by Gabe Beita Kiser
Fast Minis have been an institution for over half a century and have come to represent the small, but tenacious, underdog who nips at the heels of bigger, more powerful performance cars. Nothing much has changed in the 21st century, but these days the Mini Hardtop is seen as a premium subcompact and not a back-to-basics family transporter. The John Cooper Works is the hottest of the Cooper lineup and borrows its turbocharged 2.0-liter engine from BMW. The Mini is already a compromised vehicle, offering little in terms of interior space, and asking premium prices, but the 2019 JCW takes it even further, with stiff suspension, limited safety features and an asking price that steps on the toes of serious performance cars such as the VW Golf R. Yes it delivers an entertaining drive, but is it really worth the money?
The Mini JCW gets quite a few updates for 2019, which helps it keep its head above water in terms of tech features. Mini has reconfigured its lineup, and while the JCW is the Hardtop's range-topping trim, it now boasts three separate sub-trims under the Classic, Signature, and Iconic banners. New features include a wireless phone charging pad, Apple CarPlay integration, an additional USB port, as well as 4G LTE connectivity and an updated infotainment interface. On the outside, the headlights have had a slight redesign, and the LED taillights now have a Union Jack theme.
The retro styling of the modern Mini has become less retro and more commonplace, just like the first one - which is ironic, isn't it? Still, the 2019 Mini JCW looks great; you get the same short overhangs and iconic Mini grille, but the JCW, being a performance model, adds a bunch of rather unsightly ducts and intakes that break the natural flow of the Mini's front fascia. The same goes for the rear end, which looks unmistakably Mini, especially when you notice the Union Jack flag incorporated into the taillights. A central exit exhaust system hints at the JCW's performance potential. Standard exterior features include 17-inch alloy wheels, white or black bonnet stripes, as well as roof rails and LED lighting front to back.
The modern Mini is a much larger car than the original but remains firmly entrenched in the subcompact segment when parked next to a Volkswagen Golf and even the other retro hatch on sale, the VW Beetle. Total length is measured at 152.5 inches, but a maximum height of 55.7 inches, a width of 68 inches excluding the mirror, and a wheelbase of only 98.2 inches give an indication as to its squat look, which is part of the reason for its classic go-kart type handling. Compared to the VW Golf R, the Mini seems minuscule: the Golf is 16.5 inches longer than the JCW and uses a wheelbase that's 5.3 inches longer. A low curb weight has always been a trademark of the Mini, and for 2019, the JCW tips the scales at 2,845 lbs in manual guise, over 450 pounds lighter than the VW Golf R.
There are 12 colors to choose from, but some are reserved for the higher sub-trims. In base form, Mini gives you one no-cost color option (Moonwalk Gray) while Chili Red, Pepper White, and Midnight Black will cost you an additional $500. The Signature sub-trim gets 11 standard colors and one optional, while the Iconic gets the full range of 13, including the Iconic-exclusive Lapisluxury Blue. There's no official British Racing Green, but Rebel Green - the optional hue on the Signature model - comes pretty close. Other interesting shades include vivid hues like Electric Blue and Solaris Orange, while Thunder Grey and Melting Silver are great options for a sleeper hatch.
A fast mini is one of the most rewarding cars to push hard around a tight track or twisty section of back road, and the JCW delivers on that expectation, but don't expect Civic Type R levels of grip and acceleration. The JCW's low curb weight, combined with a pokey turbocharged 2.0-liter four-pot, delivers spritely performance, more comparable to a standard Golf GTI than it's big brother the Golf R - especially when you consider a zero to sixty time of 6.1 seconds with the manual gearbox, that figure dipping to 5.9 with the six-speed automatic. Pin the throttle and you'll still get a tug from the steering wheel, and the Bluetooth controlled exhaust flap can be opened up, allowing the JCW to pop and bang with delight: it makes you feel as if you're driving faster even if you're not, which is something the Mini has always been about.
