Car Review

2012 Mini JCW Coupe: Family Reunion

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author photo by Nick Palermo December 2011

Many models currently in dealers' showrooms can trace their lineage back for decades. The Ford Mustang, Jeep Wrangler and Porsche 911 are a few that have gained many admirers by sticking to their original formulas but always improving. Although the Mini brand has only been in the US since only 2001, Mini's have been popular abroad since the debut of the Mark I back in 1959. The formula has remained the same - small, lightweight, front-engine, front-wheel drive, two-door hatch.

Well, our long-term 2012 Mini John Cooper Works (JCW) Coupe lacks a back seat, but fits the formula otherwise. Has it improved? If so, has it lost its character in the process? Only a comparison to, say, a 1964 Morris Cooper S could answer this question. Luckily, I was able to round one up. We drove to a local car enthusiasts' meet-up to compare them side-by-side.

Before Mini became its own brand in 1969, the cars were sold under the Austin and Morris brands. The right-hand drive example here came with a 70-horsepower, 1.1-liter four-cylinder. The car weighs just less than 1400 lbs, and at just a bit over ten feet in length, the '64 Cooper is positively tiny. Our modern JCW Coupe test car is more than two feet longer and, at 2701 lbs, weighs nearly as much as two '64 Coopers.

The Coupe is still small by today's standards. And these days, horsepower is up significantly to handle the extra weight. Our test car makes 208 horsepower from its turbocharged, direct-injected, 1.6-liter engine. The JCW may be twice as heavy, but it has nearly three times the power.

From the waistline down, the new Mini definitely shows the family resemblance. The top half is a different story, with all-new, fastback coupe styling. But the overall look is clearly Mini. Inside, the design harks back to the original, too. The large, centrally-mounted speedometer and toggle switch controls are reminiscent of the 1964 car, but the interior of the new one is much, much better.

In fact, everything about the new JCW Coupe is worlds better than the 1964 car. It's faster, more fun to drive, more efficient, more comfortable and certainly more reliable. The old Morris Cooper S seats two more passengers than the JCW Coupe and can be had for considerably less than our test car's $31,200 base price, but otherwise offers only abundant charm, and even that wears thin after a few miles.

The Mini John Cooper Works Coupe, on the other hand, is quick, handles remarkably and stops like a champ thanks to upgraded brakes. Torque-steer and bump-steer under hard acceleration are drawbacks with so much power to the front wheels, but the JCW is still a blast to drive.

Further, with its six-speed manual transmission, the JCW Coupe returned over 32 miles per gallon on a 250-mile interstate road trip. Aside from having only two seats, it's a practical car that's high-performance when you want it to be, and economical when you don't.

Plus, the 2012 Mini John Cooper Works Coupe beautifully carries on the character of the original, just as Mini's other current offerings do. But now you can bring your iPod and a cup of coffee along for the ride. While both Minis make great weekend cars, the new one turns the daily commute into an exciting drive, too.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2012 Mini JCW Coupe: Family Reunion - Autotrader