by Karl Furlong
Up until now, the Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop has been the top dog within the Mini hatchback range. That has all changed for the 2021 model year because the far more powerful - but limited production - Mini John Cooper Works GP has arrived, a derivative that we review separately. Does this mean that the regular John Cooper Works has slipped on the desirability scale? Not at all. While the GP is stupidly quick, its relentless focus on speed has reduced some of its fun factor relative to the normal JCW, which packs a solid but not overbearing 228 horsepower from its 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. In more good news, Mini has brought back the manual transmission for 2021, something that should never have exited the range in the first place. Although not nearly as practical as the Honda Civic Type R, the JCW Hardtop is a spicy hot hatch that mostly stays true to the original Mini ethos of rewarding its driver and taking up as little space in the garage as possible.
Enthusiasts in the USA will love the fact that a six-speed manual gearbox is once again the standard gearbox, with an eight-speed automatic available as an option. A few small trim and package updates also apply, as the Signature sub-trim can now be equipped with the brand's 6.5-inch touchscreen navigation system that adds eCall, ConnectedDrive, and more. This same sub-trim also avails a digital instrument cluster. This upgrade adds to the standard 6.5-inch display. Finally, Emerald Grey metallic and Melting Silver metallic have been removed from the color palette.
See trim levels and configurations:
|John Cooper Works||
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Mini hasn't messed with the JCW's design and it didn't need to. Notably, the JCW Hardtop is only available in sporty two-door guise and not as the more practical four-door. The base Classic comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, body-color mirrors and roof, and options like sporty hood stripes. LED head- and taillights are standard across the range. Going for the mid-range Signature will add a panoramic moonroof, while the top-spec Iconic gets 18-inch alloy wheels as standard. Mini staples like the centrally-mounted dual-exhaust outlet and the chrome-effect fuel filler cap add to the charm of this cheeky-looking hatch.
One of the tiniest cars on the road, the Mini Cooper JCW Hardtop measures just 152.5 inches in length. Other dimensions are similarly compact, with a width of 68 inches excluding the mirrors (increasing to 76.1 inches with the mirrors), a height of 55.7 inches, and a wheelbase of only 98.2 inches. In terms of curb weight, the JCW comes in at 2,932 pounds.
Although Emerald Grey metallic and Melting Silver metallic have been removed from the color palette for 2021, there are still enough colors to choose from for most. On the base Classic, you are, however, limited to just four shades: Moonwalk Grey, Chili Red, Pepper White, and Midnight Black. The last three colors all go for $500 each. Moving up to the mid-range Signature adds hues like Thunder Grey, White Silver, Solaris Orange, Starlight Blue, and JCW Rebel Green. This trim allows for the roof and mirrors to be painted in one of four contrast colors such as White or Chili Red, so there are some eye-catching combinations available. The top Iconic model adds MINI Yours Enigmatic Black.
The Mini JCW Hardtop sends power to the front wheels and has peak outputs of 228 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque from its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot. With the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox, the 0-60 mph benchmark sprint is over in 5.9 seconds, making it slightly quicker than the JCW cabrio with the same engine. It'll go on to reach a top speed of 153 mph. It's not as quick as the Honda Civic Type R, though, which shaves nearly a second off that time. A large part of the Mini's appeal is the fact that it feels even faster than it actually is, a sensation that is bolstered by the quick steering and the hatchback's compact dimensions.
Sourced from BMW, the peppy 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine features valvetronic direct injection and double VANOS. At 228 hp and 236 lb-ft, it's comfortably more powerful than the Cooper S which makes do with 189 hp and 207 lb-ft. This motor feels torquey low-down in the rev range but is equally happy at higher engine speeds, with a pleasingly fruity exhaust note adding to the fun. We lamented the absence of a manual transmission last year, but the sweet-shifting six-speeder has made a welcome comeback and feels like the perfect fit in a Mini. Although a bit notchy when shifting cogs aggressively, it is otherwise enjoyable to use. The eight-speed automatic is an excellent transmission, too, with unobtrusive shifts and good responsiveness in its manual mode. This powertrain makes the Mini just about one of the best tools for taking quick gaps in traffic, adding some joy to what would otherwise be a wearisome commute in another car.
