The 2015 MINI John Cooper Works Hardtop delivers on its promise of cart-like handling, strong acceleration, and a thrilling ride.This is the MINI for the folks that want to go racing. They may or may not ever do it, but they want a car that can go if the opportunity arises. The MINI JCW is no poser. It looks like fun, and it is, whether you are pushing it around hard, or just driving normally, this car is always a pleasure to be driving. This comes with some trade-offs, but none that will surprise you.
Like all MINIs I have driven, even the base cars with an automatic transmission, this John Cooper Works (JCW) version feels like a go-cart. That is both good and not so good. Around town it zips and darts and you feel like you can do amazing things with the car. It is so easy to steer and turn you wonder if you have been spoiled forever and if normal cars will every be tolerable again. Then you hit the first small pothole, and the car feels like it just broke a connecting rod and spring. You then hit a medium-sized road imperfection, and you pull off to look for damage. The car is so rigid you don’t hear any squeaks or rattles, but the firmness of this car is race-car hard. Here in the snow belt of New England it is hard to imagine this as a daily driver in late winter and early spring. So don’t. Imagine it on a sunny day on back-roads.
The drivetrain is fantastic. My car was equipped with the six-speed manual transmission. I cannot imagine this car any other way. The stick is not a short-throw stubby, but a proper, almost old-school, knob on the end of a rod. Unlike Mazda Miatas and other great sticks, this one has a fluid feel, and I preferred it. The most interesting feature is an automatic rev-matching, which was first available on the Nissan 370Z, and is now on many sports cars. Unlike the 370Z though, there is no obvious way to shut it off. Some suggest that shutting off the DSC will do the trick. However, I don’t shut off DSC on front-drive road-cars (ever). I loved the rev-matching 90% of the time. However, I do like to match revs with throttle blips when I slow for corners, and this precludes that. If you are a heel-toe fan, you should look more deeply into this. The upside is that every down shift is perfect as you slow for a corner or when traffic slows.
The engine of the 2015 JCW is absolutely ideally matched to the car. With 2.0-liters of turbocharged punch, the JCW always has torque, and if you drive it with vigor, it has zero lag. Due to its size the car feels super-fast. In actual testing, it is not. Zero to 60 MPH takes a little over six seconds. That means this car is a tad slower than a 2016 Mazda Miata. Shocking, but true. The Golf GTI is also faster. More on that in a minute. With 228 hp and abundant torque, it is very hard to find a space on a real road to stretch this cars legs. It is so punchy that if you floor first and second you are already way past legal. However, there is more to this car than that. I found this JCW to be an excellent around town car because it has enough torque to pull you from a slow roll away from a stop. So it is not a hassle like a Mazda3 which wants to use first gear if you come to a near stop at a corner. Also, one can just cruise and skip gears. If a little road opens up, you always have enough extra pull in your cruising gear to dip the throttle and get a wonderful wave of torque to warp the car ahead.
Inside, the 2015 MINI JCW has racing-snug seats. I loved them, but you should try these on. The side bolsters are very thick. They hug you. The wheel is a work of art, thick and great to hold. As mentioned above the stick shift is also perfect. However, for my six-foot frame, the center arm-rest was in the way of shifting, so I had to put it up. It makes the car a little uncomfortable.
On the other side, the top of door is perfect for a left arm to rest upon. Like all MINIs, this one has well-managed wind when both huge side windows are open. One bummer was the all-black interior with its baseball-cap style roof. In the MINI, the roof comes way out ahead of your face, so you feel confined. MINI offers a convertible JCW, and I cannot imagine why anyone would buy the coupe unless they were really going racing. Often.
The infotainment system has a center stack rotary mouse that drove me nuts. All the functionality is in there someplace. Good luck finding it. A touch-screen would have been worlds better, particularly since the screen is right there at one’s fingertips.
Overall, this MINI is everything you hope for. However, having just tested the Volkswagen Golf GTI, if you are going to live with just one car, you should do yourself a favor and consider that seriously. If you want a back-roads touring car, the Mazda Miata also beckons. But, if you want a slot-car with an amazing engine and perfect stick to blast around in or race, the 2015 MINI JCW is perhaps the best car of its type.
2015 MINI John Cooper Works Hardtop
Base Price: $30,600
Price As Tested: $37,000
Powerful, Torquey Engine
Bunker-like Feel Inside
No Off-button For Rev-matching
Too Firm For All-year Use In Snow Belt