Chameleons, amongst other reptiles, have an intrinsic quality. They are able to change colours, basis the environment outside to camouflage themselves. This helps them to mostly go unnoticed in most of the situations.
Now hold on, why am I even telling you this? And what does it have anything to do with the car that I just reviewed? Which is the iconic Mini Cooper, and not just any regular Mini Cooper, but Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works (JCW) version, which is tuned towards performance. Is it a Chameleon then, and if it is, then in what sense? But before I tell you that, let’s look at how this cute little iconic car suits your garage.
BMW retails the Mini Cooper S JCW variant for an ex-showroom price of almost 44 lacs in India. Many of you will say, woah, for that kinda money, you can get Audi A3 for sure, Audi A4, if you haggle a bit, BMW’s X1, Mercedes-Benz CLA’s, or heck, if you go one level down, then Skoda’s phenomenal product the Superb, which indeed is Superb.
Then why buy a Mini, which barely is a four seater, can seat 2 with utmost comfort, and rest 2 in utmost discomfort, misses onsome of the goodies that even the cars two segments below today get, and definitely cannot be your “ONLY” car.
Well, buy a Mini Cooper S JCW, if you want attention at every signal. While you are focused on the red to become green, others around are focused on you. Buy if you love this kind of undiluted and pure attention. Buy Mini Cooper, if as a kid you grew up loving the go-karts. She handles and goes just like one, and comes with enormous power on tap too. Buy a Mini Cooper S JCW, if you want to feel like a racer boy, every time you depress brake to fire up the engine using the start stop button, as the engine fires up with a rumble, which excites you even when the car is standstill. Buy a Mini Cooper S JCW, because, its simply iconic and it’s an extension of who you are. But is this is it, or is there something more to it, before I tell you that, lets see why this Mini Cooper S JCW is Iconic.
So what makes this Mini Cooper S JCW Iconic, well for that we will have to briefly go to the history of the brand. Mini as a marque was founded in 1969. BMW acquired the brand in early 2000s when they acquired the Rover Group. The original Mini was a line of British small cars manufactured by the British Motor Corporation, which in 1966 became part of British Motor Holdings. This merged with Leyland Motors in 1968 to form British Leyland. In the 1980s, British Leyland was broken-up and in 1988 Rover Group, including Mini was acquired by British Aerospace. Then the Mini Models included Morris Mini-Minor, the Countryman, Moke, 1275GT and the Clubman. The performance versions of these models used the name Cooper, due to their then partnership with racing legend John Cooper.
Let’s look at the car at hand in detail now to understand, why you should splurge 45 odd lacs to buy one.
Design Language - Exteriors
Well, the actual Mini was actually Mini in size. But as times changed, Mini did outgrow in size yet didn’t swerve away from the typical Mini look. Being able to take a 50-odd year old design and tweak it in such a way that it fits in the modern world, while retaining some of that classical charm, is something very commendable. This is what makes a Mini look like a Mini without being too outdated or too futuristic. Talk about evolving with times yet sticking to the roots!
The shape of this Mini is slightly more rounded than the one it replaces, in order both to improve the car's aerodynamic efficiency and to enhance pedestrian protection in the event of accidents. It has a much longer overhang and higher bonnet. This latest model rides on BMW's all-new UKL platform that underpins the new BMW 2 Series Active Tourer.
Apart from what’s under-the-hood, one can easily tell apart a Cooper S from a JCW as the JCW gets quite a few tweaks on the outside. To start off with, the front grille sports a John Cooper Works badge instead of the S badge from the Cooper S. Also, the fog lamps in the front bumper have given way to vents, one of which feeds air to the intercooler, while the bottom air dam is said to have ducting to cool the brakes as well (not something the common eye would notice; but hey, wasn’t this meant for an enthusiast? What also adds to the sporty appeal of this hot hatch are the racing stripes finished in black with a subtle outline done up in red (talk about being subtle yet noticeable) and the contrasting roof help in establish this as a hot hatch apart from what’s under the hood.
The JCW can also be had with the optional 18-inch alloys but our test car had come fitted with 17-inch alloys and honestly 18-inchers is a bit too much if you intend to put this to a daily use since the ride with the 17’s was already bone-jarring.
The moment you walk to the side, you realise that the car isn’t short by any means. The car is long enough to make people realise its long footprint on the road. The stretch-out cabin without a sloping roof is what makes one distinguish a Mini in the sea of hatchbacks. Use of chrome on the side profile is restricted to the window-line and the grab handles. Don’t miss out on the John Cooper Works badges on the either sides of the fenders!
