We love manuals here at MF. But the 2016 JCW automatic stole our hearts on our recent New England road trip. Could the manual one-up it and once again prove that it was the definitive example of MINI’s gokart performance? Fresh from our road trip in the 2016 MINI JCW Auto, we were handed the keys to the JCW manual and given one week to find out.
Rebel green with a black roof, our manual JCW test car oozed aggressive sportiness. In fact such was the subtly of Rebel green that most assumed the car was black on black unless it was directly in the sun.
Inside the car was finished in the excellent JCW seats trimmed in leather and Dynamica. Truth be told we’d probably be ok with the no cost cloth/Dynamica option but the look of the optional seats is hard to argue with. One thing worth noting, the new JCW seats are more aggressively bolstered than before. That means if you’re a person who’s a little wider than average it might be a snug fit. Additionally there’s a little less foam in the bottom cushion which makes the seats slightly less spongy. After putting 1800 miles in two JCW in recent weeks I’m not I’d call them less comfortable than the standard seats, just less cushioned.
But we’re not here to talk colors or seats. We’re here to tell you about the manual transmission and if it’s still the best way to experience the JCW. A couple of years ago this wouldn’t even be a conversation. Choosing an auto with your JCW required excuses (some valid) that lead you take route of less involvement and ultimately less enjoyment. However the dramatically better 6 speed automatic (officially Gen III of the Aisin auto for those curious) now offered in the JCW has turned the tables.
It’s responsive, matches revs and comes complete with proper steering wheel paddles that MINI has solely lacked for years. And crucially it’s faster in a straight line and around the track. None of this should come as a surprised given the rapid advancements of automatics. What is a surprise is that MINI was able to do this with a transmission that is mechanically almost identical to what the JCW previously offered.
Where does this leave the manual? There’s a reason that MINI is aligning it’s brand (especially in the US) around the manual. It’s a tool for engagement and driver satisfaction. And nowhere is this more evident than in the 2016 MINI JCW.
Fundamentally this is the same manual found in the Cooper S. And that’s a good thing. While MINI has revised the software and some mechanical bits and pieces, the six speed in the JCW has the same satisfying action and reaction that you’ll find in any F56 manual. While it doesn’t quite rival an M car but it has in of the best engagements in its class. MINI has also paired the clutch well as its easily modulated (if a little light). All told it’s an incredibly satisfying part of the experience that quickly becomes essential to the character of the car.
The only hint of dissatisfaction I had during my time with the car was the engines speed to rev. Given that there’s more engine to motivate (remember MINI went from 1.6 to 2.0L in the F56 Cooper S and JCW) things take a fraction longer to climb the tach.
Does it feel slower than the auto? The numbers say yes but the seat of the pants says no. And a drivers a ability to get deeper engagement out of the engine makes it feel more rewarding.
What would I choose if I was writing the check? An automatic in the new Clubman or even Countryman makes sense. But as good as the automatic JCW is, it’s just a little less compelling of a drive than the manual. In other words if you’re going to throw the coin down for the ultimate MINI, we at MF think logical choice is the slower option.
Read more about our thoughts on the new F56 JCW in our initial review and our recent road trip in the JCW Automatic.