2019 Mini John Cooper Works Review - A Proud Heritage

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

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.
2019 mini john cooper works review a proud heritage

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 MiniUSA.com, 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.

[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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  • Roadscholar Roadscholar on Sep 03, 2019

    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.

  • Legacygt Legacygt on Sep 04, 2019

    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.

  • FreedMike If it were a GLI, it’d be a decent project car. But at the end of the day you have a base Jetta, and those weren’t all that great. Speaking of project VWs - when I was living at my old house a few years ago, one of my neighbors had an OG 1983 GTI sitting on his lawn. Lord, did I want to take that car home.
  • Dukeisduke "Gouging" - lol. California's gas prices are driven by a combination of the highest state gasoline tax in the US (66.98 cents per gallon) and the CARB-mandated California-only boutique fuel blends.
  • Astigmatism Honestly I'm surprised it's not higher. My parents bought two garage spots in Boston for $250k in the 1980s. When I worked in midtown a decade ago, garage spots near my building rented for $500 a month, which would support a $125k mortgage.Places get expensive when lots of people want to live there.
  • 28-Cars-Later As much as the Orwellian nature concerns me I must say to "add a turbo" as it were to net roughly 20% more bhp for $1,195 doesn't sound too bad. In days of old the V6 -> V8 upgrade was upwards of 20-30% of the base model cost.
  • Nivya Typical Manhattan parking spot price usually ranges anywhere between $15 to $75 for two hours. However, there are plenty of alternative parking options that provide even cheaper rates.
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