In the finest Mini tradition, the JCW is an absolute blast to drive, especially if the road isn't a straight one. As far as front-wheel-drive cars go, this is one of the best. The steering is sharp, direct, and eagerly adheres to the driver's wishes. However, the firm suspension setup can pick up on scarred surfaces quite easily, which results in some yanking through the steering wheel. This can either be seen as a mild annoyance or adding to the JCW's dynamic character. In most cases, though, cornering is neutral and there is more than enough grip on offer. While the rather stiff suspension makes sense in a sporty hatch like this, the ride can prove tiresome on rough surfaces, a sensation that is worsened with the larger wheels. To improve this, dynamic dampers can be equipped. Braking feel is good and without much weight to bring to a halt, the Mini can be slowed down quickly and controllably.
The Mini John Cooper Works is more efficient with the automatic transmission, with its EPA estimates working out to 26/34/29 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. With the six-speed manual, those numbers drop to 23/33/27 mpg. Considering the performance on tap, these are reasonable numbers. The gas tank is predictably small at just 11.6 gallons, so the maximum cruising range for the auto is restricted to around 336 miles. At 22/28/25 mpg, the Honda Civic Type R can't match the JCW's gas mileage.
Like its happy exterior, our review of the Mini JCW Hardtop showed the cabin to be just as cheerful. The circular theme is evident with the housing for the gear shift lever and the surround for the central display screen. It's got substance to it too, as materials are generally upscale and the build quality is strong. Although the Mini hatch has grown since BMW reintroduced it in the early 2000s, you'll still not find much space for people or luggage behind the rear seats. In the JCW, special sport seats add to the racy feel. Moving up to the mid-range trim introduces amenities like heated seats, keyless entry, and dual-zone automatic climate control.
The Mini John Cooper Works hardtop is strictly a four-seater and those in the back should preferably be on good terms with each other. That being said, the Mini's rear seats aren't necessarily the horror show they're often described to be. Yes, adults who are quite a bit over six-feet tall simply won't fit, but if you are around five-foot-nine - and many humans are - you can legitimately sit back there. The headroom and legroom are far from generous, but the two biggest issues are tight shin/foot space and tricky access since the front seats don't slide very far forward. Naturally, things are a lot rosier in front, where head- and legroom are tangibly more adult-friendly and the Dinamica/cloth upholstery feels great. For the driver, visibility is outstanding and the mirrors and windows provide a clear view out.
Starting with the Classic sub-trim gets you Carbon Black seats in a mix of Dinamica and cloth upholstery. A JCW-specific leather steering wheel, an anthracite headliner, and black checkered dashboard inlays are standard, too. On the mid-range Signature, a number of upholstery options become available under the $2,000 Signature Upholstery Package. The options are Black Pearl leatherette, Black Pearl Light Grey leatherette/cloth, Carbon Black cross punch leather, Malt Brown chesterfield leather, Satellite Grey chesterfield leather, and Carbon Black Dinamica/leather. Finally, MINI Yours Lounge leather in Carbon Black goes for $500 but requires the Signature Upholstery Package to be added first. On the Iconic sub-trim, the Signature Upholstery Package is already standard. Available interior surface inlays include fiber alloy, Piano Black, Dark Silver, and MINI Yours Int. Style with a Piano Black illuminated finish which is standard on the top sub-trim.
With 8.7 cubic feet of trunk space, the John Cooper Works hardtop hardly qualifies as a load-lugger and even one larger suitcase will be a struggle. On the plus side, because the trunk isn't long at all, it's child's play to reach forward and drop the rear seats, expanding total cargo space to a more useful 34 cubes.
