Mountain Wheels: High-output Mini John Cooper Works edition is a front-drive screamer

With 228 turbocharged horses on hand, the two-door hardtop version of Mini’s John Cooper Works racer is an upgraded micro-machine that can indeed be parked anywhere.
Andy Stonehouse/Special to the Summit Daily

With drier, summertime roads on the horizon — and a blessed season of repaving — we may once again be safely able to turn our attention to vehicles of a more hard-pavement variety.

A good example is the newly expanded range of John Cooper Works editions of the 2022 Mini, the long-beloved and iconic British micro-automobile that’s long been the niche product of BMW.

You are probably aware of how broadly the Mini family has grown in recent years, with station wagon and neo-SUV renditions of the basic model. The John Cooper Works models, named after the company’s long-ago racing visionary, are an attempt to go back to the basics, but do so in an impressively powerful and even racetrack-oriented route — though they’re entirely suited for regular roads. Alternately, a couple are also equipped with all-wheel drive, and might make for winter cavorting of a type I would now rather leave to younger automobile enthusiasts.

I had a brief interlude with the most core model of the bunch — a two-door hardtop version that was $32,900 without options but came to $40,850 with the “iconic trim” package and the full touchscreen navigation added to the tab. Plus $100 for JCW “bonnet stripes,” just to round things out. The idealized combo is the Rebel Green body color, with a lipstick-colored Chili Red roof, mirror caps and red front Brembo brake calipers.

The resulting two-tone micromachine is set apart from its many diminutive cousins by the addition of an uptuned 2.0-liter twin-turbo BMW engine that generates 228 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. That’s a substantial kick in the pants from the more traditional output, and potentially a lot of power for the rather small, two-door automobile. Very small, actually.

Not to be outdone, the JCW package is now available on four Mini variants, including the convertible version of the two-door model and, with potentially terrifying results, a 301-horsepower version in the four-door Clubman model and the chunkier, small crossover-styled Countryman model. Both of the latter get Mini’s ALL4 all-wheel drive system, turning them into more versatile whips, quite literally.

My two-door hardtop reminded me a lot of more dedicated track editions of other brands, suggesting a somewhat limited fan base of those who really want to wrestle the most they can out of a front-drive racer that seems to have the same proportions as a shopping cart. Parking, maybe even in your own kitchen, is never a problem.

It’s probably a good thing these two-door platforms did not receive the full 301-hp steroid booster shot, as the torque steer that results from all that power being channeled into high-performance 18-inch tires can be more than enough to handle, as it is. Even better, mine had a real six-speed manual transmission, ideal for smoking those front slicks to the core.

It actually reminded me of the mid- to late-’00s Mazdaspeed 3, which was a bit bigger in stature but always felt like the engine was going come flying out of the hood and pull you along the street like an out-of-control outboard motor.

There is indeed some white-knuckling required to keep that full burst of power grounded, especially from dry starts. The upside is that the effect is really only a big issue on show-off-styled throttle dumps; in regular motoring, and even more enthusiastic mountain curve drives, you can reel it in and enjoy the feel-every-inch-of-the-road sensation of the sport-tuned suspension and the happily capable four-wheel disc brake system.

And just what did I do with a tiny, high-powered, two-door micro car, the week before Christmas? I moved house, strangely. Not really the most efficient choice on my part, but the amount of luggage, groceries, cleaning supplies and personal effects I was able to mash into every last molecular space of the JCW was quite astounding. I even learned that a soft backpack and towels could easily fill up the under-deck storage in the back for even more optimization.

Two trips, however, were a necessity. Probably five, if had more goods than your average person.

Move complete, I was once again able to focus on the JCW’s rip-roaring character and its multitude of aerodynamic add-ons. A full flow-through air foil hangs is parked on the back of the roof, and the inset pair of rear pipes are also surrounded by a load of downforce-producing plastic. It still retains all the other iconic Mini attributes, including the oversized headlamps and British flag-inspired brake lamps; this one’s just a lot Mini-er.

Andy Stonehouse

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