Mini, described by one of its own marketing bosses as “the uncool-cool kid in the corner”, has been pumping iron.
In the John Cooper Works Clubman and Countryman, the maker has produced the fastest and most powerful models in its 60-year history.
The JCW Clubman and JCW Countryman are capable of 0-100km/h acceleration in, respectively, 4.9 and 5.1 seconds, courtesy of all-wheel drive and a 2.0-litre, twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder engine developing 225kW and 450Nm.
That marks Mini as a serious entry into the steadily growing “200-plus club” of stove-hot small cars.
The new JCW Minis’ staggering 55kW power hike over their predecessor models isn’t the only increase: the JCW Clubman at $62,900 and JCW Countryman at $65,900, are both $6000 more than the outgoing versions.
Both feature as standard all-wheel drive with a Torsen locking front differential, an eight-speed auto, cross-stitched leather upholstery with electric front seat adjustment and heating, head-up display, Harman-Kardon sound system, 19-inch wheels and JCW-specific aero bodywork and interior styling.
The interior design is both utterly on-brand for Mini and yet also, with well-executed (plastic) chrome and piano-black finishes, oddly echoing its big-sister brand, Rolls-Royce (if you squint).
Mechanically identical but slightly lower specified, the JCW Clubman Pure at $57,900 gets 18-inch wheels, part-leather upholstery and a limited option package.
JCW is Mini’s premium performance sub-brand but the underbonnet magic is provided by a BMW 2.0-litre engine, as found in the X2 M35i and M135i five-door.
The twin-scroll turbocharger enhances both low-rpm responsiveness and high-rpm boost.
To deliver its impressive 32 per cent power increase, the engine has had a raft of engineering revisions, including bigger main bearings, new pistons and larger fuel injectors.
The eight-speed auto is the sole transmission, as neither Mini’s six-speed manual nor seven-speed dual-clutch is rated for this 450Nm torque output.
Suspension is lowered by 10mm and specific steering and rear axle components are fitted.
The JCW Countryman and the Clubman Pure have adaptive suspension, whereas the JCW Clubman has a more focused sports package. Brakes are ventilated discs, 360mm front and 330mm rear.
Arriving in mid-2020, the Mini JCW GP gets the same engine and transmission. The three-door hot hatch will be built in a limited edition of just 3000 worldwide, and priced at $63,900.
The JCW versions are perhaps closest in spirit to the Mini Cooper S of 1963, which entered automotive legend as a giant killer with its 1.1-litre engine making all of 52kW and 84Nm.
An Australian-built Mini Cooper S was launched in 1966, its 1275cc engine producing 56kW and 107Nm — which was enough to propel the freakishly agile, front-drive Cooper S to the first nine positions outright at that year’s Bathurst race.
Today’s Minis retain the corner-carving ability of their predecessors, while adding some much needed refinement. Both the JCWs we drove are extremely quick and capable on the open road but they’re also comfortable and spacious for everyday use.
Mini’s chassis engineers are justly famed for delivering constantly astonishing levels of cornering grip and turn-in responsiveness, hewing always to the brand’s mantra of “kart-like” handling.
Few cars, and in particular small ones, can match these JCW Minis’ combination of flat cornering and firmly controlled, yet comfortable ride.
Power risks corrupting the rigid chassis and all-wheel drive in each car — and its influence on the steering is perhaps the only slightly crooked note in the performance of these pocket-rockets.
There is no disguising the turbocharged character of the power delivery, which is admirably responsive from down low, then gathers momentum massively through its mid-range. The 450Nm torque peak is delivered all the way from 1750 to 4500rpm.
This torrent of torque makes its presence felt in a noticeable, though never uncomfortable, tugging at the wheel under acceleration. The steering itself increases its weighting through the JCW’s Green, Mid and Sport dynamic modes — it is quick to respond off-centre but it is somewhat indifferent in feel and feedback.
For ours, the surprise sweet spot is the JCW Countryman. With its extra weight (about 70kg) and slightly narrower and taller-section tyres, it feels just a little more rounded and mature on the road than the more manic Clubman.
The JCW versions recall the all-conquering Mini Cooper S of the 1960s. Corner-carving remains a strong point, now complemented by refined manners. Quick and capable, they’re also comfortable and spacious daily drives.
Mini John Cooper Works Clubman and Countryman vitals
Price: $57,900-$62,900 before on-road s (Clubman); $65,900 (Countryman)
Warranty/servicing: 3 years/unlimited km, $1425 for 5 years/80,000km
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, rear camera, front and rear sensors, speed sign recognition
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 225kW/450Nm
Spare: None; repair kit
Boot: 360L, 450L
Originally published as Mini’s fastest, most powerful cars ever