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JCW-muscled Mini here

2008-09-11 07:35
You’ll hate your sister for getting one of these.

You’ll hate your sister for getting one of these. This is the new John Cooper Works Mini, and with 155kW on tap and a guardian angel electronic differential lock up front it’s quite mad.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Mini
Model JCW
Engine 1.6-litre, inline four, turbo
Power 155kW @ 6 000r/min
Torque 260Nm @ 1 850-5700r/min
Transmission Six-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 6.5 seconds
Top Speed 238km/h
Fuel Tank 50l
Fuel Consumption 6.9l/100km
Weight 1205kg
ABS with CBC, EBFD and DTC
Airbags Six
Tyres 205/45 R17
Front Suspension Single-joint McPherson spring strut axle with anti-dive
Rear Suspension Longitudinal arms with centrally guided track arms, Z-axle
Price R299 500
Rivals Megane R26 (R277 500), Focus ST (R251 900), Leon Cupra (R261 400), BMW 130i (R314 500)

Lance Branquinho

With the latest Mini Cooper S now offering the fabled JCW moniker on its tailgate, the original hot hatch is back.

Born of a lifelong friendship between Mini creator, Alec Issigonis, and John Cooper predating the original road-going Mini, John Cooper Works (JCW) models have always been outrageous little cars.

Before the launch of the MK1 Golf GTi and the term hot hatch, John Cooper-fettled Minis were dominating circuit and rally racing across Europe.

After Cooper’s passing at the turn of the century, the JCW tuning concern was brought directly into the Mini fold, occupying a parallel position to what the M division does for BMW.

Combining all the stylish overtures of the current Mini range with this performance heritage resulted in the later reincarnation of the Mini JCW.

Three colours, all of which runs quickly

The latest John Cooper Works car features little in the way of interior styling changes, but much in the way of exterior aesthetic embellishments and a copious dose of bottled-up dynamism.

South African JCW models gets an aerodynamics package as standard featuring side scuttles, a trimmed front air intake and neat rear rooftop spoiler.

Filling the JCW arches are 205/45 run-flat tyres rolling on 17-inch cross-spoke mags, which at 10kg, are allegedly the lightest wheels on any hot hatch – if such things are of significant value to you.

Overall the JCW styling package finally garnishes the Mini shape with some masculinity. Only three colours are available locally – red, silver and black – and we think a red one is the most fetching option; as it contrasts best with the black styling details.

The interior is standard Mini, which means it’s essentially a two-person car with negligible luggage space and plenty of fidgety controls mounted too low down on the centre console in the name of retro-fitting design.

Same capacity, stonking output

Let’s not be coy - Alec Issigonis and John Cooper’s original performance car for the people was far removed from the current Mini brand’s fashion accessory status.

In a similar vein the JCW package is nearly at odds with the overly fashion conscious Mini image.

In performance terms though, the JCW will permanently suspend all your preconceived notions of the Mini being, well, a girlie car. It features a dimensionally similar over-square, 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine found in the rest of the range - technically though; it’s gone mad.

Thanks to a revised twin-scroll turbocharger, trick pistons, new exhaust and boost turned up from 0.9- to 1.3-bar this is a 1.6-litre engine with serious kick.

If the 155kW peak power output does not grab you in absolute terms perhaps the 97kW/l specific output might. Torque peaks at 260Nm (280Nm on full throttle overboost) across a generous engine speed range of 1 850-5 700r/min.

In a car weighing only 1205kg performance is epic. If you’re a robot-to-robot racer the 0-100km/h time of 6.5 seconds is sure to cause no embarrassment at all.

Tractability, a resolutely better real world performance unit of analysis, is electric - thanks in no small part to the strong toque characteristics resulting in a scorching 80-120km/h fifth gear time of 6.2 seconds

Mini claims the low mass and strong torque characteristics allied to a small engine capacity running at high efficiency - thanks to its direct-injection nature - should yield 6.9l/100km combined cycle consumption figures.

Keeping a tight reign on such a terrifyingly quick little car are Brembo 4-piston brake callipers finished in eye-catching red.

Responsive, nimble, but nervous

Any Mini carrying the legendary JCW moniker needs to handle with the fabled nimbleness and control which made the ‘Works cars such giant killers on racetracks.

With the standard Mini sporting a wheelbase of less than 2.5m and featuring minimal front and rear overhangs you have the makings of a car which straddles the divide between go-kart handling and unnerving twitchiness.

Standard suspension has been subtlety revised, though a 10mm drop, modified anti-roll bars and new dampers are on offer as part of the R9 900 Chilli package - which includes a height adjustable front passenger seat and bi-xenon headlights.

The net result of all this a 155kW fashion icon with an overriding urge to go everywhere quickly – really quickly.

For evaluation purposes Mini let us loose on a horrifically badly surfaced route outbound from Pretoria.

On indifferent surfaces the short wheelbase and strong engine torque characteristics keep you on end constantly as the JCW darts all over the place. In mitigation though, few performance cars are commensurable with South Africa’s deteriorating B-road infrastructure.

Returning on some highway the JCW displayed an indecent turn of pace, especially in forth-gear, dispatching lines of slower traffic with disdainful ease.

I have never rated the fussily styled Mini interior as a great driving environment, and with the JCW’s cracking pace the lack of a neat, driver side mounted speedo is exacerbated. In backlit conditions the lack of contrast makes the huge, centre styled speedo with its ivory hue nearly illegible for me.

Limited slip, but no room for a slip-up

Returning to the Zwartkops racetrack, we were allowed 10 laps of the karting circuit. Around this fabulously challenging – though tight – little asphalt playground the JCW came into its own.

Perhaps the most pleasurable design parameter of the JCW is found in the hooliganesque nature of its driver aids. The dynamic stability control (DSC) features dynamic traction control (DTC) as a sub-function, which can be partially disabled for a bit of fun, or completely disabled for track work.

Disabling the DTC completely brings the electronic front differential lock into play – similar to the system found on the rear-wheel drive BMW 135i – which electronically reacts to differentiated traction and wheelspeed movements on the front axle. Reigning in the wheel with least grip ensures safe traction and lateral force management and generates maximum accelerative verve out of corners.

On track it works a charm. The JCW is as wieldy as one would expect from something so small, and even with so much power and only ‘205 spec tyres rolling it along JCW has an unbelievably high tolerance for petulant, full-bore throttle applications out of corners.

The electronic front differential lock allows one to harness all the power most of the time; and challenges the traditional logic of powerful front-wheel drive hatches being unruly by nature around slow corners at full throttle.

Brakes deserve a special mention too; though the JCW is hardly a large car by any means, the Brembo’s haul it up in record time over and over again with great feel and ace body control.

Supermini performance, full hot hatch price

At track days or across quality road surfaces the Mini JCW is a cracking little car - don’t be fooled by the 1.6-litre capacity.

This is an indecently rapid little car, nowhere better illustrated than its 80-120km/h fifth gear time of 6.2 seconds; lagging only 0.2 of a second behind a M3…If you bought your daughter one she’d never have an excuse for missing her curfew.

The issue though, is price. At R299 500 the JCW is not a cheap indulgence, add on another R9 900 for the Chili pack, or even just R1 910 for the sports suspension alone, and you’re beyond the subconscious R300 000 threshold.

Mini says they’re aiming at the STs and R26s of the world. Following such marketing logic it remains to be seen whether hot hatch buyers are willing to part with significantly more cash for a little more performance and a lot less space…At least until next year March, when the Clubman JCW arrives at an indicative price premium of R315 500.

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