by Sebastian Cenizo
If you've ever seen a Jack Russel terrier tear across the lawn, you've got a good idea of what the subcompact Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop is like. It's not the biggest dog in the pound, but it is one of the most energetic and can turn on a whim. With a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing 228 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque going to the front wheels, performance is effortless. Cars like this are essentially go-karts, and that is their USP. However, for 2020, some of the fun factor has been diminished by the deletion of the manual gearbox. Nevertheless, with sharp handling and an eager engine, the Mini JCW Hardtop is still one of the most entertaining vehicles you can buy.
2019's model saw a fair number of updates, so 2020 gets a very light refresh. As standard, all variants get forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and, as touched on above, only an eight-speed automatic transmission and no manual option.
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2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
LED headlights are standard and retain the classic round shape of the original Minis of the sixties. At the back, the taillights feature a Union Jack design, while numerous vents in the front and rear bumpers add aggression along with a central dual-exit exhaust. Bulbous arches house 17-inch wheels in base form, with 18-inch wheels available. A panoramic sunroof is added for the Signature sub-trim.
The Mini JCW Hardtop is only available with three doors, thus making it one of their smaller models. It's 152.5 inches long with a wheelbase of just 98.2 inches, while a narrow width of 68 inches allows for easy parking. Height is 55.7 inches, while curb weight starts at the low point of 2,932 pounds.
The Mini JCW Hardtop is available in three sub-trims, and each has access to different paint options. The base Classic model has a choice of four colors: Chili Red, Moonwalk Grey, Midnight Black, and Pepper White, the latter two costing $500 each. This variant comes with a body-colored roof panel and mirror caps. The Signature variant gets a lot more choice, with Thunder Grey, Melting Silver, Midnight Black, White Silver, Starlight Blue, Moonwalk Grey, Solaris Orange, Emerald Grey, Pepper White, Chili Red, and JCW Rebel Green - none of which costs extra. On this model, the roof and mirror caps can be had in Chili Red, Black, or body color. The top Signature trim gains Mini Yours Enigmatic Black Metallic. Each model can be had with various Union Jack designs on the mirrors too.
The JCW is the quickest variant of the regular Mini hardtop, at least until the GP model comes out. It manages to accelerate from 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds and has a top speed of 153 mph. This is made possible by means of a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-pot from parent company BMW, but although buyers of the John Cooper Works Hardtop will surely enjoy the nippy acceleration and spritely power delivery, this car is more about handling fun and the ability to carry momentum into, through, and out of a corner. A sporty suspension setup sets this model apart from the plain-Jane variants, and although it can be a little busy over corrugations and expansion joints, the benefits in the corners are so obvious that one may be willing to accept a little bit of daily discomfort. The only problem here is that the price puts this little terrier in the sights of brawnier cars like the Honda Civic Type R and VW Golf GTI, and both of those cars balance comfort with handling ability and power.
Just one engine is available, and it's a BMW-sourced 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Output is rated at 228 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, all of which is channeled to the front wheels via a formerly-optional eight-speed automatic transmission. Sadly, this means that the slick-shifting six-speed manual that we came to love is no longer with us, but at least the auto does a good job being as engaging as possible. The engine is quick to respond to throttle inputs and is an energetic powerplant with more grunt than the figures would suggest, although this is arguably more down to the low weight of the JCW. Fortunately, the transmission keeps up and offers the same level of quickness and sharpness, following commands to downshift or upshift without much complaint. Leave it alone to manage its own shifts, and it fades into the background with smooth changes that help you get through traffic with minimal annoyance.
The Lotus-like ethos of keeping weight down is what makes the Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop such an attractive offering. Direction changes are swift and eager, thanks to a sharp and short chassis, and a standard sport suspension setup on all variants. Summer tires are also standard, allowing for maximum grip, even when you overcook it slightly. In such an event, relaxing your right foot helps minimize understeer, helping the rear rotate towards oversteer but ultimately allowing you to get to the right line and plant that right foot again. If you want to teach someone how a front-wheel-drive car should be set up when fun is the end goal, let them drive one of these.
All of this is great when you're caning it through a canyon, but in everyday driving, the attributes that make it fun to drive also make it busy and unsettled on broken tarmac. Opting for the larger 18-inch wheels worsens the situation, but it's never back-breaking - just uncomfortable. Braking is as good as you'd expect from a lightweight car with sporting ambitions, and the pedal offers plenty of feel, making it easy to modulate whether you're on track or in traffic.
