Flying machine from MINI but price brings you down to earth
This is the most powerful MINI in its history with revised suspension, brakes and aerodynamics. And it felt like it.
I won't bore you with a 'history' lesson on the lineage in MINIs ever since that great man John Cooper made it a household name with his exploits.
Now we have the latest John Cooper Works MINI.
By any standards it was a cracking great drive.
Except there is no way to shake off the fact that it costs too much by the time you add in all the extras.
I'm not going to dwell on that aspect (yet) because the technical ability is worth looking at in isolation.
Based on the MINI 3-dr hatch, it is more powerful (around 20bhp) than the Cooper S model, with its 2-litre 4cyl pumping out 231bhp.
More or less everything has been re-tuned: from the single-joint spring strut front axle and multi-link rear, to the additional air inlet at the front for additional cooling.
You soon realise why the extra cooling is needed. This was so quick and powerful I can't find a better phrase to describe it other than 'pocket rocket'. It just kept picking up and picking up all the way through the revs.
It's what I can only describe as a flying MINI that they have managed to keep from taking off. No wonder they have four-piston Brembo front brakes on it too.
Of course there is nowhere you can drive this legally to anything within an exhaust crackle of its ability. Get it onto the track at Mondello if you want that.
I was left to ponder the 'might-have-beens' as I safely squirted it to the prevailing speed limits.
Or pointed it down a boggy midland road to extract the chemistry of twist, turn, acceleration and limited bounce from what is a great little chassis. It's so solid it was as reassuring as it was dynamic because those roads can unsettle the best of cars.
Granted, there was a smidgen of torque steer under my heavy acceleration but I could not complain overall.
My version had an automatic box but you can use paddle shifts for manual control; that's much better fun.
Childish, maybe, but I did love those crackles from the exhaust when going back down the gears. I found myself surging and slowing to get that effect.
But the JCW is no child's play. This is a big performer in a small frame with impressive ability to both produce and channel power. That performance stretches from the mighty 2-litre to the tips of your fingers.
However, it is too costly. Sure, you can argue that you're getting the best MINI suite on the block.
And it is, I readily admit, an enthusiast's car that makes ordinary drivers enthusiastic as well. But would I pay around €33,000 or so for it? I might be tempted, you know, if I really had money and wanted to be able to say I owned a little modern-day icon. I'd need to be able to take it to a track every so often; otherwise it would be a waste of good engineering.
But with so many additions and options on board, my test car ran to nearly €50,000.
I know for certain I could find a better way to spend that sort of money. It was, however, fun sampling the unattainable.