It would appear that in the performance arena manual transmissions are becoming an endangered species. Top-flight supercars exited the three pedal club long ago and there were many raised eyebrows when Porsche did the same with the 911. Why? Truth be told, a computer can change gear faster and more precisely than you. Fact. This technology has trickled down into hot hatchbacks with cars such as the latest RenaultSport Clio not offering a manual option at all. It is saddening that the thrill of being the organic part of the machine is actually now the weakest link in the performance chain when it comes to the data. The 2015 Mini John Cooper Works is a brilliant little pocket rocket and its automatic transmission with paddle shifters is an engineering marvel, however, Mini know that enthusiasts still crave swapping cogs for themselves. Enter the 2015 Mini John Cooper Works Manual.
Sporting the new proportions of the latest generation hatchback, this pocket rocket is everything you would expect of a modern Mini. From its big round glowing headlights that form that familiar cheeky face to its dimensions that sees a wheel tucked into each corner, the persona this car emits hasn’t changed in decades. Yes, it’s got a bit bigger and die-hard original Mini fans will think it some form of heathen as a result, but the truth is that it is still one of the most characterful cars you will find in any car park. Being the John Cooper Works it sheds its cuter traits in exchange for a shot of testosterone. Prominent grills have grown and now dominate the front facia, Bold 18 inch JCW alloy wheels fill the arches, a boot spoiler has emerged, and a central set of dual exhaust pipes aim like cannons towards the rapidly vanishing horizon behind.
The interior is a particular highlight as Mini portray this car as a fashion conscious premium product. From the moment you enter the cabin it is obvious that a team has agonised over every detail. High quality textured materials form the dashboard, ambient lighting changes colour dependent on the cars current function, and those chromed aircraft inspired toggle switches remain. Our test car was fitted with the “Chilli Pack” which included a set of highly bolstered leather and alcantara seats. These man-eaters give a really sporting feel as well as being function in their supporting of occupants. A chunky red stitched steering wheel proudly wears the Mini logo whilst aluminium pedals, count three of them, shine in the footwell. A widescreen display plays host to an easy to use infotainment system that is controlled via an ergonomic touch pad, scroll wheel, and shortcut buttons. The second row of a Mini hatch has always been a bit of a challenge, the JCW is no different offering a space that is fine for children, but a bit of a squeeze for adults. The boot is big enough for a short trip to the shops.
The 2015 Mini John Cooper Works Manual has three distinctive personalities dependent upon what mode the car is in. Twisting a collar, located at the base of the gear stick, to the left bathes the interior in green lighting. Predictably this is call “green mode” and its aim is to help you achieve the claimed 42MPG combined figure. Via the instruments it will recommend when to change gear and give you an indication of how much fuel saving you are doing. I hate to say it, but this becomes an addictive little game around town. In said urban environment the Mini darts through traffic with well judged steering, although its low speed ride can be a bit firm. We would recommend spending extra on the excellent adjustable dampers which help a lot. Clicking the car into normal mode results in a slight increase in throttle response from the turbocharged 1.6 litre engine, however, the car feels like it is willing you on to turn that dial once more. Doing so turns the cabin red and unleashes this little Mini’s full potential. Foot to the floor fires the JCW down the road using all 228BHP. 0-62MPH takes just 6.3 seconds and it will go onto a top speed of 153MPH. Acceleration is relentless as the exhaust emits a deep base note and the turbo whistles. Come off of the throttle and loud pops and bangs are allowed to resinate via an open valve in the exhausts. It is totally churlish but fantastic fun. The best part? With a six speed manual transmission you are the conductor of this grin provoking orchestra. Challenging country roads are a joy as good grip and masterful body control reinforce the ethos that the Mini is a bit of a weapon on such terrain. The meatier weighting of the steering in race mode adds more precision and the huge Brembo brakes on the car provide truly impressive stopping power. You can feel the weight shifting around your hips and the whole experience is engaging, amplified by the manual transmission.
Starting at £23,050 the 2015 Mini John Cooper Works Manual is not cheap, but it does feel like a quality product. As well as being well engineered and great fun to drive, within that price tag you are buying into the Mini brand and everything it represents. I hold no grudges against anyone who buys the automatic, it is very good, but you save £1,330 with the manual model in addition to the added involvement it provides.
It is not surprising that this little blighter is one of our Inside Lane “Car of the Year” finalists.