I know we keep harping on this thing's weight, but it really is a recipe for success. At the pumps, the dividends become more evident, with the Mini JCW Hardtop returning EPA estimates of 26/34/29 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. The new eight-speed auto has thus also played a role, returning three mpg more on the combined cycle than last year's auto could manage. Along with an 11.6-gallon gas tank, mixed range is estimated to be around 336 miles.
The interior of all Mini products is unlike that of almost any other vehicle on the market. The design is quirky, yet manages to retain a good level of ergonomic appeal. The quality is clearly inherited from BMW, with panel gaps and rattles nowhere to be found. Naturally, this is still not a luxury car, so premium leather costs extra, but even the base variant is impressive, with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and comfy seats. Ambient lighting is a standard feature across the range, but single-zone manual climate control is too, with dual-zone automatic climate control available if you spend extra on a fancier version. In a small car like this, that shouldn't be too much of a concern though.
The Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop officially seats five, but even shorter adults will find the rear seats very cramped with minimal legroom and not much breathing space above the headrests. These are issues that you may not even experience, as climbing into the back through the front doors may deter you from attempting to get seated in the first place. In the front, things are better, and the standard bucket seats are both supportive in fast corners and comfortable over long distances. Visibility is good too, with the driver able to easily acclimatize to the position of the controls.
The base Classic sub-trim comes with Carbon Black faux suede and cloth upholstery as standard, along with an Anthracite headliner and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with red contrast stitching and a faux carbon black checkered finish on the trims. The Signature sub-trim is largely the same with Piano Black trims, but also gains the option of various colors of leatherette for $2,000, with genuine Chesterfield leather also available in Malt Brown or Satellite Grey. Lounge leather in Carbon Black is an additional $500 here, but the top Iconic variant comes with leatherette in Black Pearl as standard, with the same options as the Signature trim. Some are no-cost, however, with Cross Punch leather being one example. This variant also has more trim options, among which are Dark Silver, Fiber Alloy, and illuminated Piano Black with a Union Jack graphic.
This is not the Mini to buy if you want a semblance of family-friendly practicality. This version only offers 8.7 cubic feet of volume, which is less than some sports cars. A weekend's worth of groceries would be a struggle in this car. Fortunately, the rear seats fold to increase storage volume to 34 cubic feet. Ultimately, you'd be better off with a Countryman if you need to carry people or a reasonable amount of luggage.
In the cabin, you get a pair of cupholders, narrow door pockets, and a tiny glovebox. There is no central storage, but at least there's a spot ahead of the gear lever where you might be able to fit an outdated smartphone.
Each sub-trim offers progressively more in the way of features here, with the base variant coming as standard with cornering LED headlights, manual climate control, dynamic cruise control with braking, and an active driving assistant with forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and auto high beams. You also get heated mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, a tire pressure monitor, and ambient lighting. An electronic locking differential is also included. Further up the range, you can have features like a panoramic roof, heated front seats, keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, adaptive dampers, wireless charging, adaptive cruise control, a parking assistant, and front parking sensors.
The standard infotainment system is based on what you get in many BMW products, but features unique graphics on a 6.5-inch touchscreen display. This is connected to a six-speaker sound system and features Bluetooth audio streaming, a USB port for charging, and the option of SiriusXM satellite radio. An 8.8-inch touchscreen is available, and this adds satellite radio as standard, along with navigation, a wireless charger, Apple CarPlay, and an upgraded Harman Kardon sound system with 12 speakers. It's a good system and works well, with easy to read graphics and simple functions, but no Android Auto is offered, and the screen can be a bit difficult to reach at times.
The 2020 model year has been subject to a single recall thus far, with all variants of the Mini Hardtop failing to be included with crash pads in the rear side trim panels. This recall was issued in late August 2019, so hopefully, that points to an otherwise reliable car.
In terms of coverage, Mini provides a four-year/50,000-mile limited and drivetrain warranty. You also get 12 years of corrosion protection and a three-year/36,000-mile roadside and complimentary scheduled maintenance plan.
The JCW version has not been specifically rated by the NHTSA but the base version on which it is based scored four stars out of five. The IIHS gave the Mini an overall score of Good, but headlights were rated as Acceptable or Poor, depending on the model.