The Rear profile is where things get interesting for the ones who appreciate these minor details. I particularly loved the tail-lamps which are detailed with the elements from the design of The Union Flag which looks great. The chrome-line is also found under the rear windscreen making its presence felt in a not-so-loud matter. Chrome could’ve been given a miss in the JCW atleast! I’m glad that the usage is minimal. There’s a diffuser at the rear which houses both the rear fog-lamps and also the twin exhaust pipes in the centre which look dope. The top-most portion of the rear portion is adorned with a spoiler. Also watch out for the John Cooper Works badge which finds its place on the right hand side of the boot door.
Design Language- Interiors
While stepping-in, the doorsills remind you of what’s under-the-hood before mistaking it for a Cooper S. Once you step-in, it feels like a familiar sight minus a few bits which make you feel that you’re inside a JCW.
There’s this Mini-esque centre console with the i-Drive taking a prominent position at the top of the dash while the lower half of the dash house the controls for the Climate Control. What’s special about controls further lower down? There are proper switches to turn off Auto Hold, to turn off TSC and to turn the car into Sport Mode. The switches date back to the 60s and the 70s where the usage of buttons was limited. I particularly love the Start Stop Button which is also a switch like any other switch lower down the centre console in terms of functions. It’s a size bigger in comparison to the other switches and it falls right in place for your finger!
The lower half of the dash is finished in Chili Red while the front fascia of the passenger side of the dashboard again features a Union Flag which lights up beautifully in the night. The Steering wheel is great to hold and looks great with the contrast red stitching. The steering controls feel tactile to use and they offer a haptic feedback which feels good. There’s no modern-day Virtual Display. A retro Speedometer and a tachometer take its place instead and look the part inside the Mini. Space. Make no mistake, this is no Countryman where-in fitting 5-people is a breeze. It’s at best a 2-seater with 2-additional seats for your super-small kids. The front seats, however are Sport seats which are well contoured and well bolstered on the sides so they hold you in place while the Mini takes the toughest of the corners like nobody’s business.
In Car Entertainment
Mini Cooper S JCW comes with Harman Kardon Hi-Fi Audio System, featuring 12 high performance speakers and an eight-channel digital amplifier, that delivers 360 watts of crispsound, just like the one you expect from any Harmon Kardon Speakers. What helps here in Mini’s favour are the compact dimensions, hence the amount of travel for the sound is drastically reduced giving a fuller output.
What I found interesting was the iconic circular central instrument panel was surrounded by an LED ring offering a brilliant colour display in 6.5-inches. In connectivity options, bluetooth phone/audio connectivity comes as standard. The Radio MINI Visual Boost with touch functionality including AUX-IN socket and USB interface is also a standard feature of the MINI John Cooper Works Hatch.
The optional MINI Wired package offers an 8.8 inch touch screen with Touchpad controller, MINI Find Mate with 2 Bluetooth tags, Navigation System Professional, MINI Connected XL, telephony with wireless charging and 2nd USB interface. Other infotainment options now include wireless Apple CarPlay along with MINI Radio Visual Boost + MINI Navigation or with MINI Wired Package.
Performance- Engine and Gearbox
The Mini Cooper S JCW that I was with me for review came with BMW’s tried and tested 2.0 litre 4 cylinder twin power turbo petrol engine, churning out 231 PS of power and 320 NM of torque. Fire the engine with uniquely placed start stop button on the dashboard, and the engine growls and rumbles to life, just as in any Sports Car, giving you a racer boy feeling instantly. Every time I cranked the car, I had that sheepish grin on my face and my eyes would lit up.
Whether in the city or out on the highway the engine feels at home, there is no dearth of power wherever you go. In city start stop traffic, however you have to cautious about the power on tap. It’s just explosive, especially if you have kept the car in Sport Mode. On couple of occasions, I ended up coming too close to the car in front of me. So ya, one has to be really careful.
Out there on the highways, what I particularly enjoyed was the way the engine rumbles, pops and farts at every gear change, and that sound is nothing less than anything but orgasmic. That probably is the right word for the auto enthusiasts in us.
To quickly brush on the gearbox, this engine is mated to BMW’s 8 speed steptronic gear box which complements the engine well. It does not feel mis calibrated no matter what you try to do with the car. Whether you are driving in the Eco or what Mini calls here, Green Mode or in the Sport Mode coupled with manual shifter, the gearbox is absolutely flawless. It always is in the right gear in the right time, just as you would expect in a go cart.