In-cabin storage comprises the usual glove box, two cupholders, and door pockets, but the few storage options that do exist are all on the small side.
The base Mini JCW hardtop comes with LED cornering headlights, manual air conditioning, automatic emergency braking, a multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel, and cruise control. As if the compact dimensions don't make parking easy enough, there's also a rearview camera and parking sensors at the back. The more expensive models gradually pack on features like dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, keyless entry, a panorama roof, power-folding exterior mirrors, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Available equipment includes front park distance control, active cruise control, a parking assistant, and dynamic dampers. A digital instrument cluster is standard on the top sub-trim and available on the Signature derivative.
One of the advantages of Mini's ownership by BMW is the fitment of a quick, user-friendly infotainment system. The 6.5-inch display isn't the biggest, so some menu icons are on the small side, but the system otherwise operates well. It's linked to a standard six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth audio streaming, but disappointingly, Apple CarPlay is not standard and Android Auto isn't available at all. On the Classic, expect to add another $300 to the base price to get SiriusXM satellite radio. On the Signature, the Touchscreen Navigation Package goes for $1,000 more and adds navigation, Apple CarPlay, wireless charging, and a digital instrument cluster. A 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, SiriusXM satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay are standard on the top Iconic trim, along with a larger 8.8-inch touchscreen display.
A single recall affected 2020 Mini JCW models, whereby crash pads were missing from the rear side trim panels. Of course, this could increase the risk of injury in a crash. In another safety-related recall, the 2021 JCW was recalled for airbags that could potentially fail to deploy in the event of a rollover.
Fortunately, a generous warranty is in place which includes a four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty, a four-year/50,000-mile powertrain warranty, and complimentary scheduled maintenance for the first 36,000 miles or three years, whichever comes first. Roadside assistance is offered for the initial four years of ownership and a rust perforation warranty extends to 12 years regardless of mileage covered.
The NHTSA hasn't done a John Cooper Works hardtop crashworthiness review just yet, so there is no safety rating from this particular agency. That said, the regular Mini Cooper Hardtop achieved a four-out-of-five star overall rating from the NHTSA. On that note, the 2020 Mini Cooper on which the JCW is based has a good safety rating from the IIHS, with a spread of Good scores for all major crashworthiness parameters. That being said, the headlights were rated as Acceptable at best and Poor at worst, depending on the trim or options fitted.
Out of the box, every 2021 Mini JCW Hardtop gets a rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring, rear parking sensors, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, electronic stability control, and eight airbags, including curtain airbags and knee airbags for both front occupants. Available safety gear includes front park distance control, active cruise control, and a parking assistant. Some safety features are missing, though, such as lane departure warning and blind-spot monitoring.
It may no longer be the most powerful Mini hatchback you can buy, but the JCW Hardtop remains an enormously fun car to drive. The combination of 228 horsepower, compact dimensions compared to almost any other new vehicle, and a well-balanced chassis contributes to a brilliant driver's car. The return of the manual gearbox is another reason to consider this 2021 model over the version it replaces. Inside, the same charismatic cabin with its smart materials impresses as it did before. On the downside, the JCW has a cramped rear seat and a puny trunk. Its firm suspension isn't the best at filtering out the bumps, either. Then there is the matter of the price which, at over $30,000, places it up against the faster and more practical Honda Civic Type R. We haven't even mentioned the imminent VW Golf GTI, which will offer a lot more space for the price. But for a young couple or a single person who relishes the trip home from the office, the 2021 Mini JCW Hardtop fits the bill.
The Mini John Cooper Works price is likely to raise more than a few eyebrows, with a starting MSRP in the US of $32,400 for the Classic sub-trim with the manual gearbox. Next is the Signature sub-trim at $34,900 followed by the Iconic sub-trim at $39,900. Every Mini JCW price here excludes tax, licensing, registration, and a destination/handling charge of $850. It may be cheaper than the JCW open-top, but the hatch is not really what you'd call affordable.
