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When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

A green hardtop and green convertible 2024 MINI John Cooper Works are shown in front of open garage bays.

The 2024 Mini Cooper JCW Is the Biggest Small Car You Will Find

Once the odometer finally ticked over the final mile of its recommended break-in period, it was time to finally take CarLifeNation’s new 2024 test car out for a joyride to see what it really feels like with its full capabilities unlocked.

Unfortunately, winter has plagued our New England headquarters, so we weren’t able to fully wring out our 2024 Mini Cooper John Cooper Works with a proper performance test. However, my first impressions of the car certainly impressed me. While the Mini Cooper may look like a brightly colored box on wheels from the outside, once you strap into the driver’s seat, it feels much more like a not-so-miniature BMW M car than anything else.

Every detail of this tiny little hot hatch makes it come across as a much larger and more refined vehicle, and if you test-drove it blindfolded (something we—and local law enforcement—very much do not recommend doing), you’d probably think you were behind the wheel of a luxury cruiser rather than the latest incarnation of a fun-loving British icon.

Where Did All This Room Come From?

To quote another British icon, this is one vehicle that really seems like it’s bigger on the inside. Park the Mini next to a Mazda MX-5 Miata, and you’ll be amazed to discover that the famously diminutive Japanese roadster is both longer and wider than the JCW. However, it’s a different story entirely once you slide yourself inside.

As someone who daily drives a 2022 Miata, it’s simply shocking how much space I have inside the Mini. The expansive greenhouse, especially with the dual sunroofs in our test car, further amplifies the open and airy feeling inside the cabin. I don’t know how Mini did it, but this car feels more like driving a cargo van than a subcompact––at least until you put it in gear and put the pedal to the floor.

Before we get into how it drives, though, it’s also worth pointing out just how upscale this car is. While the base Mini Cooper Hardtop Two Door starts at an exceedingly affordable $25,800, our John Cooper Works is fully optioned out with the Iconic package and feels every bit of its roughly $45,000 sticker price.

This is a car that makes you remember that Mini is owned by BMW, and it rides on the same platform as the Bavarian brand’s front-wheel drive models like the 2 Series Gran Coupe. Details like the thick and heavily contoured leather-wrapped steering wheel, extremely adjustable JCW performance seats, and high-resolution instrument and infotainment displays reveal that the flagship Mini models have entirely left their cheap and cheerful nature in the past.

A close up shows the turbocharged engine of a 2024 MINI John Cooper Works.

Pros and Cons of Luxury Performance

Flip the ignition toggle on the central control panel (a wonderful touch that more cars should have), and the 2.0L turbocharged engine from BMW comes to life. However, the more premium design of the JCW means you won’t hear or feel all that much from inside.

If you flip another toggle to put the car into Sport mode, you will get a more satisfying level of aural feedback, but purists may be disappointed to learn that it is mostly due to Mini’s “Active Sound Design” (artificial engine noises pumped through a speaker in the trunk). Regardless of your opinion on the counterfeit exhaust note in the cabin, the JCW is louder than most cars from outside and will likely draw a bit of attention from bystanders.

Our test car is equipped with the optional six-speed manual transmission rather than the eight-speed automatic, which brings pros and cons to the driving experience. On the one hand, driving a manual is inarguably more fun, but the ergonomics of this particular manual are not the best. The floor-mounted shifter is extremely long and somewhat imprecise, yet it still feels like I have to reach down around the center console to get to it.

The clutch pedal also has a large amount of travel after the initial bite, which took some getting used to. Coming from the extremely crisp controls of the Miata, the JCW’s transmission overall feels more like something intended for a sedate luxury cruiser than a high-performance hot hatch. However, the auto rev-matching technology is quite smooth and makes for very clean downshifts.

A Dialed-In Performance Car

Where the JCW really shines is once you get out on the road. While it’s not the fastest-accelerating performance car out there, its “big car” feel again comes into play when dealing with high speeds. While driving it, I found myself exceeding the speed limit by a significantly larger margin than I intended simply because I didn’t have much sensation of speed until I looked down at the big numbers on the instrument panel.

The isolated cabin and exceptional suspension with Dynamic Damper Control combine to eliminate the normal noise and vibration you expect from a sporty car, letting you glide smoothly down the road at seemingly any speed. Small cars generally start showing their limitations as the speedometer ticks up, but the JCW just wants to keep going; you’d probably have to take it out to the German Autobahn to find a speed where it would feel uncomfortable.

The colder weather meant I took things relatively easy, but even with reduced grip, the JCW handles superbly. It remains composed and exhibits minimal body roll when thrown into corners, and it soaks up speed bumps and other road imperfections with aplomb. Even under hard braking and acceleration, there is very little noticeable pitch.

While the steering, brakes, and accelerator aren’t razor sharp (even in Sport mode), that makes it easy to give smooth control inputs that contribute to the sense of luxurious isolation. While it may be a different story when we get this car out on an autocross course, it is incredibly well dialed-in for spirited street driving, allowing you to have fun without tossing you and your passengers around the cabin.

A close up shows the red caliper on a green 2024 MINI John Cooper Works.

Shattering Expectations

Having never driven a Mini JCW before, I approached this car expecting to find a boxier front-wheel drive version of my Miata. After all, both models have similar dimensions and power-to-weight ratios and share the same reputation for “slow car fast” driving that I appreciate. However, the JCW completely shattered my expectations.

In many ways, it is not as playful as the Miata on the street, but it exhibits a completely different level of refinement and precision in every aspect of the vehicle. While the Miata is a Japanese manufacturer’s faithful recreation of the traditional British sports car experience, the Mini JCW is a German sports sedan in sheep’s clothing.

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