The Goodwood Test: Mini John Cooper Works Challenge

14th May 2017
Chris Knapman

Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.



Surely even MINI itself would acknowledge it is a stretch to pretend the modern car’s heritage stretches as far back as the 1959 original. Fair enough, stylistically the two can be linked, but unlike a Porsche 911 or a Ford Mustang, the modern day Mini has no genuine connection with its predecessors, not least because it’s built by a completely different company.

It speaks volumes of the success BMW has made of the brand, therefore, that even discounting the era of Mini giants such as Sir Alec Issigonis and Paddy Hopkirk, there remains a genuine heritage to this new John Cooper Works (JCW) Challenge edition. Witness the supercharged R53 Cooper S and what it did for the brand upon launch in 2001, or the subsequent JCW and GP models. Such cars represent the continued success that a modern fast MINI must live up to, and result in lofty expectations from an expectant audience. 



In a market where performance enhancements often result from hidden software upgrades, the JCW Challenge stands out. That much is clear when you peak behind the 17-inch Team Dynamics wheels at the drilled brake discs, or note the super-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. It is their job to work with a Quaife mechanical limited-slip differential to put the power to the road, while the fully adjustable suspension comes from Nitron.

What sets this MINI apart, then, is that it is a special edition created almost entirely from new hardware, which to make matters even more serious has been sourced from suppliers to the MINI Challenge race series. On sale only in the UK, production has been capped at just 50 cars, each designed to thrill on both the road and the racetrack. 



Two things strike you when you guide the JCW Challenge down a decent road. The first is how hyperactive it feels, with an unyielding ride, instant steering response and a tendency to drag you left and right under hard acceleration. The second is ‘POP, BANG, POP, BANG!’ as the Bluetooth controlled (yes, really) sports exhaust does its best to upset any living entity within 50 metres.

What’s odd is that despite having 228bhp and 236lb ft of torque, the two-litre engine does not relish high revs. It is effective though, enabling you to scramble from a standstill to 62mph in 6.3 seconds, provided you aren’t dragged into a hedge in the process. To really understand the Challenge though you must take it by the scruff of the neck on a decent road. To experience how the car keeps getting better the harder you drive it is to truly understand how ultimately capable it is.



Cars such as the JCW Challenge simply wouldn’t exist without passion, whether it comes from the chief executive or a small group of engineers who saw the potential to build something brilliant.

By drawing so heavily on hardware suppliers to the MINI Challenge race championship, this car also exploits the brand’s admirable support of the one-make series. Given the connection, you might imagine that competitors were eager to buy a JCW Challenge to go with their race car, but in fact, the opposite has happened, with some customers buying the road car and subsequently learning enough about the racing to want to try it for themselves.

Either way, it’s great business for MINI, and proof once again that enough car buyers in the UK share MINI’s passion for a hardcore hot hatch. 

Price tag of our car: £32,000

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