On all the Classic sub-trim, the automatic transmission will add $1,500 to the base price, but it won't cost extra on the remaining sub-trims. It's possible to spend just under $50,000 on a fully loaded JCW Hardtop Iconic with all the options, but that's way more than anyone should be spending on a Mini hatchback.
The 2021 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop sits above the regular Cooper/Cooper S and comes in three sub-trims: Classic, Signature, and Iconic. All versions have a 228-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and send power to the front wheels via either a standard six-speed manual or an optional eight-speed automatic. A sport-tuned suspension is configured for better responsiveness.
The Classic's specs include 17-inch alloy wheels and LED headlights, along with a body-color roof and mirrors. Its sport seats are trimmed in a mix of Dinamica and cloth. The cabin features a six-speaker sound system, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, manual air conditioning, and safety gear like rear parking sensors.
Moving up a step to the Signature brings with it additional color choices, the availability of Apple CarPlay, along with an available digital instrument cluster, dual-zone climate control, and heated front seats.
Finally, the Iconic comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, navigation, Apple CarPlay, leather-upholstered seats, and a Harman Kardon sound system.
The 2021 John Cooper Works Hardtop range offers a few upgrades to further customize your purchase. The base Classic sub-trim has the least options available, with no packages at all. However, you can add SiriusXM satellite radio for $300 and heated front seats for $500.
On the mid-range Signature, there's more choice. The $1,750 Premium Package includes power-folding exterior mirrors, 18-inch JCW two-tone cup spoke wheels, SiriusXM, and a Harman Kardon sound system. Meanwhile, the $2,000 Signature Upholstery Package avails a range of trim and color choices for the cabin. For 2021, the Touchscreen Navigation Package with a digital instrument cluster is available at this level for $1,000.
The priciest 2021 JCW Hardtop, the Iconic, comes with fewer options but the most noteworthy upgrade is the Driver Assistance Package at $1,000. It adds front park distance control, a parking assistant, and active cruise control.
As great as it is to drive, the JCW Hardtop starts off at a high price point for such a small car. For this reason, we'd skip the top-spec Iconic and go for the mid-range Signature. It adds niceties like dual-zone climate control, a panoramic moonroof, heated front seats, and access to some desirable features. Of these, we'd add the $1,000 Touchscreen Navigation Package to get the digital instrument cluster, wireless charging, navigation, and Apple CarPlay. Being a Mini, there's no shortage of fun exterior accessories, so we'd spend $100 extra to get those sporty hood stripes.
At $26,400, the Cooper S starts at $6,000 less than the base JCW Hardtop. For that more affordable price, the alloy wheels are one size smaller at 16 inches (although this does improve the ride slightly), power drops to 189 hp, and it's six tenths slower to 60 mph. However, the Cooper S is still plenty of fun to thrash around a twisty mountain pass, and, at the cheaper price, there's more room to play with when it comes to options. Without the stiffer suspension tuning, the Cooper S may not be as capable at the limit, but it's a friendlier daily driver than the JCW. There is the option of the Cooper S four-door as well, which adds a little extra practicality to the mix. Although that JCW badge holds plenty of appeal, the more palatable price of the Cooper S and the only minor drop in performance makes it our choice.
Although we don't know exactly when the all-new, 2021 Golf GTI will go on sale in the US, the Mini JCW is more than likely to face the same uphill battle against this new foe as it did with the outgoing GTI. Not only is the Golf far more spacious, but it could undercut the cheapest JCW on price. The Golf has a much more mature demeanor both inside and out, and although not as playful as the Mini, it has the edge in terms of technology. The 245-hp 2.0-liter turbo-four in the Golf is more powerful than the JCW's engine and, considering that the Golf 7 GTI with its double-clutch gearbox was just as quick as the Mini, the new Golf 8 could have the edge here, too. As lovable as the Mini is, the new Golf is likely to prove too much of a mountain to overcome when it lands in the US.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop: