TrimJohn Cooper Works
Engine2.0L Turbo Four-Cylinder
Power228 HP / 236 LB-FT
Curb Weight2,895 LBS
As Tested Price$42,565
The Mini Cooper John Cooper Works Hardtop is the most performance you can buy in a Mini. More powerful JCW Clubmans and Countrymans are over the horizon, but those are much larger cars. A two-door hardtop with a hatchback is the traditional Mini shape, and we were thrilled to have a go in it.
Being the JCW, our tester was equipped with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 228 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. Those power figures aren’t tantalizing, but they’re enough to make this little car a real hoot to zip around town in. We also had the six-speed automatic, which costs $1,500 more than a manual — don’t worry, the automatic is still fun. After adding options and the all-important Knights Edition package, the sticker was up to $42,565. That is far more expensive than a lot of cars with more performance than what this little Mini has to offer. However, the Mini lifestyle is about more than just performance — customizability is huge, allowing you to personalize your brand-new car to a much higher degree than competitors. Additionally, there are only going to be 150 Knights Edition models made, so you’ll have a car that could be rather appealing to a Mini enthusiast in the future.
Road Test Editor Reese Counts: I love hot hatches. Even in the hatchback-averse American market, there's a wide variety to choose from. There's the tried-and-true Volkswagen Golf GTI (I used to own a MkV), its more powerful all-wheel-drive Golf R sibling, the unfortunately styled but extremely fun Honda Civic Type R, and the soon-to-be-extinct (if possibly already) European-American hybrid Ford Focus RS. Few cars at any price point are as consistently fun as hot hatches. Good ones are always eager to play, even putting around town.
The Mini Cooper JCW has always been one of the more wild of the bunch, a hopped-up version of the Cooper S that spits and pops and burbles like oil on a cast iron pan. Past models were for Mini enthusiasts that were willing to pay more for the most hardcore Cooper around. The current car debuted in 2015, and while I've driven a few current-gen Coopers, this is the first time I had a chance in a JCW. My complaints hold true — visibility isn't great and it's expensive for what you get — but it's a hell of a lot of fun and not nearly as punishing as I expected. The ride was pretty compliant on Detroit's moon-cratered streets, even with our tester's 17-inch wheels. It was firm, sure, but not nearly as bad as I'd heard. I wouldn't hesitate to daily one ... if it were about $10,000 less expensive.
Senior Editor, Green, John Beltz Snyder:
To speak a little more on the ride, it reminds me of standard Coopers from the late aughts. It's not uncomfortable, but It gets a bit chatty when you hit uneven pavement under lateral g forces. It feels slightly unstable, but super fun.
This JCW had a foam insert in one of the cupholders. Inside that was a little fob with a single button. Hold it down, and it puts the car into Track mode, which essentially makes the exhaust way more talkative. It'll really crackle and pop. There's a warning, though, that Track mode is reserved specifically for the track, and that "Use on public roads will invalidate vehicle approval." I take that to mean it's not up to emission standards, and I feel like nobody will heed that warning. It's also kind of weird that it's not actually attached to the car — it's removable, and connects via Bluetooth.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the cupholders do not accommodate a full-size 32-ounce Nalgene water bottle.
Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale: I'll quickly echo my colleagues opinions on the ride. It's firm but certainly livable. I think if I were going to pick a Mini for fun and daily driving, though, I'd go with the regular Cooper S for its more comfortable suspension and still-respectable 189 horsepower. That, and it costs less: the base models of the S and JCW differ by a full $6,000.
On the subject of price, as well as performance, the JCW looks like a bad value. For the low $30,000 price tag, you only get performance that matches the much cheaper VW GTI, and much less power than both versions of the Veloster N. But having spent a weekend in this thing, I can still see why someone would pick it, and it's because of its inherent playfulness. It's a darty, twitchy little thing. The front dives for corners, and the tail wants to wiggle like a puppy's tail. And despite only making 228 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, there's a fair amount of torque steer compared with its rivals. All of this might not be beneficial for outright speed and cornering, but they make it a blast around town A little more front-end grip would be nice, though. Heavy throttle application in both straight lines and around corners would always result in a furiously flashing traction control light.
I love the exhaust on this car, too. I believe the reason the button for the flap is removable is so that you can attach it to your keychain if you want, thereby freeing up your cupholder. It's a little bulky for that, but it's possible. But it's a lovely feeling button that feels a bit like a detonator, which is fitting considering the incredibly loud bangs that result from pressing it. While it says it's for track use only, it seemed to be quiet enough you could use it on busy streets during the day. Your neighbors might be annoyed by it late at night or early in the morning, but that's why you have the button, so you can switch it off as easily as you turn it on.
Assistant Editor Zac Palmer: I'll echo what everyone else has said about how fun the JCW is to drive. It'll rotate surprisingly easily when pushed, and it's just fun to fling about in general. However, we had the JCW Knights Edition, which adds a whole bunch of stuff. Customization is core to what Mini is as a brand, and this particular fighter is a great example of that.
It's amusingly easy to pick the car out in a parking lot (assuming it's not shielded by massive trucks and SUVs) due to the black, silver and red color scheme. All Knights Editions get the black base coat paint with silver on the roof, mirrors and hood decal. Then there are some racy door decals and blacked out badging and exterior trim that looks the business. I think it makes for a perfectly immature car, which is only exacerbated by the constantly crackling exhaust that also comes standard on the Knights.
Is the extra cost for all the fun graphics and paint worth it? If you're a Mini fanatic, it totally is. If you're somebody who just wants a fun, fast hatch, go with a standard JCW or anything else in the competitive set. Or better yet, take a spin through Mini's configurator and customize one yourself. Nobody else offers this level of customizability at the price point that Mini sells its cars, and the Knights Edition is just a great example of what you could ultimately do.