JCW out-delivers soft promise

Look at the new Mini John Cooper Works and if you know that badge well, your first impressions of the latest über-Mini are likely to be ‘what the hell has happened to John Cooper Works?’

Once the apex of Mini aggression, the latest one seems mute — watered down for want of a better word at first acquaintance and like me, you may not even have noticed it over a Cooper S, if you missed the John Cooper badge. It underwhelms on paper too. 170kW? How could that ever stand up to rivals well north of 200? 

Bloody well it seems! In fact John Cooper Works even held on to our hallowed front-wheel drive road test records for a short while, toppling the hallowed Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport too to grab that title. But the Renault Sport Megane subsequently went a ballhair quicker. But hold our FWD test record, this Mini certainly did.

And then if you too are still trying to figure quite how a 170kW car can so well match a 205kW one, allow us to point out that the Mini is significantly lighter than its fat French pal — even though that may be difficult to fathom by just looking at both – and like us, you at first took them at face value. 

JCW's aluminium direct injection twin-scroll BMW turbo 4-pot with variable valve timing is clearly up to it, while MacPherson struts and multilink underpinnings are tuned for kart-like agility. In fact JCW’s true colours emerge the moment you pull away — it has an alacrity of step, a purpose of poise that automotive engineers posted to performance divisions dream of one day achieving. 

You can feel the lightweight, but that is only a small part of the big picture, while the way this thing responds to your right foot is pretty pleasing all-round. All of which goes to stick those first impressions straight back to bed and once again prove that one should not judge a book by its cover. 

Underwhelming at first, the Mini starred in the end, which some say is how it must be. My call is that Oxford needs to be braver — this car probably deserves a more aggressive warning to its pace, but then some say that is how it must be. So if you like sleepers, here's a special one for you…

ROAD TEST    Mini John Cooper Works                         
Engine:           1998cc turbo petrol I4    
Output            170kW 320Nm         
Drive:              6-speed auto FWD   
0-100km/h:     5.95 sec                    
0-160km/h:     7.89 sec
400m:             14.1 sec @ 163km/h  
80-120km/h:   3.58 sec    
120-160km/h: 5.51 sec      
VMax:             246km/h                             
Fuel:               6.6 l/100km              
CO2:              136g/km      
Warranty/Service: 2y Unl /5y 100Kkm     
LIST PRICE:    R512K             
RATED            89%