By on August 22, 2019

2019 Mini Cooper JCW front quarter

2019 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop

2.0-liter turbocharged inline four (228 hp @ 5,200 rpm, 236 lb-ft @ 1,250 rpm)

Six-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive

25 city / 32 highway / 28 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

9.3 city / 7.3 highway / 8.4 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

27.8 (observed mileage, MPG)

Base Price: $32,750 US / $37,856 CAD

As Tested: $43,950 US/ $46,546 CAD

Prices include $850 destination charge in the United States and $2,966 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Does retro work when the retro becomes just plain old? The late Nineties and early Aughts saw an explosion of cars designed to ape cars of yesteryear – possibly to comfort a car-buying public terrified of what a new millennium might bring. The PT Cruiser, the HHR, and the New Beetle were among many models intentionally built to look backwards.

Mini, on the other hand, was an entire marque created out of nostalgia, and for two decades has traded on a wistful look back at the pioneer of the small front-drive econobox with an ever-growing portfolio of “same sausage, different lengths” models. Today, we look at the 2019 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop – the original flavor three-door hot hatch. Does it still evoke the spirit of the Sixties, or is it a thoroughly modern conveyance in hand-me-down clothes?

2019 Mini Cooper JCW profile

The styling is unmistakably Mini, with short overhangs, a big frowning mouth, and a pair of roundish headlamps dominating the front just like every Mini since the Fifties. The lower facia is a bit busy compared to the first generation of the BMW-built Mini Cooper from 2000, however, with more ducts and bulges distracting the eye.

2019 Mini Cooper JCW front

Out back, the dual central exhaust tips remain as a signature of the hottest hatch. The Union Jack reflected in the taillamps is a bit cheesy, but still a fun reminder of heritage. I could do without the black plastic cladding lining the lower surface of the entire car, however, as it’s a design crutch that tends to signify “SUV” these days.

2019 Mini Cooper JCW rear quarter

The interior  is a bit goofy looking in places, with a great deal of hard plastics and ovoid shapes as deliberate callbacks to vintage Smiths gauges on the original Mini. The massive round central screen is misleading, as the screens for navigation and audio end up rather small (as they have to be fit into that circle). I do appreciate the optional wireless cell charger located in the armrest – it has a positive locking mechanism designed to keep the phone from sliding around while driving briskly.

2019 Mini Cooper JCW interior

Front seats are quite good, with manual adjustment for thigh support being especially welcome when one needs to move the front seat forward to accommodate passengers in the rear. I suppose this is where I need to appreciate the automatic transmission, actually, as I don’t know that I’d be able to fully release a clutch pedal when pushed this far forward. Once back there, the kids didn’t complain about comfort, but their knees were pressed against the seatbacks. They would have been decidedly unhappy had we embarked on a long road trip.

2019 Mini Cooper JCW front seat

Honestly, I was fairly horrified when the Mini arrived at my office missing a pedal. Would Paddy Hopkirk have raced to Monte Carlo with an automatic transmission? That said, it’s not that bad of a slushbox, especially when the stick is moved over into the manual slot and the flappy paddles behind the steering wheel are used. When so arranged, the transmission goes from sluggish and sloppy to snappy and almost joyful. It wouldn’t be my choice, but if I had to live with stop and go traffic daily in a city environment, my left knee might have other ideas. It’s perfectly serviceable in that situation.

2019 Mini Cooper JCW rear seat

Beyond the unfortunate gearbox selection, I enjoyed the drive immensely. A short wheelbase and wide track always leads to fun times in the twisties. The ride does get a bit choppy on interstates with abrupt expansion joints, but it’s not harsh. Some of that comes down to the choice of eighteen-inch wheels with commensurately shallow sidewalls on the tires, leading to a bit of unpleasant thumping when encountering potholes. I did note an annoying rattle from the sliding shade for the panoramic sunroof when the shade was retracted – when closed, it was quiet.

2019 Mini Cooper JCW center stack

228 horsepower in such a small front-drive car can be a handful, and certainly there is torque steer when the right pedal is stomped. The center exit exhaust can be opened up by a Bluetooth controller in the glovebox, allowing a bit more raucous noise to annoy the neighbors. My neighbors already hate me, so I wasn’t shy with the noise in the mornings. This irresponsibility with my right foot may have led to a somewhat disappointing 27.8 mpg over my week. Stay out of the boost and I’m sure mileage will be better, but I couldn’t restrain myself.

2019 Mini Cooper JCW gauges

Let me rant a bit about the car that Mini provided to test – the International Orange Special Edition. This edition, which is no longer available to configure on, is listed as a $3,000 package, but also costs another $5,000 for the paint. In other words, this is $8,000 on top of a base Mini John Cooper Works. It does include these dark alloy wheels, the checkered flag stripes, carbon fiber trim, keyless entry, the panoramic glass roof, and a few other luxury bits – but I can’t see how this is eight grand worth of value atop an already pricey hatchback.

