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2015 Mini Cooper JCW review

By: Autoweek on 12/24/2015

Photo by Mini - 2015 Mini Cooper JCW

It’s been over a year since Mini updated the Cooper model, introducing a number of mechanical and stylistic changes to the base two-door hatch. So we’ve had a good amount of time to get used to it, even though some Mini fans were initially taken aback by the catfish-like visage of the updated hatch. The longer nose is there for pedestrian protection as well as crash performance, with the automaker stretching out the nose and introducing larger headlights and taillights, in addition to making the cabin larger. All of these changes, especially inside, are very welcome, even if the Mini has grown to absolutely dwarf the original British Leyland models.

The JCW, of course, is the hot version and it acts like it. BMW has given the latest Mini a wonderfully smooth gearbox and the JCW is ready to rock in every gear, with Sport mode stiffening up the steering and suspension very perceptibly. Flicking the shifter ring to Sport also makes the exhaust nicer (louder), allowing drivers to broadcast their presence to the neighborhood within a 300-yard radius. In short, this gearbox is very fun to use and there is plenty of vroom available in every gear. The clutch is also very modern-BMW -- there is no springy feel to it whatsoever with the pedal travel being light and consistent throughout, even if a bit long. Those familiar with the modern 1-Series and 3-Series will feel right at home.

Photo by Mini - 2015 Mini Cooper JCW

Even though the quality and design of the cabin is huge leap over the first generation of Der Neue Mini, there are still a few miscues. Specifically, Mini just can’t find a spot to put the iDrive controller, so almost to the floor it must go. Given the fact that there is a high-set armrest there, to use the iDrive controller I needed to reach down very vertically and make a twisting motion, as if picking up a round glass jar top while sitting at my desk. That’s not ideal, but then again there are no other places to put it aside from sticking it on to the center stack at a 90 degree angle. The fact that it’s so far out of reach means that drivers will have to learn where those additional buttons surrounding the iDrive controller are and what they do, because at night or even in the daytime it’s just too distracting to tilt your head and peer down there, as is searching for a cell phone that you’ve dropped under your seat.

Is the JCW package worth it? I’ve driven the base Minis in two-door and foor-door flavors, and while the manual models are certainly not as quick as the JCW model I am not sure that if I were spending my own money that I would go for the JCW model to get the performance boost. The base Coopers are also available with manual transmissions, and even though the sport modes in those cars don’t quite match up to the performance that the JCW offers, I have trouble seeing myself shelling out the premium required for the hotter model. That is to say that the base models, including the four-door version, are already quick on their feet and feature suspensions that I would actually prefer over the JCW model.

With a starting price of around $30,000 before you get to the options, the JCW model is already $10K more than where you’ll be starting with a base model, with the four-door base Cooper being a very very modest premium over the two-door model. The car that I drove was optioned up to $37,000 -- that’s just about everything and the kitchen sink -- and while I fully get that Mini aims to be a premium compact, there is almost just as much fun to be had in the base models which should start out in the very low $20,000 range.

-- Jay Ramey, associate editor

Photo by Mini - 2015 Mini Cooper JCW

OTHER VOICES:

“I had the Cooper home for the long weekend and this thing is just flat out fun to drive. Ride and handling are suitably harsh for apex carving, and I can’t wait to check out some track notes, to see where this would land in the hot hatch lineup. Steering feels nearly like a 1:1 ratio, which makes it easy to dodge potholes. And you’ll want to.

This Cooper will rattle your fillings and break your kidneys if you’re not paying attention. You also have some wheelhop to deal with around high-speed turns. Like the Cooper Coupe, this will bounce sideways a few feet if you hit a decent bump when the suspension is loaded up.”

-- Jake Lingeman, road test editor

OPTIONS:

Wired package ($1,750); 18 inch JCW cup spoke two-tone ($750); dynamic damper control ($500); rear view camera ($500); heated front seats ($500); park distance control ($500); Mini head-up display ($500); satellite radio with one year subscription ($300); comfort access keyless entry ($250)

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