Today we go in-depth with the 2016 JCW MINI. However if you’d like to take a step back and read something a bit more high level first, head over to our appropriately named [High Level Review](http://www.motoringfile.com/2015/07/26/2015-mini-jcw-press-event-day-2-high-level-review/) of the car, which Alex published yesterday. Now, read on for our first take of the new MINI JCW in both auto and manual forms.
The F56 MINI JCW is the most complete performance product the brand has ever created. That was the revelation I had as I was thundering up a long stretch of two lane highway in 3rd gear. The suspension calibration, the engine’s constant onslaught to torque and the measured feedback flowing through the wheel, gear lever, throttle, and brake pedals make the new JCW rewarding in the best sense of the word.
The revised 228hp 2.0L four cylinder finally takes the JCW brand where we’ve all wanted it to go. From a stop, it’s now possible to lose traction going from 1st to 2nd, 2nd to 3rd and yes, even 3rd to 4th. But forget the numbers for a second. It’s the responsiveness of the engine throughout the rev range that makes this JCW so different than anything that came before it. It makes sense given the fact that this is a 2.0L of course. But the quality of feedback is such that the JCW doesn’t just feel fast. It feels like a premium product that has been expertly engineered and designed to be exactly what it is – the fastest MINI you can buy. As much as we’ve loved previous JCW products, none of them feel nearly this thorough in execution and as satisfying in overall driving experience.
According to MINI the starting point was really around the brakes. Developed by Brembo, they actually define the width of the car. Because the calipers are so large, the wheels have to be wider and thus the fender flares slightly extended. The result is a noticeable increase in stopping power, pedal feel, and a reduction of fade on the track.
And yes, they are excellent. Great feel and very fade resistant, the four pots front brakes are as good as the six pots on the previous R56 GP but with less weight.
Braking performance doesn’t define the JCW however. If there’s one thing that dominates the car, it is the 228 hp and 236 ft-lbs being produced by the 2.0L B48 under the hood. Originally MINI would have us believe that there were minor tweaks to achieve the 37hp increase over the Cooper S. Not the case. The biggest difference to the engine is the turbo charger which was specifically developed for the engine and produces more boost throughout the range. Part and parcel with the turbocharger is the revised piston design with a new top end that is almost hemispheric in design. Yes, you could theoretically call the JCW B48 a “hemi.” It’s all done in the name of lowering pressure to go along with that increase in boost.
In total coatings, materials, and subtle design tweaks elsewhere all add up to an engine that can easily handle the output and the extra heat generated.
How does it compare to the B48 under the hood of the Cooper S you ask? Pretty well. From the moment you start, the immediate rev of the engine and sound coming from the exhaust make it clear that MINI had more sporting intentions here. And from the moment you put your foot down, it’s obvious that the JCW is a thoroughly faster car. Yet the real trick isn’t 0-60 times but the ability for the heavily revised B48 to pull in every gear all the way to redline. This car feels like MINI’s version of the BMW M235i – a car that continually surprises you with its ability to generate power at any time in the rev range.
That sound though. Like the M235i, that’s the thing that gets stuck in your memory with the JCW. Where the previous 1.6L JCW power plant had a wonderful frenetic quality to it at full bore, the new 2.0L B48 thunders with authority to redline. Comparing the two it’s a more pleasing sound that immediately strikes me as more aggressive and clearly more powerful. And that’s the stock exhaust. The JCW Pro exhaust has even more nuance to the rumble along with more volume. Crucially neither are tiring or drone at highway speeds. In short MINI sweated the details on both employing active sound and some fine tuning to the engine and exhaust. The result is simply the best engine note we’ve ever heard from the brand.
So it brakes exceptionally, goes fast and sounds fantastic. Does it feel like a MINI? More succinctly how does it handle? The adaptive suspension on the JCWs we tested is (according to MINI) the same exact spec as the one that you can get on the Cooper S. The only exclusive suspension is the standard (and passive) sport suspension that is actually 20% stiffer than the adaptive option. We know how that feels since we have it on our long term Cooper S test car. But for 2015 MINI has made the sport suspension exclusive to the JCW, effectively positioning the JCW as the most hardcore model if that’s the way you want to spec it.
So we know how it feels. And we know how the adaptive option feels. That is to say they are both excellent setups that are better judged than anything that has come before it on MINIs. The compliance is the real surprise though only let down with the standard runflats. The 18” runflats on the cars we tested, while miles better than previous 18” runflats, add noise and harshness to an otherwise much improved ride. Our recommendation would be to run them hard and replace them quickly with standard tires.
Yes the JCW feels every bit of a MINI. Compared to a car like the GTI, this is where the MINI excels. Quick turn in and (gasp) real steering feel dominates the experience without creating a tiresome encounter like you might have had with the R53 or R56 JCWs.
Inside MINI has added a number of exclusive features (standard and optional) that are unique to the brand. However one unique feature that immediately stole my heart was the new JCW Sport seats. Finished in either Dinamica and leather or Dinamica and cloth (the latter is free and better looking), the seats have been tailored to provide more support experience during aggressive driving. That said, Alex is right when he reports they’re not bolstered quite enough for the average size, relatively fit person. What they’re clearly missing is electronically adjustable bolstering found in BMWs with sport seats. While cost considerations kills that concept this time around, these are still the best seats MINI currently offers and match the JCW’s character well.
Over the course of our time with the 2016 JCW we drove both the auto and manual option. We’re not going to pull any punches here. As much as the auto has been improved (and it is rather good) there is no question which one wins our hearts. The manual with rev matching adds a wonderfully visceral quality to the JCW that suits the car so well. MINI has always been an underdog. And part of that underdog experience is rowing the gears to manufacture power and punch above the weight of the car. But with the JCW fiercely rowing those gears gives you gobs of power and torque that along with a satisfying interaction with what feels like the very heart of the car. In short there’s only one way to spec the JCW in our minds. And that’s with a third pedal.
This is not a perfect car mind you. The runflats continue to be unfortunate and the size of that nose (dictated by EU governments or not) is a little more pronounced than some of us would like. But there is so much to love about the 2016 MINI JCW. The combination of performance, feedback and daily livability makes it simply the best MINI has created to date. For those wondering if the $30,600 base price is worth it, just look at what it replaces. This new JCW offers 20 hp for $500 extra. Plus new technology, safety equipment, and improvements mentioned here. We believe the real competition is the MINI Cooper S itself. Costing $6,500 less, the current Cooper S is an outstanding feat in almost every aspect. Yet the new JCW makes the case for itself the second you hear the engine fire up, depress the clutch and move away. It immediately feels special without feeling tiring. This is a car that brings a new level of total performance to the MINI brand while not eschewing an ounce of the technologies or refinement we’ve come to expect in modern cars.
Our day with the JCW ended as many of my days seem to lately, speeding to the airport. I had two hours to get from eastern upstate New York to the Hartford Connecticut airport. Time was tight and the pre-check Gods had not smiled on me that day. Yet I couldn’t help but make the potentially disastrous choice of turning off the highway and onto the epic country roads of the area. Such is the allure of the JCW and its driving experience that I simply had no choice. This is a car that begs to be driven properly and enjoyed fully. And I had no choice but to obey.