Built more sensibly with restraint on the options list, a nice JCW with the proper manual transmission can be had right around the base price of $32,750. But I don’t know that a Mini is necessarily a sensible purchase – it’s trading on nostalgia for buyers who can manage a few extra bucks on the monthly nut to add leather, funky stripes, or big alloy wheels. Mini will never be a mainstream brand, I’m afraid, but I’m glad it’s still around. A world without a bit of whimsy on the road is a sad place, and this Mini John Cooper Works can put a smile on everyone’s face, whether parked or on the road.

2019 Mini Cooper JCW badge

[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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29 Comments on “2019 Mini John Cooper Works Review – A Proud Heritage...”

  • avatar

    Does anybody complain about Porsche 911s, Mustangs, and Wranglers looking just old? MINIs styling looked right years ago and still does.
    Does anybody think current Toyota or Lexus styling will ever inspire some future retro styling?

  • avatar

    Well, this sums up why Mini’s in trouble in three easy steps:

    1) Fun to drive but slower than rivals
    2) Impractical
    3) Stupid expensive

    • 0 avatar

      And they’re expensive to repair!

      • 0 avatar

        …which makes a fourth good reason.

        I considered a Mini when I was car shopping last fall. The dealer I went to was basically empty on a Saturday afternoon, which was a bad sign. The nice young millenial woman who worked with me showed me a $32,000 coupe…with a three cylinder engine. It was fun in corners, but Lord, it was slow, and thrashy. She asked me what other cars I was considering. “A GTI,” I replied. She flashed a pained smile and lowered her eyes immediately…another lost sale.

        I have a feeling that scene replays itself about 10 times a day in the average Mini store.

        • 0 avatar

          My wife bought a ’12 Mini Cooper S in 2015. Oddly, she did not like the GTI, which would have been my choice, but it was her car. She said she did not like the ergonomics of the GTI. Oh well, at least she did not get the Fiat 500 Abarth (due to potential reliability issues), and the Mini does at least have a manual. It has had some minor repairs, but nothing too pricey.

    • 0 avatar
      Zhahn Doe

      My wife and I have a 10 year old Mini Cooper S as a summer car and it is a hoot to drive. We’ve had a few GTIs, a Mazdaspeed3, and some others, and the only thing that really comes close for the fun factor is a Miata (which is also slow and expensive). The Cooper S handles well, and with the manual it is the aforementioned hoot. In ten years ours has about 37k miles, and it has been pretty cheap to drive. We had a software issue with the fuel management system that the dealer updated and comped, but other than that just fluid changes and tires.

    • 0 avatar

      Impractical? BS. A longroof hatch is the most versatile body style especially on this car’s footprint. The 4 door sedan is impractical if it’s anything less than a large midsizer and downright worthless at compact and under. Tiny door openings leading to a cramped interior with a trunk the size of a nike shoebox accessed through a mail slot. I guess it works if you’re cheap, small framed and have no friends or hobbies.

      • 0 avatar

        Just to doublecheck here – you’re really saying this car, with its’ tiny back seat and trunk, *isn’t* impractical compared with something like a GTI or four-door Civic Si?

        For real?

        • 0 avatar

          Im saying ‘impractical’ is a relative term and no point of reference was given. A 5 door GTI is likely more practical than this being larger. And for me a small sedan is completely useless. That altoids tin trunk…what am I gonna do with that? Id rather the Mini, with itst open cargo area.

        • 0 avatar

          Im saying ‘impractical’ is a relative term and no point of reference was given. A 5 door GTI is likely more practical than this being larger. And for me a small sedan is completely useless. That altoids tin trunk…what am I gonna do with that? Id rather the Mini, with its open cargo area. MUCH more useful than a tiny trunk, 4 small doors and a fixed backlight.

  • avatar

    warning – my trials and tribulations with the MINI brand.

    5 years ago my wife bought a 2003 Mini Cooper S with 62k miles on it. Not fast in a straight line, but not bad for the era. Excellent handling with non-run flat tires and just a spunky little fun car to drive. It ate wheel speed sensors like they were free but overall a relatively reliable car. It was impractical, especially with me at 6’2″ and a son at 6’7″ (!!). But for a little city runabout, no big complaints.

    I liked the car so much I bought a 2009 Clubman S for myself. The turbo – argh!!! – was nothing like the superchager. The former ran out of steam after 5k RPM – making the whole “run it to redline” sports car idea moot. Some of the fun was sucked out of the handling, with a bit more body roll than the 2003 hardtop.

    With a potential adoptee on the way, I went and bought – don’t ask why! – a 2012 Countryman S. It felt underpowered with the same turbo engine and handled worse. It did have plenty of leg and headroom but it was – minus the good 6-speed manual – rather “minivan” in feeling and handling.

    The local dealer here was horrible – asking $5-6k in repair costs every time we went in. And we’re talking cars with less than 60k miles on them.

    I traded the Clubman and the Countryman in on a 2014 Mustang V6 and have been a lot happier.

    At 92k miles the manual transmission/clutch in my wife’s car finally went – local import car repair shop wanted $3k to get it back, plus an extra $2k for every other little niggling issue. We decided to let it go and now she’s driving a 2008 Infiniti M35x which feels light years better put together.

