Introduced to the Mini Cooper lineup in 2009, the John Cooper Works (JCW) model is named after the deceased famous racing car guru who founded the Cooper Car Company in 1946.

For 2012, the JCW edition of the Mini, now owned and marketed by BMW, retains its place as a niche compact driving machine. It features a 208-horsepower, turbocharged engine and six-speed manual transmission with larger, now standard 17-inch wheels.

In addition to its more powerful engine (87 more horsepower than the standard Mini), The John Cooper Works includes upgraded Brembo brakes and options such as a leather upholstery package and navigation package.

Upgrades for 2012 are minimal, but include an aero kit for JCW versions only and floor mats for all Cooper models.

The Weekly Driver Test Drive

With its bright red roof, black alloy wheels and hood stripes, the JCW Mini immediately attracted attention. Kids on bikes on neighborhood streets and freeway motorists flashed the “thumb’s up” sign. Strangers in coffee shop and supermarket parking lots were curious and ventured over to ask questions.

But the JCW edition engine’s and interior design make it more unique. With its increased horsepower and tight steering, the Mini is unqualified joy to drive — particularly for anyone who has driven other editions of the iconic brand.

During my weekly test, the Mini’s stiff steering took awhile to appreciate. And like any driving any true sports car, I felt every bump in the road. For many sports car enthusiasts, of course, that’s the enjoyment of driving a sports car.

Like all Minis, the JCW features the “retro” look of toggles switches for windows, locks and other functions and the oversized, off-centered speedometer. A driver new to Mini may be distracted getting used to something different. But how much of distraction can a speedometer the size of a dinner plate and easy-to-use toggles really be? Once a new way is mastered, the Mini’s approach is cool and functional.

Driving the JCW on the freeway was surprisingly enjoyable. It’s smooth, and given its size-to-power ratio, the Mini scoots down the road with authority. Maneuvering in traffic is among the car’s strengths and the ride isn’t as noisy as might be expected.

Likes:

Superior performance with good fuel economy is a rare combination.

Trunk space is cavernous for segment, complemented with a largo cargo pass-through area.

Responsive steering.

“Floating” speedometer gauge.

Dislikes:

Poor rear and driver’s side window visibility.

Difficult entrance/exit for anyone 5-foot-10 or taller.

Some interior controls not easily accessible.

Trunk lift extraordinarily heavy and there’s no interior or exterior handle to assist.

Seat belts hard to reach.

With its more than $7,000 of options, it’s expensive.

Facts & Figures: 2012 MINI JCW Cooper Coupe

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 6.2 seconds.
Airbags (6).
Fuel economy: 25 mpg (city), 33 mpg (highway), six-speed manual transmission.
Government Safety Ratings: NTHSA, Not rated.
Horsepower: 208
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $31,200.00
Manufacturer’s Web site: www.mini.com.
Price As tested: $38,450.00.
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Power train, 4 years/50,000 miles; Corrosion: 12 years/unlimited mileage; Roadside Assistance, 4 years/unlimited mileage:

What Others Say:

“If you compare the Coupe to its more natural foes such as the Mazda Miata or the Nissan 370Z there’s plenty to like here, including a far slicker interior that’s more useful, roomier and more accommodating of larger folks.” — Popular Mechanics

“It’s the type of car that’s sure to get most any driver’s blood flowing, and one Mini you’ll never want unbuckle from.” — Motor Trend.

“After a day of flogging these two turbocharged versions of the 2012 Cooper Coupe we came away deeply impressed and fully convinced this cheeky newcomer truly is a Mini with a mission.” — Kelley Blue Book.

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

“Few vehicles have received more looks, more double-takes and more questions than two-toned, uniquely styled John Cooper Works edition of the Mini. It looks cool. It’s fast. But it has a few hard-to-accept features — like a $38,000 price tag.”

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