There's been a quiet battle going on in MINI's high-performance division, John Cooper Works (JCW).
The original 1960s MINI was a giant killer, and when British ex-F1 driver John Cooper added his name to the car it meant maximum speed and driver enjoyment. For a while that was the reserve of the MINI three-door JCW, until the Countryman JCW was created. Using the same engine as the three-door it provided a spirited driving experience even beyond that of the sport utility vehicle it was based on. Still, the heavier weight and practical needs meant the Countryman JCW could never surpass its smaller sibling for that hardcore, hot hatchback feeling. That was until the current generation Countryman JCW. Boasting a power increase to 306bhp, combined with all-wheel drive, and a slightly softer suspension, the Countryman JCW became the performance MINI for the masses to own. Until now.
Enter the new MINI JCW king, the 2022 MINI three-door John Cooper Works Anniversary Edition. Great car, long name, and there's a catch to its reign.
The car celebrates 60 years of John Cooper's association with the brand, and gets exclusive design and equipment. On the exterior are one of three exclusive paint options, British Racing Green metallic, Midnight Black metallic and Rebel Green. Regardless of colours, the bulldog appearance of the MINI three-door JCW is matched with the roof, mirror caps, door handles, headlight and rear light surrounds in white, plus high gloss piano black accents. There are extras that can be added, like white bonnet stripes and a matte black number 74 on the doors, signifying the number the original MINI wore on its first racing victory. The 18-inch circuit spoke wheels are standard, marking this out as a top dog MINI.
Inside is left pretty much untouched since the MINI JCW contains all the premium quality and features as standard across the lower MINI trims. The JCW sports seats means drivers can get race car low to find that perfect position from which to reach the thick leather-wrapped steering wheel. What isn't covered in leather or MINI's Dinamica fabric is accented in high-gloss piano black or metal trim. All major functions are automated. MINI's infotainment continues to be one of the best as it's paired with a high-quality sound system to generate amazing audio from any of the quickly connectable sources. It's fun too, as the coloured ring around the screen doubles as visual cues to various behaviours in the car.
At its soul, the MINI three-door JCW is a rabid beast of a machine. The standard version was capable of ungodly levels of speed that were best accessed by those with adrenalin inflated gonads. For mere mortals, the indecisive, or automotively squeamish, the MINI three-door JCW was not the car for them. This limited the MINI's appeal and made Countryman the best option to sample JCW performance. The Anniversary Edition redresses this imbalance and puts that title back in the three-door's court. The addition of a revised suspension featuring frequency selective dampers makes car is not only softer when it needs to be on long journeys and less than perfect pavement, but doesn't send the average driver into a panic upon corner entry.
The suspension makes the 231bhp and 238lb/ft of torque a bit easier to enjoy. It still devours tarmac like Pac Man does dots, and in a fun manner as the engine wails enthusiastically to its high rpms as one paddle shifts through the eight-speed transmission. Get to a corner and the MINI's razor sharp cornering dynamics remains, but the new suspension gives enough flexibility that applying the massive brakes or mid-apex steering corrections doesn't terrify.
So what's the catch? There will only be 740 of them made worldwide. The hope is that the new dampers and other improvements will make their way to the regular production three-door JCW, as standard or as an option, to allow the less talented to partake in what is a wonderful driving car. Otherwise only those fortunate enough to own one of these limited edition JCWs can experience its road-ripping, corner-shearing joy.