MEN AT WORK
MEN AT WORK
Company founder John Cooper asserts that the layout was chosen as a matter of convenience, but teams and drivers quickly discovered the mid-engine configuration’s dynamic benefits that it quickly became the regulation setup of single-seater race cars. Cooper himself, had two F1 Constructor titles to show for his success.
A delicious irony indeed, that John and the family’s name would go on and become inextricably linked with Mini, a car brand best remembered for popularizing front-wheel drive. He turned the original Mini into a formidable racer – shoehorning a more powerful engine, bigger brakes, and sharper steering to create the first ever Mini Cooper.
Have you ever wondered why all the Formula -whatever Grand Prix race cars and to a certain extent, even go-karts, look the way they do? Early F1 racers, as a matter of fact, had their engines mounted ahead of their drivers, just behind the front axle for better weight distribution.
The process of relocating the engine of single-seater racers to the rear was sparked by the Cooper Car Company, which built a Formula Three racer by joining two Fiat Topolino front ends together and strapping on a 500cc motorcycle engine behind the driver to power it.
The JCW Clubman here is a facelift of a previous effort, but the badge makes its first appearance on the Countryman. Both these cars are worth more than RM350k, though at first glance you’d struggle to even grasp that you’re looking at something significantly more expensive than their respective Cooper S counterparts.
The styling enhancements applied to these cars are surprisingly subtle; refreshing in an age of overblown fussy designs, but also has the effect of making them look more John Cooper Edition than Works. You can argue they’re tasteful, but they sure don’t intimidate.
Like Cooper’s earlier racing projects, the Mini Cooper turned out to be a very successful one too, its three Monte Carlo Rally wins in the 1960s among many victories achieved. Even though official production lasted only ten years before being resurrected in 1990 for another ten, the Mini Cooper left such a deep impression that any Mini is now a ‘Mini Cooper’ to the layman.
For the modern BMW-engineered MINIs, the Cooper name is used to denote the vehicle’s engine variant (see sidebar); you start from One and move up to Cooper, then Cooper S, and when you see the man’s name appear in full, you know the car in question means serious business, like the subjects of our review today – the John Cooper Works variants of both the MINI Clubman and Countryman.
Nevertheless, behind the gentle bark is still potent bite. From 231hp before this in the pre-facelift, MINI has dialled the 2.0-litre four-pot to a far headier 306hp moved along by an 8-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is a standard inclusion, and that felt like a responsible decision on MINI’s part, and we must also commend MINI for only a very minute price increase for the JCW Clubman in view of its massive power hike.
The real world result? Relentlessly fast cars with easily accessible pace in any situation. Whether it’s on the highway or going from traffic light to traffic light, these JCW MINIs are devastatingly effective in covering the distance in the least amount of time needing the least effort on the driver’s part. You get fantastic straight line pace allied with assuring straight line stability and fantastic agility. Whether the road is straight or winding, this car helps you cover ground very quickly indeed.
The MINI JCW Clubman and Countryman offer tremendous amounts of usable pace on the road, but how much do they offer in terms of actual driving thrills?
WORDS KON PICS TJ EQUIPMENT OLYMPUS
You’ll have to live with a firm ride, but no firmer than anyone would reasonably expect from a car at this performance bracket. In short, these are a pair of fast, highly competent vehicles that ask for little compromise, and astonishingly easy to live with. In isolation, there’s precious little to criticize them for.
Yet, when we bring out the comparisons, certain things just don’t add up. An immediate rival that comes to mind for these cars would be the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 that we’ve previously declared as the fastest real world car you can get. Our JCW twins here offer similar real world pace, and are perhaps more pleasant day-to-day, but both in appearance and driving experience, they are trumped by the Merc for presence, sense of occasion, and even drama. And we are talking about a previous-gen vehicle that is already phased out.
Clubman 225/35 R19
Countryman 225/45 R19
Front Ventilated Discs
Rear Ventilated Discs
Front MacPherson Struts
2.0L, Inline-4, Transverse
Clubman 48L, Petrol
Countryman 51L, Petrol
Clubman 360 – 1,250L
Countryman 450 – 1,390L
JCW – 306 / 5,000 – 6,250
Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 – 381 / 6,000
Volkswagen Golf R – 290 / 5,500 – 6,500
JCW – 450 / 1,750 – 4,500
Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 – 475 / 2,250 – 5,000
Volkswagen Golf R – 380 / 2,000 – 5,400
Honda FK8R – 310 / 6,500
Honda FK8R – 400 / 2,500 – 4,500
UNDERSTANDING MINI MODEL NAMES
Unlike other car makers, MINI’s official model nomenclature follows a slightly unusual convention.
All MINI bodystyles come with the same selection of engines denoted by their variant names:
• One First: 1.5L, 3-cyl, 75hp, 160Nm
• One: 1.5L, 3-cyl, 102hp, 190Nm
• Cooper: 1.5L, 3-cyl, 136hp, 220Nm
• Cooper S: 2.0L, 4-cyl, 192hp, 280Nm
• John Cooper Works: 2.0L, 4-cyl, 306hp, 450Nm
Also, the other thing with the Mercedes is that the GLA 45 drives nothing like a GLA 200 or GLA 250, whereas the JCW models here felt more like tuned up specials of their Cooper S counterparts. Not saying it wasn’t job well done, but considering the price gap and the badge, buyers will expect something a bit more explosive and dramatic – both in appearance and experience.
These JCW siblings are fabulously-engineered cars, decently fast too, but a used GLA 45 is faster and gives you way more edge of the seats excitement, whilst within MINI’s own range, the Cooper S variants are as fast as you need them in most conditions, cost a lot less, and do not look much different.
MINI JCW COUNTRYMAN
MINI JCW CLUBMAN
The two cars featured in this article were shot separately. For the Countryman, selecting the location was a challenge as I wanted an off-road feel to complement its SUV image. Severe timing constraints with the car also meant that I had to shoot the car under the harsh afternoon sun, creating high contrasts throughout the image.
The weather could not be more different after I swapped for the Clubman. It was raining almost everyday! Everytime after washing, it rained as soon as I reached the photoshoot location. Eventually, I decided to take the weather in stride and shot the car right after rain and under overcast lighting. I used the camera’s WB (White balance) setting and give the image a warmer tone, and boosted colour saturation to achieve the final look of the image - TJ
Olympus OMD Mark III, f/2.8, 1/1600 sec, ISO 100, -0.7 step, 125mm
Olympus OMD Mark III, f/2.8, 1/60 sec, ISO 100, 0 step, 40mm
Olympus OMD Mark III, f/2.8, 1/1600 sec, ISO 100, -0.7 step, 67mm
Olympus OMD Mark III, f/2.8, 1/2500 sec, ISO 100, -0.3 step, 70mm
Olympus OMD Mark III, f/2.8, 1/3200 sec, ISO 400, -0.7 step, 70mm
Olympus OMD Mark III, f/2.8, 1/250 sec, ISO 100, -1.3 step, 90mm