by John Tallodi
The modern Mini Cooper may not be as revolutionary a design as the Alec Issigonis original but it has its own charms and offers a mix of retro-style and handling verve that makes it stand out from other more straight-laced subcompact offerings. The 2-door hardtop Cooper S and JCW derivatives inject some performance into the mix too and for 2017 they receive some additional standard equipment.
The funky exterior design continues to the interior and the large central dial and bespoke buttons and switchgear makes the Cooper feel far more special than just about anything else in its class. With only two doors, the Cooper is clearly not designed with a family in mind and while the rear seats are usable they are hard to climb into and only children will be comfortable for any length of time.
The front row offers far more space and while the Mini is quite compact, both the driver and passenger should have adequate leg and headroom. Storage space is not great for oddments inside the cabin and the trunk is smaller than most other cars in this class.
Travelling long distances four up with luggage is not what this car is about.
The Cooper S offers a sporty suspension setup and larger diameter rims than the base model in the range, offering high levels of grip and excellent cornering ability. The little hardtop responds immediately to steering changes and feels lively around twisty roads, the brakes too are sharp and fade free in normal use.
Ride quality is firm though and the Mini feels uncomfortable over bumpy roads, the JCW adds another level of involvement compared to the S but at the cost of an even harsher ride quality. The standard suspension system can be fitted to the JCW which may appeal to some shoppers, as will the option to fit non-runflat rubber.
The Mini Cooper S is equipped with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine making 189 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque, decent numbers for a compact hatchback but if you want more the John Cooper Works edition pushes these numbers up to 228 hp and 236 lb-ft.
Both models come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive while a 6-speed automatic is optional.
The Cooper S offers a competitive 6.4-seconds to 60 mph when equipped with the automatic transmission (the manual takes an extra tenth) and delivers its performance with very little hesitation.
The Cooper JCW cuts the 0-60 mph time down to 5.9-seconds with the automatic transmission or 6.1-seconds in the manual, quick but there are faster cars in this class. The short gear ratios and immediacy of the power delivery will rarely have you wanting more though and if you can live with the more compromised ride over the S, then a manual JCW is a fantastic companion for any challenging road.
The Cooper S trim offers a 6.5-inch display with smartphone and Bluetooth integration, rearview camera with parking sensors, keyless ignition, climate control, sport seats, LED foglights, split-folding rear seats, 6-speaker audio system and 16-inch alloy wheels as standard.
The JCW trim offers the more powerful engine, 17-inch wheels, uprated front brakes, sport-tuned suspension (the standard setup is a no-cost option), various JCW exterior and interior details and LED headlights.
Options are numerous with Sport, Premium and JCW Packages among some of the offerings. Many items can be individually chosen and include a head-up display, active driving assistant, comfort access, panoramic sunroof and dynamic damper control.
The 2-door Hardtop Cooper S/JCW duo are not the cheapest way to go fast but if style and personalization are high on your list of priorities then not much else comes close in this class. Quality materials and plenty of options also add to their desirability levels.
A firm ride and tight interior accommodation are acceptable compromises for shoppers more interested in the sharp handling and back road-friendly dimensions that these two sporty Coopers offer.