MF Review: MINI JCW Coupe vs BMW 1 Series M Coupe

We’ve reviewed the JCW Coupe in prototype and final form both on the track and on the street. But how does the Coupe stack-up against the best at the top-end and low-end of its pricing? To answer that question we assembled two of the highest acclaimed cars in their respective segments. On the high-end (weighing in at $52k tested) is the BMW 1 Series M Coupe. And on the low-end the $26k Fiat 500 Abarth. Today we start with the BMW.

Let’s be honest. The JCW Coupe doesn’t win this comparison in performance. Nor does it win on utility – no matter how big the trunk is. Nor value (used 1M prices are anywhere from 15-20k higher than original MSRP). Yet after driving the JCW coupe back to back for the past week with a BMW 1M I’ll be damned if it doesn’t hold its own on a couple of fronts.

First let’s talk about how it unequivocally falls short; performance. The JCW Coupe is a fast car in most respects but it’s quickly humbled by the 1M in almost every category. And with about $17k separating based models it makes sense. Still the comparison is an interesting one in that the R58 JCW is the pinnacle (until the new GP) of the MINI line. The 1M on the other hand is the entry into the M range originally priced (before quicly selling out) at $47k. It’s as fast (or faster) than the M3 and offers less while giving the driver a more raw experience. So we have two ends of the spectrum that almost overlap. Which should you pine over – if any?

At our sister site BimmerFile we’ve already reviewed the 1M and called it an instant classic. Perhaps one of the best M cars ever created was our conclusion after our first drive.

The MINI Coupe on the other hand has had positive reviews but has left more than a few journalists asking “why?” Many have been caught up in it weighing 20 lbs more than the hatch and not having a clear reason to exist other than style. But the reality is that the Coupe has a weight distribution that allows for greater weight transfer and almost unbelievably aggressive lift-off oversteer. If the 1M is an outrageous bulldog of a rear wheel drive car, the JCW Coupe is the front wheel drive equivalent. It’s almost shocking how ragged it can feel at times. A good thing in this age of sanitized driving excitement.

In fact one could say that, for the past 6-7 years MINI has worked on making its cars feel more sophisticated and more refined. The JCW Coupe undoes it all in the best ways.

So how do they compare? When it comes to performance, the truth is not well. Of course the 1M trounces the JCW in power. But it’s the biblical amount of torque from the 1M the moment you dig into the throttle that defines the initial experience. The result of this is 1M being almost 2 seconds faster to 60 mph than the JCW (4.2 vs 6.0). However, more than that it’s the 30-50mph in 3rd/4th at 2.4/3.3 sec that devastates the JCW. And it’s not just the MINI but it devastates almost any car and even matches the Nissan GTR Black Edition for 3rd/4th gear acceleration. But where the 1M has the JCW in both acceleration and grip, the Coupe fights back in reaction and nimbleness. At 2700 lbs the JCW Coupe is over 500 lbs lighter than the 1M. That means quicker direction changes and all-around quicker reflexes.

500 lbs is something you feel in every movement. And that gives the MINI a quick and almost darty feel. This is a car that is not refined. And as much as the 1M has been billed as the hooligan BMW, it doesn’t get close to the JCW Coupe in ability to change direction at a flick of the wrist.

All of this means the JCW Coupe is immediately entertaining – a crown the 1M also wears proudly within the M product line-up. But as accessible as the performance (and fun) of the 1M is, the JCW Coupe is even more so. Couple this with front tires that struggle to contain the torque of the N14 and the most pronounced lift-off oversteer of any car I’ve ever driven and you have an incredibly entertaining package at the limit. Or you could call it flawed package at the limit but I think that’s missing the point of the car.

Which one wins? You don’t think a $35,000 front wheel drive MINI could overcome what is perhaps the most pure BMW M car from the past 20 years did you? If the 1M was just about the engine it would almost lose this battle. But the reality is that the chassis, brakes, suspension and stability control (MDM) is not just slightly better than the JCW but in another league entirely. Every input has more feel and better response. And every reaction it gives to a driver’s input comes with so much satisfaction that you just want more and more.

The JCW Coupe comes up second to an extraordinary car. But in reality it holds its own as a tool for driver enjoyment and fun. The combination of the low-slung style and overall eagerness of the package makes this MINI the ultimate expression of the modern MINI Go-kart mentality. Yes the Coupe fulfills the promise of being the most driver oriented MINI sold.

The JCW Coupe (like the M Coupe) is meant to be the hooligan of its respective line. It’s a throw-back to the days of cars that weren’t sanitized for the lowest common denominator. Instead they were made by men and women who wanted to make a statement for the brand and create a car that they themselves wanted to drive. With the JCW Coupe and M Coupe, MINI and BMW have done just that.

  • JohnPC

    This article really wants to make me drive both!

  • Dylan Bland

    I drove the JCW coupe back to back with a 1M this weekend just gone and was immediately disappointed by the JCW. It wasn’t fast, the gear shift felt more vague, it didn’t have great grip and overall felt less tight and direct. No doubt it is more “fun” at low speed around town (in the 1M everything is over too quickly and you end up going way too fast) but the 1M is a better car in every way and there’s no real comparison. Apples and oranges IMHO.

  • BimmerFile_Michael

    And this is why the GP line needs to exist.

    There should not be such a gap from the best JCW to the lowest M (no offense to the 1M- that is what it is). That is an untapped market within the BMW Group.

    The best thing about the 1M- you drive it and enjoy it while it increases in value… Doesn’t get better than that.

    • Chris Underwood

       Does BMW plan to offer a larger quantity of 1Ms next year (i.e. did they just underestimate demand this year) or to keep supply so far under demand?  Can see that value anomaly going away fast once people can get their hands on a new 1M at the dealer.

      I have to wonder, even if performance between a GP MINI and a 1M were identical (or, for the sake of argument, even tilted in the MINI’s favor), what percentage of 1M buyers would consider the MINI.  I know some folks who are buying the car for its performance and not just the badge would cross over, but what percentage do they make up vs. the percentage of BMW owners who wouldn’t “lower themselves” to buying a MINI…?

      How many more / less would they sell if they offered a FWD 1M with virtually the same performance and build quality as the GP but for a couple of thousand dollars more?

      Not an argument that the GP shouldn’t exist or that it won’t fill a niche, just curious how much of the “untapped market” you describe the GP will accommodate.  I’m sure BMW have considered these things – will be interesting to see how that plays out once the cars are on the same platform(s).

      • BimmerFile_Michael

        The 1M was a limited run product based on the 1 Series Coupe, which will be ending production shortly. It was limited by design and production was up 60% at the end more than the original target.

        The US will only see coupes. The UKL platform based Front wheel drive BMW will more than likely not be an M product, the spin off Z2 roadster is a different discussion. The replacement for the 1 Series Coupe will be rebadged a “2” series and thus an M2 will be born, there will be nothing really shared with MINI and that platform- based on the less than year old F20 BMW 1 Series.

    • lavardera

      wouldn’t the M editions 1 series cars (that are not coming to the US) do the same thing?

      The use of the brands is sloppy. At BMW you standard BMWs, and you have M cars, and in between you have standard BMWs tuned by M.

      At Mini we have Standard Mini’s, JCW Mini’s, and Standard Mini’s with JCW tuning kits. And on top of that we now add GP JCW Minis, formerly a special edition, now a 4th variation? What will they call special editions then in the future?

      It would have been cleaner, and closer to the BMW – M example if they simply stepped up the performance of the JCW models, left the GP as a special edition, and had the JCW tuning kits in the middle.

      And it probably would have kept all the die hard fans happier as well.

      • JbkONE

         Agree.  I wonder if the current JCW doesn’t have more power because the engineers don’t think the engine is up to it and it’s not worth engineering another engine to fit.  Though that could be changed for the F56.  Having the S, S w/ JCW kit, and JCW so close in performance isn’t doing MINI any good IMO.  They don’t need a GP above JCW, they need JCW to move up.

        • lavardera

          No, that’s definitely not it as there are production versions of the engine that run into the low 200hp range and endurance racing versions of the engine at over 300. Michael can speak to that, this is all by design.

          And I’d have to say its not the HP, but the total package that I’m talking about above.

        • BimmerFile_Michael

          JCW can’t move up now- it has already been watered down and that is the issue. 

          Let’s look at Porsche (I know there are more versions but for simplification) 

          911 911 s 911 turbo 911 turbo s 911 GT3 911 GT3 RS

          There is a step up for each level, that is what the GP really is for the JCW- a step up. 

          cooper cooper s Cooper S JCW Cooper S JCW GP

      • BimmerFile_Michael

        Current BMW

        Base M Sport Port/Dealer installed “M Performance” parts M Performance/ IS M M Limted runs/ CRT/GTS etc.

        Current MINI

        Base MC MCS Dealer installed JCW Kit JCW GP (Limited Run)

        The underlying issue here is that JCW became a brand to get mass appeal. The GP line will remain limited but not as limited as before, and they can still do limited run cars within the line of GP. M started out as limited as well but grew into its own portfolio. M now makes a variety of more hardcore offerings in limited runs. 

    • Bob Hayhurst

      What you said. 

      What I like best about the 1M is that you’re getting the whole package. Awesome performance; beautiful, beautiful styling (the ass end of the car is to die for); great suspension and that wonderful motor all wrapped up in the perfect size car. I mean really, what more could you ask for? 

      As for the GP, it’s suspension and handling will be it’s strong point.  After seeing it at MTTS this year, we may be looking at MINI number 4…

  • Dr Obnxs

    After flogging the Coupe (both S and JCWs), I like them more than I thought, but not the car for me. Yeah, they are a bit more fun to drive in stock form than a 3 door hatch, but not tons. And all that utility given up for the marginal improvement isn’t a value equation that works for me. For some it does and that’s all fine and good, but it will never sell in hatch numbers, nor will it sell in Miata (heck, even BRZ) numbers either.

    But all of the small MINIs do share that “fun to drive” quotient, even at low speeds, that many a car lack, at even really high price points. That is the key to the car. In that regard, it does it’s job well.

  • Vickt

    I don’t think the JCW (Hatch at least) even beats the 128i… We have a 2012 JCW Hatch now and if we could do it again, would probably have just gotten another 128i.  The JCW is a great car, but it can’t compete with RWD + silky smooth 6 cylinder. We prefer the solid heft of the BMW, and the shifting feels a bit better too. It’s also nitpicky but the M sport steering wheel blows away the JCW one… Might have to get another 128i next year before the NA 6 goes extinct.

  • JonPD

    Have not had enough time in the 1M to make claims about the balance between them. Lets just say lets hope that BMW managed driving feel and a clutch that is not an embarrassment. Love my JCW Coupe but it has huge flaws imo.

    • I have honestly never understood any critic of the R5X MINI clutch. It’s so much easier modulated than the previous cars and light-years better than something like the 500 Abarth. Is it as good as the 1M – absolutely not. But it easily qualifies as “good” in my hard to please mind.

      • JonPD

         I have always found the Gen 2 clutches to be vague at best. The engagement point is abnormally high. While my leg has enough ability to work around it its a nuisance to me personally. The steering (especially with the “sport” button pressed) is my largest disappointment with the car. Its a sad statement when I can say with confidence that with the sport button depressed in the coupe its less predictable than my Jeep Rubicon with mud tires (which holds the lane better shockingly).

        • Just sticking the clutch (the steering is a long conversation best had elsewhere) I find the R53 set-up almost shocking coming back to it these days. The R56 engagement point is higher but frankly it’s more forgiving and (I think) allows for smoother driving. 

          But all that is wasted if you’re used to the R53 set-up. I mean how much of it comes down to just what you know? 

      • Kev50027

        I went from a 05′ Z4 3.0 to a 11′ MCS, and I can attest that manual BMWs are easier and more enjoyable to drive.  It’s far harder to shift smoothly regardless of RPM in my MINI than it was the Z4, it almost feels like the syncro isn’t doing its job.

        I love my MINI, but driving it around town is definitely more of a pain than driving any of the other BMW manuals my family members have had, from a ’93 325 to a 01′ M3 and 04′ M5.  The clutch doesn’t engage as smoothly as it should, it’s as simple as that.

  • Piperbud

    I have not driven the 1M. I have driven the standard issue manual 128i. The feel of he car is quite favorable and hearkens back to the much smaller (and arguably) “quintessential” BMW models like the 2002 Tii and original 3 series. It obviously captured the ardor of many BMW enthusiasts and caught many off guard considering the model’s fast sellout.

    I think the 2006 MINI GP did the same thing. It is debatable whether the latest GP will generate the same level of attraction among MINI enthusiasts, but hopefully it will possess enough performance and design distinction to justify its relatively high cost.

    The Coupe is another story. Despite its crisp performance, it fails to capture my enthusiasm for myriad reasons — the biggest being my preference fro traditional design. I’m still cheering for the JCW “D” to land on our shores.

  • Piperbud

    Both MINI and BMW offer a range of models of varying size and utility. Aside from status and performance, the one thing– namely 1M, that recently gives BMW the most authentic vehicle value is scale. Be nice if MINI would catch on and follow its parental example by producing something like the Rocketman concept vehicle. VW had the right idea decades ago (and profited tremendously) by “thinking small.”

  • My vanity plate has been validated  “OOLIGAN”

  • DC

    When the Clubman was introduced I wasn’t a fan of the styling, but it grew on me and I ended up loving it, so much so that I bought a JCW Clubman. Sadly, I can’t say the same for the Coupe’s styling. However, for as much criticism as the JCWs, the engine is absolutely fantastic! There are faster cars for the money but few can match the fun you can have (at legal speeds) as a JCW, especially if you live in a city. And the exhaust burble/pop is addicting. I’d love a 1M but very few people can or ever will have the privilege of owning one. Whether it’s the coupe, hatch or clubman, a JCW is the next best thing!