2012 Mini JCW Clubman and one of our Mini driving instructors, Jean-François Dumoulin. Click image to enlarge
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Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony
2012 Mini Cooper JCW
Clarington, ON – After beating the snot out of half a dozen Mini John Cooper Works (JCW) editions last Wednesday, the handful of us that attended the event concluded that Mini JCW Fun Day should be a weekly event.
Mini invited us up to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (aka Mosport) in Clarington, Ontario, and offered us the chance to drive every current JCW model in their lineup. Those models are the original Hatch, Clubman wagon, Coupé, Convertible four-seater, and two-seat Roadster. Mini will also soon be adding a JCW Countryman, the first JCW model to sport AWD, and a highly exclusive and even higher-performing Mini John Cooper Works GP, turning the Mini magic up to the proverbial 11.
2012 Mini JCW Hatch, Clubman, and Coupe. Click image to enlarge
But Fun Day wasn’t about future product presentations. It was about fun. After a brief refresher about how to position your seat and how not to drive into the grass or a tire wall, they started us on a series of progressively faster exercises on Mosport’s Driver Development Track (DDT). After documenting a couple models for photographic evidence, we lined up for some slalom runs just to get the feel of these cars.
And feel is what the Mini is all about. It isn’t necessarily the fastest hot hatch (or hot coupe or hot roadster or hot three-door mini-wagon… okay, it probably is the fastest three-door mini-wagon), but it is one of the greatest to drive because it captures that quintessential driving feel that is so elusive in modern cars. I can count on one hand the number of cars that deliver a better connection to the road in ordinary driving conditions (for the record, those would be the MX-5, Boxster, and new Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ). Even parent BMW’s own vaunted 3 Series has edged over the fence to become more of a luxury car than a precision driving machine with a visceral connection to the tarmac.
2012 Mini JCW Coupe above and Roadster below. Click image to enlarge
However, the one trait that all those other cars share is the trait that also makes them superior on a track: rear-wheel drive. Despite the Mini’s preternatural feel, the dynamic limits of its front-wheel drive show up earlier and more often than those three (though I have yet to experience the FR-S/BRZ’s limits on a track, judging from its composure on public roads I have no doubt it would far exceed the balance offered by the front-wheel-drive Minis).
But we weren’t driving those cars, we were driving Minis. On a track. And on a track, your best friends are your brakes and tires. The brakes are ventilated front and rear with 316 mm discs in front and 280 mm in back. The wheels are 17-inch lightweight alloys (available in black or silver) with 205/45R17 Dunlop SP Sport 01 tires.
Rather than a mechanical limited slip differential (as was available on the first generation) on this high-torque FWD car, the current Mini JCW employs an Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC) system. When powering out of a corner, EDLC brakes the spinning inside wheel, thereby directing the lion’s share of torque to the wheel with grip (the outside wheel). It was working overtime on our lapping sessions, and probably contributed to the smoking brakes we witnessed just before breaking for lunch. Despite the electronic trickery, there was no shortage of wheel spin powering out of corners, not least because I was punishing them with my usual lack of skill going into and coming out of corners.