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Dublin: 9°C Monday 25 October 2021

Review: The MINI John Cooper Works handles like a dream - but has it lost its magic?

We take the hot hatch for a test drive.

Image: Dave Humphreys

THIS IS THE newly updated F56 MINI John Cooper Works three-door hatch.

This isn’t a cheap hatchback. It starts at €35,631, although this resplendent Rebel Green paint job adds another €1,129.76 on to the price. Oh, and those John Cooper Works bonnet stripes add another €120.51 to the total.

But doesn’t it look great? The roof, rear spoiler, mirror caps and brake calipers in Chili Red really make the car stand out as do the 18-inch, lightweight JCW alloys (part of the €3539.92 Chili pack upgrade).

Updates to the exterior include LED front and rear lamps that now come as standard and as well as a new look for the light units, which illuminate with a new DLR ring design. There’s also a new two-dimensional MINI logo.

Source: Dave Humphreys

The side scuttles and door sills feature the JCW logo, the chequered flag design elements hinting at the thrills to come as does the pair of naughty-sounding slanted chrome tailpipes.

Inside, the cabin is busy but brilliant. It is bold and in your face but very well screwed together with plenty of high quality, soft-touch materials and go-faster flourishes. The sports seats not only look great, they also offer plenty of support while remaining comfortable.

The perforated leather steering wheel with shaped thumb rests feels lovely to touch and use, and the stainless-steel-capped pedals are well spaced.

Source: Dave Humphreys

There’s a new eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission fitted to the JCW allowing you to choose automatic or manual driving with ease. However, here is my first gripe, the flappy paddles are plastic and feel a little cheap to use. Why oh why aren’t these metal?

In fact, there is a little bit too much black plastic in the cabin for my liking. I would have loved to see chrome around the air vents and those fake bezel marks around the centre console removed. This is supposed to be a Works car, but it just feels a bit too sensible, and I think that takes away a bit of the fun. And point.

Source: Dave Humphreys

However, start the car up and rev the 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and that sense of fun returns. It’s not as raucous as it could be but it still makes a lovely sound. It’s refined, grown-up fun. The engine produces 231hp and 320Nm of torque and is good for a zero to 100km/h time of 6.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 246km/h. The engine responds keenly, with gutsy low-end torque.

Out on the road, the JCW makes for a fun package, with excellent handling to boot. Everything feels sharp and responsive and fast. When in manual mode you forget that the paddles are plastic as you shift through the gears rapidly, although I do think MINIs are more fun when you have a manual gear selector to shift. That said, this new eight-speed gearbox is slick and quick in both modes.

Source: Dave Humphreys

The suspension is firm and at times a little on the harsh side, but it isn’t as skittish as the previous generation. There is the option of firming things up a bit more by putting the car into ‘Sport’ mode, but for Irish roads I found this to be a little too hard, despite sounding great. The car feels quite at home around town as it does on the open road and backroads. The steering is light, which makes manoeuvring easy, although a little more feedback would be welcome.

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Overall, the MINI JCW is sporty and fun and one of the best handling hot hatches on the market. However, it has lost the ‘works car’ feel. Now it is a polished and refined premium small car, albeit one that can go like the clappers and keep up with the best of them.

Source: Dave Humphreys

With the optional paint colour, Navigation Plus Pack, Chili Pack, adaptive suspension and Sport automatic transmission, my test car came in at an eye-watering €46,356.22. My recommendation for Irish buyers would be to buy the 192hp Cooper S model (from €31,197.75), add the Navigation Plus Pack, JCW Chili Pack and stick to the manual gearbox and 17-inch alloys and it will cost you €40,395.58.

But whichever one you choose you are going to get a great handling car with excellent dynamics and build quality.

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READ: Review – The Skoda Karoq is a strong contender to rival the Tiguan and the Ateca >

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About the author:

Melanie May  / https://www.melaniemay.com

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