The 2022 Mini Cooper JCW Isn’t Better Than a Volkswagen GTI, and It Doesn’t Need to Be

Fans of the hot hatch are experiencing something of a Renaissance right now. There’s a new Volkswagen GTI, the Hyundai Veloster N brings new blood to the segment, and the Honda Civic Type R might be the best driver’s car for under $60,000 on sale right now. So, when Mini, er, BMW, decided to toss me the keys to a 2022 Mini Cooper JCW, I got a little excited (read: very).

What’s the difference between the Mini Cooper S and JCW?

A racing green 2022 Mini Cooper JCW hot hatch shot from the front 3/4 at dusk in the Rockies
The Mini JCW was a faithful, if uncomfortable steed | Chase Bierenkoven, MotorBiscuit

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However, the 2022 Mini Cooper John Cooper Works has some issues. Rather a lot of them, actually. First, let’s discuss what makes this Mini Cooper so special. The Mini JCW differs in a few major ways from the slightly less hot Mini Cooper S. Of course, there’s John Cooper Works badging everywhere, and this color combo is exclusive to the JCW.

Obviously, there’s also a host of mechanical changes that help make the 2022 Cooper JCW worth its as-specc’d $40,850. Normally, you’ll find a turbocharged 3-cylinder under the hood of a Mini, but this one gets a 228 hp 2.0L turbo four with 236 lb-ft and a standard 6-speed manual. The auto comes in at an extra $1,500. Don’t bother. You also get Alcantara sport seats that’ll hold you tighter than a long-lost lover, and springs that appear to be made of rebar.

The Volkswagen GTI is a better hatchback than the Mini JCW

During my week with the 2022 Mini Cooper JCW, I found myself constantly comparing it to the gold standard for hot hatches: the Volkswagen GTI. Objectively, as the only car someone owns, the Mini JCW is a worse car in just about every way. The ride is terribly harsh, the seats hard, its size too small, and the infotainment old and outdated. Its saving grace is whimsy: the toggle switches, while plastic, have an aviation feel, and the LED ring surrounding the infotainment reacts to your every adjustment.

This is a car that just makes people smile. Somewhere in Denver, there’s an old lady with a photo of herself and this Mini. Other Mini people honk and wave at you because owning this car is a personality. It’s like a watch, and driving this says a lot about you. And that’s where the Mini redeems itself. Where the Volkswagen GTI is clinical, almost too good to drive, the Mini has flaws, and flaws that make you love it. It’s incredibly loud, and downshifts through the admittedly plasticky shifter are a riot. It claws out of corners while the front wheels hop about, and you’ll love every minute of it.

The 2022 Mini Cooper JCW is a great hot hatch with serious flaws

If you already own a second car and miss your hot hatchback, the 2022 Mini Cooper JCW is for you. It’s too small to be seriously practical, hence the need for another car. The ride is far too harsh to do anything but dice up canyon roads in. But this car oozes charisma. There isn’t a more lively, laugh-out-loud absurd hot hatch out there.

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