    • 0 avatar

      This is one of MINI’s foundational problems. They cheaped out on so many of the parts that MINI customers eventually give up and go elsewhere when early repair costs spiral like this.

  • avatar

    There are tens of people who have been waiting for this!

  • avatar

    I really, really wanted a JCW back in the supercharger days. I’d spend far too much time playing with the terrific Mini configurator, trying to find a way to get my dream hatch to sticker for less than the price of the G8 GXP I eventually ended up buying.

    Then the car got bigger. The engine changed from the supercharged zinger to the same boring two-point-oh-tee compliance engine sold by every other carmaker in the world. Then it got bigger again and began to share platforms with porky BMWs.

    Now I have no interest whatsoever and I feel vaguely embarrassed for the buyers of Minis, because for every Mini buyer there is a more compelling, more reliable alternative.

  • avatar

    How much for a factory extended warranty?


  • avatar

    I know it’s not the same car at all, but back in ’14 I was offered a base MINI as an “upgrade” from “Hyundai Accent or similar” on a 2-week car rental. I jumped on the offer.

    After 2 weeks of driving it, I wished I’d insisted on the Accent.

  • avatar

    I love the idea of the Minis: they’re proof that to be good on gas and practical, a car doesn’t have to be a dull driving dull looking penalty box that sucks your soul out. The problem is they carry the typical Eurotrash reliability/repair baggage and are overpriced by about $10K for what you get. $34K would be justified for the level of car you get in a full pop JCW, but $44K?!? Notvon your life would I pay Scat Pack money for a beefed up fwd hatchback!

    • 0 avatar

      I’m with you – I love the personality these cars have. But that’s not enough. Every car the Mini competes with (GTI, Civic Si, WRX, etc) is no-s*it good to drive, olus they’re all FAR more practical, and they’re all radically better values. That’s why Mini is getting killed.

      If I were them, I’d build a plant in the U.S. to keep the costs under control, get rid of the base three-banger (or sell it for a LOT less money), and build something that drives like the car in this story for $30,000, max. They’d find buyers.

      That, or stay expensive and go all electric. But I don’t see things getting much better for them with the current lineup.

      • 0 avatar

        Everything I’ve read about the WRX has indicated you might need earplugs to drive one.

        Otherwise I agree with FreedMike

        • 0 avatar

          I don’t remember the WRX being particularly loud, but the ride was on the rough side. It’s fun, but it wouldn’t be my first choice for a daily driver.

          Probably explains why you see so many ones on used lots with under 10,000 miles – the “boy racer” thing is fun on a test drive, but it’d probably get old quickly if you had to drive it every day.

        • 0 avatar

          That’s probably because every* WRX owner installs a couple of fart cans, excuse me, axlebacks within no more than 48 hours of taking delivery.

          (Got a roofing crew working across the street where one of the dudes is a typical WRX owner. His car has woken me up every morning since the job started.)


        • 0 avatar

          As others have noted, WRX’s are not problematically loud as they come from the factory. My sixty-something year old wife had a WRX for ten years before getting the Mini, and sometimes says she wishes she had gotten another WRX, though she wanted to try something different at the time. She mostly misses the AWD; she did not need to put snows on the Subie.

        • 0 avatar

          “Everything I’ve read about the WRX…”

          Take a little time and go drive one. For most things, there’s nothing like first hand knowledge, especially when it’s so easy to attain.

      • 0 avatar

        Electric? That’s the WORST direction to go. Minis are driver’s cars…electric is dull, lifeless and unengaging. For a 1 or 2-seat bubble car (especially for cars2go etc) theres a case for electric. Mini srlls on the style and driving experience.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I’m not morally opposed to 3 cylinder turbos in the right package (I know the JCW has the larger 4 cylinder to accompany the larger price), but after looking at all of the other hot hatches I can’t think of a compelling reason to grab this car in any trim over any of them unless you have just gotta have the styling.

  • avatar

    I bought a new 2006 JCW when I heard MINI was switching from supercharger to turbocharger for 2007. The first time my wife drove it on a twisting mountain road, she yelled, “We’re never getting rid of this car!” After 13 years, we’re still loving the go-kart handling and the scream of the supercharger as we accelerate. However, if we were buying a new car today, we would choose the 2019 JCW in a heartbeat.

  • avatar

    My 2006 Cooper S Convertible 6-spd manual was way more fun to drive than my 2016 WRX Auto. I thought the WRX’s problem was the CVT but I drove a manual and it still didn’t do anything for me. Now I’m trying to sell my mint WRX with 50k miles (Detroit area) but not having many bites. I guess all of the 20-year-olds want manuals.

  • avatar

    What are the sales numbers for the JCW minis? It seems like with each JCW release I see reviews on all the auto sites but I never see them on the road. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one on the road. True, they are similar to the rest of the lineup but I feel like I can pick out a Cooper S when I see one. I see lots of GTIs and WRXs and even some Focus STs but never the JCW minis.

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