The 2019 JCW is powered by a BMW sourced turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that delivers a mild 228 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque, numbers which are comparable to the VW GTI or Civic Si. Although there's a good amount of low to mid-range punch, the JCW Mini can't match the likes of the Type R or Golf R, cars that keep pulling right to the top of their rev limit. Power delivery might not be electrifying, but on the road, it still feels plenty quick and is suitably matched to the chassis. This combination delivers plenty of smiles, just don't expect to win any drag races.
Power is sent to the front wheels via a standard six-speed manual gearbox with rev-matching functionality or an available six-speed automatic with paddle-shifters for simulated involvement. The responses from the auto aren't as crisp as a DCT and will feel lethargic on track, but everywhere else, it gets the job done in convincing fashion, more so than the rubbery shifts of the standard manual.
Mini has stuck to the same script, and it pays off in the 2019 JCW: a stubby footprint, stiff suspension, and a low curb weight all come together to create a driving experience that can only be described as pointy and entertaining (insert go-kart reference here). The already stiff chassis is backed up by sport-tuned suspension, which, combined with a set of standard 17-inch wheels wrapped in summer tires, delivers excellent mid-corner grip, which will gently push you to the outer edge when you turn in with too much eagerness. On the road, the JCW's stiff ride can be a bit too much for some, especially when fitted with the optional 18-inch rims, but this is all to be expected from a performance-oriented Mini, and enthusiasts will enjoy the fact that the Mini is always primed and ready to deliver an entertaining drive, no matter the speed.
Performance and fuel economy don't usually go together, but the 2019 Mini JCW proves that theory wrong, with a gas mileage figure of 23/32/26 mpg city/highway/combined, equalling the Cooper S and beating the Golf R by two miles per gallon. The six-speed automatic fares better, still, with estimates of 25/32/28 mpg. An 11.6-gallon gas tank on regular gasoline will see the JCW auto achieving just a bit more than 320 miles between refills.
One of the best things about being owned by BMW is that some premium parts and premium assembly techniques get siphoned down from the top. Modern Mini interiors have always impressed, not only with their refreshingly, albeit opinion splitting designs, but in terms of fit, finish, and material quality. The 2019 Mini JCW retains all the things we love about the modern Mini interior, such as the circular central-mounted infotainment binnacle and quirky center armrest and shifter design. The JCW has a visually sportier interior, mostly thanks to a set of serious bucket seats, but smaller details all add up to create a fun but focused space. Interior features include ambient lighting, a leather sports steering wheel, and climate control.
We know the drill: Mini sells the JCW as a four-seater car, but in reality, it's a two-door with a rear parcel shelf. Even larger children will fight to get comfortable in the back, with legroom tighter than should even be allowed. Getting into the Mini is a pain-free exercise for front-seat passengers thanks to tall opening doors, but back seat passengers have to contend with the limited rear space, which can make things tricky. Front passengers are held in place by a set of gorgeous bucket seats that add to the overall sportiness of the JCW, and offer great support during hard cornering. The cold hard figures will give you a clearer sense of the overall interior space: front seat legroom comes in at 41.4 inches and there is 40.3 inches of headspace - not too bad. The rear is where the issue lies, however: those poor souls in the back get a measly 30.8 inches of legroom, which completely rules out any large adults getting in the back, and headroom is an equally disappointing 36.9 inches.
Whether you care for it or not, the modern Mini has always placed a lot of focus on its interior, combining a quirky design language with BMW-levels of fit and finish. Since the 2019 JCW sits close to the top of the Mini range, it gets a wide selection of upholstery, headliner, and dash surface materials. The Classic trim gets a Carbon Black leatherette or cloth seating surface, Anthracite headliner, and a cheeky black checkered dash theme. The Signature gets more options, which includes fiber alloy interior surfaces and illuminated Piano Black inserts. The range-topping Iconic model is treated to a list of premium material options similar to what you'd find in some BMWs. The cross-punch leather seats in Carbon Black, Satellite Gray, or Malt Brown have a quality feel, and you get the option of chrome interior trimmings over and above what is offered on the Signature.