Performance- Ride, Handling & Drivability
I started by saying, this Mini Cooper rides and handles like a Go-Cart, and this one is a Go-Cart on Steroids. Now that’s a good thing as well as bad. Good because the car is sharp enough . Even if you make even the last minute adjustments and corrections to your steering inputs, the car will react. And this comes because of stiffly setup suspensions all around. Good thing to have, if you are driving on the country side roads, without potholes. But in situations like ours, well, definitely not a good thing to have, as every single undulation on the road surface filters in.
Compact dimensions of the Mini aid to its handling. It’s nimble yet direct and while being direct its fast.Owing to its size Mini is able to undertake lane change manoeuvres, seamlessly. And I’m sure, you must have guessed by now that driving the car in start stop traffic wouldn’t be a pain at all. What’s painful however is people craving for attention. The car seriously is a crowd puller. On couple of occasions, I had to stop the shoot, as people thronged along to have a look at the car and blurt- Aae Woh Dekh, Mini.
Mini comes with three distinct driving modes, and all three as different as cheese and chalk. MINI Driving Modes enable an individualised vehicle set-up focusing on ride comfort, sportiness or efficiency, according to the driver’s preference. In addition to the standard MID mode, there is a choice of SPORT and GREEN modes. Sport Mode sharpens the steering and acceleration for sportier, more agile handling. Sport also increases the sporty engine sound, which induces you to push the car harder and faster.
Green Mode, is completely opposite, the same Mini which was agile becomes docile, steering which felt sharp, now feels noticeably light, and sharp acceleration now becomes normal. The car goes in coasting mode, where even with minimum throttle inputs, the car continued to gain and keep the momentum, thus aiding to better fuel economy and range. I would highly recommend Green Mode in City bumper to bumper traffic to simply keep the revv’s under control.
Mid Mode, as the name suggests is a Mediator between enthusiastic Sport Mode and lack lustre Green Mode. While it definitely sharpens the different parameters, it does not bring it to the exciting level.
Considering how the engineers at Mini were able to make the same car docile when needed and agile when the need be, she definitely shows the characteristics of Chameleon, the reference that I had build at the start of the review. You are stuck in traffic, you have no where to go, everything around is moving at a snails pace, flick the car to Green Mode and she becomes one amongst others. However as the road starts to open up, and now you have kms after kms of free and open roads, fire up the Sport Mode and she roars, and moment she roars, everyone else gives her the way. That the chameleon for you, who can change the dynamics, basis the situation outside.
The verdict then, as I started by saying in the beginning, for the kind of the price point this Mini Cooper S JCW is available in India, well you can get multitude of options. All those cars, being bigger and better than the Mini in practicality, comfort and everyday usage quotient. Hence this Mini definitely can’t be your car in the garage, as there are limited things this car can do.
For example, you have your cousins coming over and you have to go to pick them up from the airport, at one time, either they can fit in the car or their luggage. Trying to put both of them together in the car at the same time, is going to get you not so comfortable faces at the end of the journey back home. Or say, you want to go out partying with your friends and now, there are 4 of them including you. Chances are the 2 friends, who volunteered to sit behind my be-friend you the moment you reach that pub or hotel that you had headed towards. For all these type of sojourns, you need that 3 Series, or the A4 or the X1 or the Superb in your garage. But then, if you already have the car, why another one and why Mini?
Well you live your life just once, and if you live your life just once, some of its part needs to be enjoyed. What the fun in winning those medals and cups if you are not having fun. And what’s that winning if you don’t enjoy it. Sure Mini looks expensive on the outside, but sit inside and fire her up, it growls and roars, as if it is wanting you to take her out for a spin right now. Come and stop at the signal, practically, everyone stares at the car. It has this sense of curiosity around it.Take her out on a weekend on the freeways, activate the sport mode and just let her roll, I guarantee you, you will not realise when and how did you end up covering large distance and all that while, you will be grinning sheepishly behind the wheel like a kid who has been handed over his favourite toffee. I did, coz on this occasion, I had the wild cat also in my garage for the review, and we shot both the cars same time, while driving up I drove the cat and while driving down, I grabbed the keys of Mini to get back that Wide Grin on my face- back.
And for you will live your life only once, Live it the Mini Cooper S JCW way, should you have the money.