What are you driving?
This MINI John Cooper Works (JCW) is, with the exception of the limited-run MINI GP, the most potent version of the company's iconic three-door hatch. The F56-era MINI is smaller - though not by much - than other C-segment hatchbacks such as the BMW 1 Series, Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Volkswagen Golf, though you shouldn't overlook others that have grown in size, such as the Volkswagen Polo. The MINI, as ever with the brand, is available in a wide variety of colours, and the Rebel Green of this car is the most expensive paint option at €1,142. Three contrasting roof and door mirror cap colours are available at no additional cost, but if you want to add the bonnet stripes it will set you back a further €228.
Name its best bits
MINI seems to have gotten the balance of power and noise right for the JCW's engine. The turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder's output of 231hp might not be headline grabbing news, but in a car of the MINI's size it is more than ample. An added bonus is that, with the driver's window down, you can clearly hear that turbo at work, and it whooshes and hisses in tandem with your throttle inputs.
You have the most fun in the MINI JCW when playing around in the lower gears (and from lower speeds) as the acceleration and strong 320Nm of torque slings it along short straights and flings it out of corners. Some may prefer the added involvement of working a manual gearbox, but the eight-speed automatic is super slick and doesn't detract from the driving experience, while also making the reality of driving in traffic less of a burden.
Hands down, though, what makes this MINI so much fun to drive isn't the engine, but the chassis. MINI has a knack of getting its suspension setup to be just firm enough without becoming overly uncomfortable, and in the John Cooper Works it's spot on. The 18-inch wheels look the part without taking away from the car's comfort or refinement levels. For a relatively small car it is the way that MINI absorbs sharp bumps that the road throws up at it that stands out. You'd expect that from something like a BMW 3 Series, so it's especially welcome in something this size. Admittedly, our car was equipped with the adaptive suspension option, which, at €361, isn't an awfully expensive addition and one we think is worthwhile.
There's little need to switch between the driving modes either, unless you want to hear more crackles and pops from the exhaust on the overrun. The default steering setup is nicely weighted and you're rarely turning more than 90 or 100 degrees of lock, even on winding roads. Grippy Pirelli tyres help in what is an assuredly planted front end, and swift direction changes aren't a challenge to the sporty MINI. In fact, it's that type of driving that allows it to shine.
Anything that bugs you?
The shortcomings of the JCW aren't so much down to it specifically, rather the MINI overall. Boot space is annoyingly tight at 211 litres, as is the rear legroom. And getting into the rear is far from an elegant affair.
And why have you given it this rating?
Fun is what this MINI John Cooper Works delivers the most. It's not a cheap car (though what tricked-up MINI is these days?) and while it isn't dynamically as sharp as some of the current crop of hot hatches, it doesn't lag far behind. For many drivers it presents sufficient performance in an attractive package.