Driven: 2013 MINI John Cooper Works Line

Written by Mark Hacking on .

 2013 MINI John Cooper Works LineUnleashing the full potential of FWD


I’ve gone on record with this statement before and I’ll go on record again now: The modern MINI line-up comprises the very best front-wheel drive experience you can buy at any price. There are some worthy compact competitors out there, but none come close to the MINI in terms of razor-sharp reflexes and sheer seat-of-your-pants fun.

In other markets, particularly those where the “hot hatch” is deified, there has been some stiff competition. But this hasn’t happened in North America to the same degree and, at this point in time, this niche segment has been conceded to the little German car with British roots.

The modern MINI range has grown exponentially since its introduction. It now encompasses no fewer than seven distinct models with yet more on the horizon. For the uninitiated, there are three levels of performance across the entire MINI range in North America: the base models, the turbocharged S models and the extra over-boosted John Cooper Works (JCW) versions. (There’s also an even faster variation, the MINI JCW GP, but it’s only available in hatchback form.)

2013 MINI John Cooper Works Line

2013 MINI John Cooper Works Line 2013 MINI John Cooper Works Line 2013 MINI John Cooper Works Line

To gain a deeper appreciation of the fastest vehicles in the current line-up—the JCW selection—BMW Canada organized a one-day, pin-it-and-grin-it event at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park's Driver Development Track (DDT) this past fall. The premise behind this track day is simple yet powerful: Drive one JCW, then the next, then the one after that, then the one right behind, then the last one. Then, repeat as necessary.

Now, for those who have never witnessed a bunch of car journalists being given free reign at a racetrack, it’s a YouTube sensation just waiting to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Nine times out of 10, someone’s brain will boil over and a car will go hurtling off the track. So, when someone decides to plan a press event on a tight and technical track like the DDT and give every single journo a car with equal power, I’d have to think there are equal parts bravery and stupidity at work.

But this was not the case. Reason being, there were some very watchful experts on hand to make sure everyone had fun and stayed safe at the same time: the instructors at BMW Driver Training / MINI Driver Training. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of being a student of chief instructor Philippe Letourneau and his colleagues on a number of occasions and, for my money, they represent the finest team of advanced driving instructors in Canada.

2013 MINI John Cooper Works Line

They also have some serious credentials: the instructing team on this day included former open-wheel star Jason Caravalho and past Daytona 24 Hour winner Jean-François Dumoulin. For his part, Letourneau is not only one of the experts on the Discovery Channel show “Canada’s Worst Driver,” he also happens to be a past instructor of 2012 DTM Champion Bruno Spengler.

There wasn’t an overabundance of class time—the focus of the day was clearly less on driver development and more on driver fun. The instructors did have us start with a slalom exercise to get accustomed to the crisp handling of the cars. We also performed a braking and downshifting exercise into one of the slower corners, but that was the sum total of the practice.

2013 MINI John Cooper Works Line 2013 MINI John Cooper Works Line 2013 MINI John Cooper Works Line

From that point on, it was let loose those hounds—the rest of the day was spent chasing the instructors around the full track, nose to tail. In retrospect, the lapping was in such close quarters and the pace so frenetic, it’s a wonder that no damage was done, apart from some very used tires and brakes.

Still on the topic of car components, those that make up the MINI JCW line are, without a doubt, well-engineered and extremely durable. At most track events with stock-specification cars, the wounds will appear sooner or later: a burnt clutch here, consumed brake pads there and an overheating engine to round out the injury list. 2013 MINI John Cooper Works Line

No sign of that on this day, though. In fact, after one particularly enthusiastic session, I returned to pit lane in the JCW Coupé with the front brakes smoking furiously. I figured it was time to let the car cool down, but Letourneau just smiled and asked: “Ready to go again?” This is just part of the brilliance of the MINI line and, make no mistake, it is not built into every sporty vehicle on the road today.

The other aspects of the MINI JCW are equally compelling. The 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder does not produce a huge amount of horsepower (208 to be precise) or a plethora of torque (207 lb-ft, when overboost is taken into consideration). Nevertheless this output is enough to send every car in the JCW fleet sprinting to 100 km/h in around 6.5 seconds. Nice!

Even nicer is the way the MINIs handle. From the start, the new MINI has been advertised as having go kart-like handling and this is no stretch—apart from the Countryman, which was not part of our day. Certainly, the intuitive steering is on par with and, in some cases, better than some of the most expensive cars on the planet. For an FWD car, the level of understeer when powering out of corners is minimal, while the grip and cornering stability are exceptional.

Of all the cars I drove on this day, the JCW Coupé remains my personal favourite while my least favourite is the Clubman. The Hatch, Convertible and Roadster comprise the middle of the proverbial road. Mind you, there is no lousy car in this collection, but the Coupé has more snap to it than the rest and the Clubman feels less crisp accelerating out of corners.

In terms of styling and everyday functionality, the two-seater Coupé and its convertible variant, the Roadster, don’t make a lot of sense because their performance is very similar to the four-seater Hatch and Convertible. But there’s no arguing they’re a wildly-fun pairing. In fact, there’s no arguing every car in the 2013 MINI JCW line offers a very fun driving experience.

Specifications:2013 MINI John Cooper Works Line

2013 Mini JCW

Base Price: $36,900

Engine: Turbocharged 1.6L 4-cyl.

Horsepower / Torque: 208 hp / 192 lb-ft

Configuration: FF

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Fuel Economy Ratings (L/100 km): 8.2 / 6.0 / 7.2 (city / hwy / combined)

2013 Mini JCW Coupe

Base Price: $38,400

Engine: Turbocharged 1.6L 4-cyl.

Horsepower / Torque: 208 hp / 192 lb-ft

Configuration: FF

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Fuel Economy Ratings (L/100 km): 8.2 / 6.0 / 7.2 (city / hwy / combined)

2013 Mini JCW Clubman

Base Price: $38,400

Engine: Turbocharged 1.6L 4-cyl.

Horsepower / Torque: 208 hp / 192 lb-ft

Configuration: FF

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Fuel Economy Ratings (L/100 km): 8.2 / 6.0 / 7.2 (city / hwy / combined)

2013 Mini JCW Roadster

Base Price: $39,900

Engine: Turbocharged 1.6L 4-cyl.

Horsepower / Torque: 208 hp / 192 lb-ft

Configuration: FF

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Fuel Economy Ratings (L/100 km): 8.2 / 6.0 / 7.2 (city / hwy / combined)

2013 Mini JCW Convertible

Base Price: $42,900

Engine: Turbocharged 1.6L 4-cyl.

Horsepower / Torque: 208 hp / 192 lb-ft

Configuration: FF

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Fuel Economy Ratings (L/100 km): 8.2 / 6.0 / 7.2 (city / hwy / combined)

A/C Tax: $100

Freight: $1,595

Basic Warranty: 48 months / 80,000 km

Social Bookmarks

Twitter Facebook flickr RSS-Feed