Carrying large amounts of cargo is not the 2019 Mini JCW's strongpoint. The city runabout offers limited trunk and cargo space from its two-door configuration. Open up the hatch on the two-door, and you'll be faced with 8.7 cubic feet of space, which is enough to fit three cases of RedBull, but not much else. With the rear seats folded down, you get 34 cubic feet, which is considerably more useful. If practicality is what you're looking for, simply make sure you don't have any rear passengers and live your life with the JCW as a two-seater only. Internal storage is similarly scant - a couple of cupholders, a small center console bin, and slim door pockets.
The features list is spread out evenly across the three sub-trims: the Classic gets standard JCW sports seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, manual climate control, a rearview camera, and rear park assist. The Signature gains heated front seats, a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry, and adaptive dampers while contributing towards driver and passenger safety with the standard fitment of emergency automatic braking and forward-collision warning. Optional on the Signature and standard on the Iconic, you'll find power exterior mirrors with auto-dimming functionality, wireless device charging, upgraded interior surfaces, and a head-up driver display. Additional driver assistance comes from the optional Driver Assistance Package, which gives the JCW active cruise control and an automated parking assistant.
The Mini JCW borrows its basic infotainment structure from BMW, masked in Mini's own design. Physical controls are easy to read, but some are made difficult to reach due to an oddly placed parking brake. A 6.5-inch touchscreen is on offer on the base model, upgraded to an 8.8-inch screen on the Iconic sub trim. The system incorporates Bluetooth streaming, a USB charging port, and a six-speaker sound system that delivers surprisingly rich bass notes for a standard system. The optional 8.8-inch infotainment system includes navigation, SiriusXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay integration, as well as wireless charging and a premium Harman Kardon sound system with 12 speakers. The user interface on both systems is easy to understand and navigate, and those who've driven any modern BMW will quickly get the hang of it.
The third-generation Mini has been a reliable platform, at least in the past three years. It has been recalled four times since 2016, mostly for issues with safety equipment, and minor mechanical issues. In 2016 specific Minis were recalled for a problem with seat-mounted airbags that would fail to deploy, as well as a malfunctioning seat belt locking system. The most recent recall was issued in July of 2018 due to a faulty crankshaft sensor that could cause the car to stall. J.D. Power gave the hardtop Mini a reliability rating of 80 out of 100. Buy a new Mini JCW in 2019, and you'll get a class-leading warranty of four years or 50,000 miles, which includes a 12-year corrosion warranty, a four-year/50,000-mile drivetrain warranty, a maintenance plan for three years or 36,000 miles as well a roadside assistance plan for four years.
The sporty nature of the Mini Cooper demands extra attention to safety: it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that those who buy a JCW will be driving with enthusiasm, to say the least. Mini has taken note and has built a car that can stand up to a severe impact. The IIHS tested the 2019 Mini Cooper and impressed enough to award it with a 2018 Top Safety Pick rating; the only categories that kept it from the coveted Top Safety Plus award was the lack of standard collision avoidance systems. The latest tests performed by the NHTSA were only for the standard Mini Hardtop, in which it scored four stars overall.
Standard features across the 2019 Mini JCW range include an eight airbag system, and a rearview camera. Passive systems include a crash sensor that will automatically unlock the doors while cutting off the fuel pump. The engine and gearbox are also designed to mitigate the impact of a frontal impact by shearing away from the body. The body of the JCW has been constructed to be stiff, which not only improves handling, but helps to retain structural integrity during a serious accident. Active safety features are reserved as an optional extra, with emergency automatic braking and forward-collision warning added from the Signature sub-trim, while parking assistance with distance control and active cruise control are standard only on the Iconic sub trim.
When you design a car for one specific reason, compromises have to be made, and in the case of the 2019 Mini John Cooper Works, it is quite noticeable where this little pocket rocket falls short, and where it excels. There's no getting around the fact that the 2019 JCW is a dedicated sports car, which means it has a stiff ride - and because it's a Mini, cargo space is also limited. The lack of active safety equipment on base models is a concern, especially when most competitors offer these as standard; but crash tests have proven that the Mini remains a safe car, and a reliable one at that, if you take its lack of recalls into account. The JCW does offer a highly entertaining driving experience, with enough power to keep you entertained, especially in the city, where its small size and light weight are great plus points. For a performance hatch, its light on gas, and Mini offers an impressive warranty, which gives some peace of mind for new owners. Mini has kept the flame alive by sticking to their classic recipe; it might not be the most practical car on the road, buts it offers a driving experience that's getting harder and harder to find.