The Mini JCW Hardtop comes standard with a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, a tire pressure monitor, rain-sensing wipers, and an active driving assistant with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and auto high beams. A dynamic cruise control system with braking and traffic sign recognition is also standard, while adaptive cruise control, front parking sensors, and a parking assistant are available. Eight airbags are standard, with dual frontal, side-impact, curtain, and knee airbags, along with a fuel deactivation system post-crash.
The Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop is a specialized offering that not everyone will appreciate or enjoy. It lives up to its name by being very small, and while this has its benefits when parking or when pushing the limits around corners, anyone in the back seats will be so uncomfortable that they may exit via the tiny cargo area and simply jump out the back. The price is also hard to look past, and not enough features are standard fare for such a premium product. In addition, the ride can be choppy, and only enthusiasts are likely to appreciate this. Overall, the Mini JCW has all the makings of a bad car, but when you find the right corner, or an open stretch of road, it is perfect for the job. It's not overpowered and it's supremely capable. For us, few cars bring as much joy on a tight turn, and if that kind of thing appeals to you, the JCW could be worth considering.
The base Classic sub-trim of the JCW Hardtop starts at a base price of $33,900, excluding an $850 destination charge. The mid-level Signature variant has a starting price of $34,900, while the top Iconic variant costs at least $39,900. Fully loaded, this variant can cost around $46,000 - a heavy price to pay when a VW or Audi can offer more in just about every way.
The John Cooper Works Hardtop is a standalone performance variant of the regular Mini Cooper, but it comes in three sub-trims. These are as follows: Classic, Signature, and Iconic.
The Classic comes in four colors and rides on 17-inch wheels and features faux suede and fabric upholstery, along with a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment display, a six-speaker sound system, manual climate control, dynamic cruise control with braking, rain-sensing wipers, Brembo brakes, and rear parking sensors. It also gets forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and automatic high beams with the LED headlights.
The Signature variant adds a panoramic roof, heated front seats, keyless entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, and access to more options, including leatherette or genuine leather upholstery, 18-inch wheels, adaptive dampers, and more. 12 colors are available for this variant.
The Iconic is the range-topper and comes standard with an 8.8-inch touchscreen display, navigation, a head-up display, Apple CarPlay, SiriusXM satellite radio, and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. It also gains 18-inch wheels, leather upholstery, and an additional color option.
Each model has its own features, but the base model is naturally the most scantily clad from the factory. Still, you can add heated front seats for 500 bucks, or SiriusXM satellite radio for $300. Dynamic dampers on the mid-level Signature sub-trim are a no-cost option, but you can spend extra on front parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, and a parking assistant. This is as part of the Driver Assistance package and costs $1,000. Also available is the Touchscreen Navigation package for $1,700. This adds the larger 8.8-inch touchscreen, navigation, Apple CarPlay, wireless charging, and voice activation.
All sub-variants of the Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop feature similar performance capabilities, so we'd opt for the mid-level Signature sub-trim. Thus, you get heated front seats, a panoramic roof, keyless entry, and dual-zone climate control. Adaptive dampers are worth opting for as they can help mitigate the harshness of the ride. We'd also consider adding the Touchscreen Navigation package for its navigation system with real-time traffic information, wireless charging, and larger screen.
The Golf GTI is widely regarded as the ultimate hot hatch. It balances price with performance, comfort with ability, and space with style. In base format, it even comes with a manual gearbox and costs over $5,000 more than the cheapest JCW variant. It has enough space in the back for adults, and with the back seats down, it has a whopping 52.7 cubic feet of volume, while keeping the seats up still allows one to carry enough luggage for four. In terms of performance, the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine produces the same power at 228 hp but makes more torque - 258 lb-ft. It's far more comfortable, more spacious, and more modern. We'd take the GTI over the Mini any day.
The JCW is a focused and faster version of the regular Mini Cooper, a model that is available in S form. Here, it has a less powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, but it starts at a considerably more affordable price of $27,400. Fuel economy is largely the same, and sadly, space is too. But this model can be had with five doors, making the rear seats easier to access. The same colors and features are available, but you don't get the same level of stiffness from the suspension. This makes it more comfortable and livable in daily life, and with less of an outlay initially, you can spend more on options. For us, the added performance of the JCW is unjustifiable when the price can reach $45,000, so we'd go for the smaller, less powerful, but just as fun Cooper S.
Check out some informative Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop video reviews below.