Nov 14th, 2012
When the BMW X6 was introduced there was no one clamoring for a less functional, sportier version of the X5. Yet sales followed at a pace that made BMW look like geniuses, and other automakers took note. Now MINI has introduced its own crossover coupe in the MINI Paceman. Is the Paceman another answer to a question no one was asking? Or is it another brilliant move?
This was the question I kept asking myself from behind the wheel of the Paceman, and I got my answer. It came around mid-day, climbing into the Spanish mountains with the Mediterranean in full view. Corner after corner, our Cooper S test car made the case that the Countryman never quite proved — that a 3,000 lbs crossover has a right to wear the MINI badge.
Nov 11th, 2012
Our time on the test track with the GP was brief in the grand scheme of things. Ten laps. But you can learn a lot about a car (especially a car designed for the track) in ten hard laps on a tight well designed course. If you haven’t read our full review of the car, certainly check it out. However if you want a quick, seat of the pants look at the GP as I enjoyed my second stint behind the wheel at Circuito Mallorca RennArena, check out the video after the break.
Nov 9th, 2012
Six years ago a legend was born. MINI released the GP to a market that wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it. The stickers, the lack of rear seats, a big wing received more than a few sideways looks from critics (us included). Despite the skepticism, the GP performed better than any MINI ever had, and crucially for MINI, it sold. Along the way, the car changed opinions across the automotive world (us included). Driving was believing as this “parts bin” car seemed to transcend the status quo and take MINI driving back to it’s simplistic roots.
Fast forward six years and we have a new GP. One that looks the part but, like the original, has garnered mixed opinions among the motoring press and enthusiasts alike. The critics point at 211 hp, down three from the original, and a set of graphics that some call garish. Yet there are signs that MINI did this second generation JCW GP even more right this time. With a coil-over suspension and six-pot brakes up front, for example. So what kind of GP is this? We flew to Mallorca in Spain, to Circuito Mallorca RennArena, to answer that question and get the story behind it all.
Sep 3rd, 2012
Our first 12 days with MotoringFile’s long term JCW Roadster have been nothing but eventful. The first two trips (both to Road America) were spent top down and fully packed. From there it was daily commuting duty into and out of Chicago. Then just days later, we were off to western Michigan for a long weekend. Again, top down 100% of the time. In all, we’ve gotten to know our Roadster better and quicker than almost any other car we’ve tested. All of it. The exceptional? The not so exceptional? The questionable? What’s what? Read on.
Jul 16th, 2012
Sometimes journalists are wrong. As I sit here at an outdoor table, at a cafe in a particularly stylish spot in Chicago, I’m watching people do double takes as they walk by our black JCW Coupe and its red top. I’m on my second iced coffee and every reaction I’ve seen has been positive. I’ve seen stylish women pointing and little boys taking pictures.
In a neighborhood thick with Ferraris, Porsches and the like, this little car is clearly the most interesting thing on the streets. It’s moments like this that make me realize that jaded journalists should be the last people anointed as the automotive taste-makers. Could the R58 MINI Coupe be on a slow burn like the original BMW Z3 M Coupe? After spending a week with the car, I’m beginning to think so. In fact, I think the car’s production life-cycle will come and go before the grassroots ground swell of positive reaction hits its stride. This is a car that will get popular with time, and by the time this little black and red JCW finds its way into the hands of its second or third owner, the R58 will likely be spoken of in reverential terms. continued →
Jul 3rd, 2012
Ever since Fiat announced it was building an Abarth version of the 500, MINI owners have been raising their eyebrows. Sure, the basic 500 is a decent car but, as we found out last year, it simply doesn’t compare well to the MINI in either build quality or performance. Enter the Abarth — the car conceived to go head-to-head with the MINI Cooper S and (if you listen to Fiat) even the JCW. So instead of reviewing the 500 Abarth on its own, we took up Fiat’s JCW challenge. We threw it into the ring with the newly-release MINI JCW Coupe. Apples to oranges you say? There’s only one way to find out.
Righting the Wrongs of the 500
The Abarth addresses the 500′s lack of sporting credentials exactly as we’d hoped. First up, a revised engine revs quicker and higher. It’s built stronger too. Abarth also updated the transmission (an obvious issue with the standard 500) with a new five-speed that, with a 3.35 final drive ratio, makes for a quicker 0-60 time. Other driveline upgrades could have been made, but with only 170 ft lbs of twist, at least torque steer isn’t much of issue.
Then there’s the suspension. Revised Koni struts up front give the car a 40% stiffer spring rate and a 15mm drop. Both were desperately, desperately needed over the base 500. Larger constant velocity (CV) joints (53% stronger to be exact) also help deliver a better ride and control over the original car. Finally, the steering rack has bee quickened 10% to help solve some of the laziness we found in the 500 Sport we tested last year.
Sense a trend yet? The mad scientists at Abarth apparently shared some of our opinions when it came the stock 500. They’ve upgraded the Fiat to address the exact deficiencies we bemoaned last year. And we’ll be damned if they didn’t produced something very compelling.
Jun 18th, 2012
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?
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