Mini is phasing out most of its current generation models, but we wanted to give the outgoing 2024 Mini Cooper JCW one last spin.
Zipping around the South Carolina playground that is BMW's US Headquarters, the most performance-forward Mini is unsurprisingly Germanic.
With sharp steering, biting brakes, and a seriously capable attitude, the Mini Cooper JCW is less playful but also better than ever as it sunsets out.
It's no secret that the Mini Cooper is a uniquely European design. From its inception to the modern-day reincarnations, Minis have possessed a certain style, attitude, and feel that simply wouldn't be found in a compact hatchback from Detroit. A Mini is not just a cheaper, smaller tool for moving trinkets and people around.
This is reflected in the price, of course, as the 2024 Mini Cooper JCW we tested in BMW's North American home base that is Greer, South Carolina, cost a whopping $43,795. That includes a $995 destination charge and a $7400 option called Iconic Trim, which adds features like adaptive dampers, a six-speed manual transmission, and heated seats.
More expensive than the Volkswagen GTI, Hyundai Elantra N, and Honda Civic Si, Mini's top-of-the-line Cooper product isn't the most economical or even the quickest. Powered by a 228-hp and 236-lb-ft of torque 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder, the Hyundai and Volkswagen easily top that, though transparent power is rarely the marker of dynamic greatness.
Owed to its historical namesake, John Cooper, the JCW Cooper is purpose-built for performance, particularly in its suspension and braking design. At a glance, the suspension setup is nothing new, with a MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear. But the electronically adaptive dampers provide a firm yet absorbent ride, even at the limit.
Its braking setup is similarly adequate, with four-piston fixed-caliper Brembo brakes at the front and single-piston calipers in the rear. However, a series of electronic teammates slowed the Mini Cooper JCW harder than expected. Namely, the Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Cornering Brake Control systems allow for stable yet playful rear-end rotations while trail braking.
Paired with a chassis that weighs in at 2900 pounds, the final iteration of the R55 JCW Cooper is razor sharp. Chasing a BMW M3 CS up and down Paris Mountain, the Mini was a graceful dance partner on such a tight road. Even on complete hairpins or descending 90-degree corners, a light turn of the semi dead-feeling wheel corresponded to sharp changes in direction.
Oozing with grip, the quick-ratio steering, and a willing front end make the JCW a point-and-shoot sort of performance car, allowing for big throttle inputs early and often while exiting corners. But the welcome presence of a short-ratio manual transmission adds some—dare I say—old-school performance driving action.
Minis have always been praised for their pedal spacing and the outgoing car is no different, with the perfect side-to-side and on-braking dimensions for heel and toe shifting. The shifter itself has an awkward, palm-filling shift knob, and the throws are precise if a bit rubbery and lifeless, which does diminish the spirited feeling behind those aluminum brushed pedals.
This dichotomy of precise and emotionless characterizes the outgoing JCW, as it is more than capable of class-competing antics without so much as encouraging you to do so.
Even on a hot lap around the BMW Performance Center's test track with Charlie Cooper, the model did exactly as he asked, rotating around its rear axis with a heavy application of the brakes, without offering much more (shredded tires excluded).
And this ethos carries over to the styling and interior as well, which is admittedly on its way out. As the minimalist, rounded LCD-screened interior comes into fashion, the last era of Mini's aircraft switch-adorned interior will soon be gone. But the best parts of the Mini Cooper interior are retained in the F55 generation.
Headroom is generous and the space between the front-seat occupants feels roomier than some crossovers. The seats are comfortable and made of a hot-weather-friendly weave, though the driving position is better enjoyed with the pill-sized armrest up. My only real complaint is the slightly busy instrumentation, a true modern BMW trait.
The 2024 Mini Cooper JCW may have been manufactured in Oxford, but it's undeniably Germanic. Serious, hard-hitting, and expensive, the Mini Cooper has retained its smaller size if only for heritage, shedding its historical rambunctious attitude alongside it.
When pitted against the appropriate Volkswagen, Hyundai, or Honda, it loses out in the character department. But that doesn't mean the 2024 Mini Cooper JCW isn't worth a look, especially as the new generation hits dealerships and prices fall. If the track is in your near future, this current JCW likely offers the best out-of-the-box package for continuous g-loading.
Mini ownership is an experience on its own. Bundling inside the cute exterior is a tempered fury to take every corner as fast as you're willing to, particularly in the JCW mark. And while it may not be as lively as its German relatives, the desire for pure performance competency is worthy of praise.
This bodes well for the future of the John Cooper Works division, as told to Autoweek in an interview with Vice President of Mini Americas Mike Peyton and Global Head of Mini Product Christian Wehner. When queried on what the future of Mini's performance arm looks like in an EV world, the pair assured Mini enthusiasts not to worry.
For starters, the executives confirmed that demand for internal-combustion Minis remains strong and said the JCW lineup will be offered with a high-performance gasoline engine for the foreseeable future. Similarly, transparent acceleration won't be the main focus of future JCW Mini models, even as the company shifts to EVs in the 2030s.
The current manual transmission take-rate is 50% on JCW models, although the manual sadly is departing. Still, Peyton and Wehner emphasized the continuing desire to make Minis about driving feel—something we can all get behind in an EV-forward era.
Can Mini successfully transform itself into a crossover/SUV-forward brand? Please share your thoughts below.