I have been looking forward to this day since the new F56 Mini Cooper and Cooper S were launched last year (reviewed here) and being a R56 Mini John Cooper Works owner for 2 years, was intrigued how the new model would fare.
Mini Middle East kindly invited myself and some Mini Club Dubai members to test drive the new JCW at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi over two courses, one of the north circuit and the other a more twisting agility type course around cones.
Here’s my 2013 R56 Mini John Cooper Works in British Racing Green with the new F56 JCW above. Rear profile below
The JCW will only be available in 3 door form not 5 door, though there is a JCW Performance Tuning option for the 3 door F56 and 5 door F55 Cooper S owners out there. Sadly the 210 Mini Challenge version wont be coming to the Middle East.
The changes from the F56 Cooper S are quite major, 228bhp up from 189bhp in the S and 20bhp more than the R56 JCW, with a 0-100kph time of 6.1 secs for the auto box which we drove at Yas. Manuals do not sell particularly well here in the Middle East, quite the opposite in the UK for sure.
The manual box has a 0-100kph time of 6.3 secs though and will be available soon, as Mini wanted more time to develop it and their larger markets are mainly Auto. As in the new Cooper S, the flappy paddles have been changed from the R56. The left one to change down and the right to change up. It easy to use and certainly responsive.
The new intercooler and tweeked new turbocharger and sports exhaust make a significant difference and we had the opportunity to drive the S again before the JCW which made an interesting comparison.
Other specs include the the optional adaptive dampers which is an option I would pay for having driven the F56 Cooper S with and without them last year, the uprated 4 pot Brembo brakes are standard and much needed as well, slowing the JCW well under hard braking on the main straight down from 170kph.
Other specs and details I covered in the F56 review including the optional Head Up display, Sat Nav, LED lights etc. The Alcantara bucket seats are great and a lot more comfortable than the standard leather ones in my R56 with the adjustable bolster under your thighs providing good support.
Looks wise, I think it’s a step up from the Cooper S with a far more aggressive jutting profile, albeit it would be even better with the optional JCW Pro Splitters. Revised front spoilers which delete the fogs for extra cooling, side skirts and rear bumper/spoiler are also available as kit options for the standard Cooper S.
Wheels options are 17″ and 18″, the latter I think fill the arches better (see above) though will affect the ride of course. Sits a little high as well I reckon.
Colour options include the new Rebel Green as well as British Racing Green, Chilli Red, Lapis Luxury Blue (above), White Silver, Midnight Black, Electric Blue, Volcanic Orange and a few others.
So onto the driving fun. We had two courses to drive, first up was the North Circuit of Yas Marina which includes part of the main straight and start/finish straight, swapping between the Cooper S and JCW.
After a quick driver’s briefing and rules of the convoy and driver changes, we grabbed our helmets and jumped into either the Cooper S or JCW. I elected to remind myself of the Cooper S first.
After a few laps around the course with some hard braking and accelerating (with much encouragement over the radios from the Mini Instructor in the lead car) we pulled up on the main start/finish straight to swap drivers and cars.
I chose the green one of course. Traction control was on (we had no choice) and Sport Mode engaged. Music off. The JCW was a big step up from the Cooper S, with the auto box changes through the paddles very smooth with the increased torque and power evident. The electronic differential really kicking in to transfer the power well.
It’s certainly agile enough, easily managing the faster bends at speed and clipping those apexes, with the Brembos coming into good effect for sure on the back straight. The newer freeflowing sports exhaust popping and crackling on the overruns similar to my JCW.
Next up was the agility course, which was marked by cones towards the Eastern Hairpin. Again we drove around in convoy to familiarize ourselves with the course and then jumped in the JCW for a timed lap.
Here’s where I messed up and overcooked the second corner and went the wrong way round a cone resulting a dire 31 second time.
Winner was Yaquob from Mini Club Dubai in 28.06 seconds. I had another attempt after (which wouldn’t count) and managed 27 seconds. Damn! Getting around the cones at speed was serious fun and the new Mini managed it well, with occasional drifts and a slightly loose rear end. Next up was drag racing down the main straight.
I went for 4 wins from 4 which wasn’t bad and managed to get a few panning shots done whilst the others had a go.
Then it was back to the pits and a few awards and photos from the Mini Middle East team. So here’s the thing what did I think? Did the new Mini John Cooper Works live up to expectations? Yes and no.
The new F56 John Cooper Works is a great car and in terms of driving fun there’s not a lot out there to match it in this class of car. But this experience comes with a premium price tag of around 186,000 AED (32,000 Pounds ish with most options chosen). Yes it is loaded to the brim with technology, gadgets and options that you would find in more upmarket cars, but that is a large sum of money. A new VW Golf R is cheaper and GTI a third cheaper.
Here the JCW will sell well I’m sure, (the initial stock allocation to the UAE is nearly sold already!) due to the relatively low cost of running a sports car like it, with cheap fuel and insurance compared to the UK where insurance premiums are significantly higher. ( I was quoted over 4000 pounds for fully comprehensive insurance for a 43 year old driving a JCW in Portsmouth, compared to 517 pounds I pay here)
When I compare it to my own 2013 Mini JCW, my seventh Mini, (3 BMW Minis and 4 original Minis) it is clearly more technologically advanced with more driving aids, increased power, more refinement, far better seats/interior detail and retains most if not all the same driving excitement. My only gripe is that I felt it was heavier and less grippy at times ( though that was probably due to the poor tyre choice for the demo cars, which on their third day of track work were probably on their last legs). I know that sounds weird because the new JCW has tons of grip and tech and it handles amazingly compared to many cars, it just felt heavy to me, especially jumping into my R56 JCW to go home. With all that refinement, it is less Mini inside and even more BMW and that’s what’s amounting to an expensive hot hatch that unless you have the money or you are a die hard Mini owner, you will probably use that cash elsewhere, which is a shame.
If I didn’t already own a Mini JCW I would buy this version as I am a Mini fanatic. If I had never owned a Mini before and was considering the new JCW now and you could afford it, you’d get a hell of a car which will put a grin on your face every time you flick that starter switch and your foot goes to floor.
At the moment for me, no, maybe in 2-3 years time when my current Mini gets a bit weary with age (and the finance has cleared) and after a couple of model revisions/updates maybe I’ll change my mind, and there maybe a GP3 in the future to consider?
Big thanks to Mini Middle East for the invite and the team at Abu Dhabi Motors.