For what it is, the 2019 Mini Cooper JCW is an expensive little car, especially when compared to similar offerings from Honda and Ford. The Fiesta ST, one of the most balanced and best handling small performance hatchbacks of the last decade, starts at $21,340, which is approximately $10,000 less than the JCW. Nonetheless, Mini will charge you $31,900 for the entry-level Classic sub-trim, rising to $34,900 for the Signature. The top-spec Iconic, including handling fees of $850, will see you coughing up $39,90, which is almost the same price as the brilliant VW Golf R, which is more accomplished in nearly every way. Sure, the Mini brand has become a premium one, and most will buy because of the image, but as a small sporty hatchback with mild performance abilities, these prices just don't make sense.
Mini reshuffled the JCW lineup for 2019, and while the JCW is effectively a range-topping trim within the Mini Hardtop line-up, three sub-trims cover the standard levels of specification, divided as Classic, Signature, and Iconic.
Classic, the base model of the range, gets 17-inch alloy wheels, cloth-upholstered front seats, a leather steering wheel, rear park assist, a rearview camera, and a 6.5-inch infotainment system with six speakers.
Moving up to the Signature will bag you a standard automatic gearbox, heated front seats, a panoramic sunroof, keyless access, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive dampers, as well as access to a greater color palette.
The top-spec Iconic trim is fitted with standard Apple CarPlay integration, navigation, an 8.8-inch infotainment display with 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound, 18-inch alloy wheels, a head-up display, wireless device charging, and upgraded leather upholstery.
|John Cooper Works 2-Door||
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
As has always been the Mini way, customization is the order of the day. To that end, you can get a range of various styling accessories and packages, including the $3,000 International Orange Special Edition, the $3,700 Knights Edition with black accents and the specification of the Iconic model, and loads of individual stripes and wheel choices. Buyers can also opt for a standalone head-up display on the Signature for $500, while the $1,000 Driver Assistance Package adds front and rear park sensors, active cruise control, and parking assist.
For what it offers, the Mini JCW Hardtop is an expensive little car. The Classic is the cheapest model in the lineup, and for a good reason; it doesn't provide much in terms of features, and is punished even further by being cut off from most of the available options. At the other end of the lineup, the Iconic is treated to a few premium items, but it doesn't justify the $39,900 price tag. The best value for money will be found in the middle of the range; the Signature sub-trim, with an MSRP of $34,900, gets you more options than the Classic, including a set of 18-inch wheels, a head-up display, and navigation. Add the $1,000 active driver assistance package, and you've got yourself a JCW that comes in a few grand cheaper than the Iconic, but with most of its ability.
The Cooper S is well-known as the gateway to more performance-oriented Minis and uses the same 2.0-liter engine as found in the JCW model, only it has been detuned to now deliver 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque; but, it doesn't feel much slower than the JCW Mini, especially around a tight track or in city driving environments. The Cooper S offers a more comfortable ride thanks to its softer suspension tuning, and matches the JCW in terms of build quality and practicality. It can't match the JCW's captivating driving experience and raw feeling, though. The Cooper S starts at $25,900 - exactly $5,000 cheaper than the entry-level JCW, which means you get more features out the gate, and an engaging driving experience that doesn't match that of the JCW, but won't be missed by most drivers. Bang-for-buck, the Cooper S takes the cake.
At its price point, Mini has been forced to compete with one of the best performance VW Golfs of all time. The Golf R is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot that churns out 288 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque; that's way more power than you get in the 2019 JCW, and the way it delivers that power is more impressive too. The R will accelerate to sixty in the mid-four-second range, completely blowing the doors off the Mini. Not only is the Golf R faster, but it offers superior comfort, features, and practicality. The interior of the Golf feels more mature and well put together, and the infotainment system and overall features list impress. The R is also a safe car with the GTI variant scoring a Top Safety Pick Plus from the IIHS. In the $40,000 price range, the Mini simply cannot compete.