MINI'S latest pocket rocket is fun but pricey
The MINI JCW is a hoot to drive but the thrills don't come cheap
I am sold at the first press of the start button as a gravelly exhaust note roars and bristles with attitude. Bearing a name etched in history for revolutionary rear-engined cars, this is the fastest and most powerful MINI ever made, the 2015 MINI John Cooper Works Mk3.
Based on the three-door hatch, MINI has completely retuned the suspension and used aluminium and high-strength steel to keep the weight down.
The exterior sports some unique styling cues such as the tailgate with a JCW label, bigger brakes, an oversized spoiler, sports exhaust system with special tailpipes, and an exclusive new Rebel Green body-paint finish.
Inside are exclusive sports seats and, overall, the interior is a lot more premium with excellent quality - but ergonomics are never a strong point with MINI and its all a little cluttered for my taste.
On the road, you instantly notice just how responsive this car is: the brakes, the steering, everything is sensitive with so much feedback. The second thing you notice is that exhaust note that resonates throughout the car and is almost as loud inside as it is out.
This little pocket rocket packs the most powerful engine ever for a production MINI - a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder TwinPower turbo-charged engine that delivers 231 bhp and 320 Nm of torque; incredible figures for a front-wheel-drive car. Compared with the previous MINI John Cooper Works, the new version delivers 10pc more power and 23pc more torque - it is shockingly fast reaching 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds; 0.2 seconds quicker than the older model.
There is a choice of a manual or automatic transmission - our test car is fitted with the auto box, and while that may seem like a travesty in a MINI, similar to other BMW Group automatics, it is faster sprinting from 0-100km/h than the manual.
As expected from a John Cooper works MINI, the grip is phenomenal. The Achilles heel of the previous version was a harsh ride that was best suited to racetracks, but this too has improved and with a softer suspension comes much better buffeting from potholes and bumps. There are also a number of driving modes that can be adjusted to suit the road. It's a much more comfortable drive than you'd expect.
Reassuringly, there is also a host of safety features to keep you firmly planted on the road. Also available is a Driving Assistant pack, which was recently awarded an Advanced Safety award by EuroNCAP.
All this fun comes at a price, and our test car was fitted with over €13,000 worth of extras, bringing the overall price from €35,082 (base price) to an eye-watering €48,220.
At this price, rivals include Honda's new Civic Type R and the VW Golf R.
MINI has made the best John Cooper Works to date; an incredibly well-balanced car. It's not as hardcore as the GP version, but so much more fun than the regular MINI Cooper and an absolute delight to drive.
There are certainly more practical cars and there are also faster for the money, but few are quite as much fun.