First Drive

2015 Mini JCW manual review

We've tried Mini's range-topping John Cooper Works hatchback with an automatic gearbox. Now it's time to see if the manual is just as fun on UK roads

Words ByMatt Burt

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This is the range-topping performance variant of the third-generation Mini. We’ve already tested the Mini John Cooper Works equipped with an automatic transmission, but now we’ve got behind the wheel of the bigger-selling six-speed manual.

Like its predecessor, the front-wheel-drive JCW is based around the three-door Cooper S, albeit with a revised version of the standard car’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and more aggressively styled front bodywork.

The engine produces 228bhp at 5200-6000rpm - a 39bhp increase over the latest Cooper S - and 236lb ft of torque from 1250-4800rpm, representing an improvement of 29lb ft over the base car.

An electronic differential lock is fitted to help keep the engine's power reaching the road and the JCW also has retuned suspension and uprated Brembo brakes compared with those of the Cooper S. There's a sports exhaust that emits a potent burble, too.

What's the 2015 Mini JCW like to drive?

In a sprint from a standstill to 62mph, the manual JCW is 0.2sec slower than the automatic version, which benefits from shorter gearing and a launch control system.

Ignore the on-paper numbers, though; in real-world driving the manual JCW doesn’t feel like it wants for acceleration. It is as quick as most drivers will desire in most driving conditions. Its manual gear-changing and exhaust crackles make it a more immersive experience than the auto, too.

At cruising speeds, however, you don’t have to work the gearbox particularly hard, because the engine has enough mid-range punch to pull from low revs and ensure switching lanes and overtaking is done with confidence.

The new Mini is in its element through flowing corners, where it feels fairly composed and easily adjustable, and can be propelled through and out of corners with ease. Indeed, this Mini feels like an all-round more grown-up driving proposition. The old car was notable for crashing and juddering that marred its ride, but this one manages to offer greater composure.

That’s even on the optional 18in rims on which our test car rode, rather than the standard 17in wheels, although the bigger rims and run-flat tyres generated a fair degree of road noise at motorway speeds.

For what it's worth (given that this is a model designed for spirited driving rather than economy runs), the manual sips more petrol, returning a claimed 42.2mpg on the official combined cycle versus the automatic’s 49.7mpg, and emits more CO2.

What's the 2015 Mini JCW like inside?

The cabin is much the same as you'd find in any other Mini hatch in terms of dimensions, but is adorned with even more interior lights and material finishes that collectively shimmer and sparkle like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

The John Cooper Works sports a number of model-specific touches, such as sill decoration, supportive sports front seats with integrated headrests, a three-spoke multi-function steering wheel, a special gearlever, stainless steel pedals and revised instrument graphics.

Should I buy one?

Unless an automatic gearbox is a must for you, sticking with the standard manual gearbox means you get a more engaging driving experience and save more than Β£1000. So, in that respect, it is a no-brainer. The JCW continues to offer good interior quality and a powerful engine in manual guise.

The trouble is, at more than Β£23,000 the JCW prices itself well above talented rivals such Renault's Clio Renaultsport. When you also consider Ford's Fiesta ST is even cheaper than the Renault, there's just no way we can recommend it as the class leader.

You’ll also have to keep a close eye on the options list; our test car came adorned with extras that pushed the on-the-road price north of Β£30,000 – broadly into the territory occupied by even better driver’s cars such as the Volkswagen Golf R and upcoming Mk3 Ford Focus RS.

What Car? says...

The rivals

Ford Fiesta ST

Renault Clio Renaultsport

Mini JCW

Engine size 2.0-litre petrol

Price from Β£23,050

Power 228bhp

Torque 236lb ft

0-62mph 6.3 seconds

Top speed 153mph

Fuel economy 42.2mpg

CO2 155g/km