of premium rivals like the Audi S1 and Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance. It does trump them for personality, however, and if itís hot-hatch thrills youíre chasing with a dose of retro flair, the JCW remains a rewarding and engaging choice. Loud mouth and all. m W ing

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Mini John Cooper Works 1998cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 170kW @ 5200rpm 320Nm @ 1250-4800rpm 6-speed automatic 1220kg 6.1sec (claimed) 5.7L/100km $49,950 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Firm, unsettled ride; no adaptive damper button; chintzy interior Punchy engine; front-end grip; powerful brakes; slick auto; fun factor

Automatic choice

THE JCW is one of those rare hot hatches where the automatic might be a better buy than the manual.

The six-speed torqueconverter auto is sharp, intuitive and completes upshifts so swiftly it feels like a dual-clutch. Itís also the only transmission offered at launch, due to high demand for the self-shifter overseas.

The manual will arrive Down Under in September, but Wheels has already driven it in Europe where we found it vague and disappointing. Still, Mini reckons few will pay the $2550 premium for the auto and expects 92 percent of buyers to opt for a stick.

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