Are all modern ‘retro’ cars a bit soulless these days – Mini too?

cropped-1004398_p90183160.jpg

I’ve enjoyed the John Cooper Works but I can’t help feeling that compared to an original Cooper, all modern superminis are a bit sanatised and soulless these days.

Yes, I know this JCW is faster, safer and infinitely better equipped. But it’s not a machine that truly moves me. To put it bluntly, I could never fall in love with this car.

It’s perhaps unfair to level such a charge just at the Mini. It’s the same with the current VW Beetle and the Jeep Wrangler – all perfectly decent cars but they don’t get into your heart.

Car Couture hasn’t driven one for a while but only the Fiat 500 makes me feel slightly warmed. Maybe the new Fiat convertible has a chance too..

The biggest rev counter in the world? The Mini JCW has it!

cropped-1004372_p90182415.jpg

July 11 Truth is, I’m still trying to get my head around the cake tin-sized infotainment centre that dominates the dashboard of the JCW.

I’ve always liked the fact the the navigation map appears in the middle – it’s all a bit retro James Bond, in an Austin Powers sort of way. Groovy.

The JCW can be equipped with the world’s largest rev counter too. It’s a series of LED lights that span the circumference of said cake tin and light up one by one as the revs increase.

The same lights turn blue when the Bluetooth system is taking a call. Serves little purpose but I rather like it.

Beneath is a row of aircraft-style toggle switches, while a click wheel between the front seat operates many of the on-screen functions.

It’s all lovely cool stuff – a designer handbag of a car. Far more chic than the class-leading Ford Fiesta ST, although the Mini is nowhere near as engaging to drive.

So, if you want to stylish interior, the JCW is your choice. If you want a faster car that costs around £5k less, you may have to consider the delights of dealing with a Ford dealership…

I don’t mind a stiff ride but… the Mini John Cooper Works is ‘hard’ work

cropped-1004379_p90182414.jpg

July 9 Skipping helter-skelter across the Cotswolds in the hottest Mini money can buy should be on every petrolhead’s bucket list. You can enjoy just as much fun in the original supermini as a Ferrari – the handling is that good.

And while I can appreciate what BMW has created with the latest JCW version, I can’t help thinking that they’ve slightly overcooked it.

The problem is the ‘Sport’ setting. It sets the car up for a more entertaining ride, tweaking the adjustable dampers. Yet combined with low profile tyres, the JCW just can’t cope with uneven road surfaces.

It hops and skips all over the place in what feels like a prolonged bout of torque steer. The solution is to play around with the different settings and find the right mode.

Now, that’s all very well and good but I’d much prefer the Mini to adjust to my style of driving, rather than the other way around…

A Mini, Jim, but not as we know it. The John Cooper Works…

1004408_P90183168

July 8 There was a time, at the launch of the new generation Mini in 2001, when BMW didn’t want their new car to be associated with the original, ground-breaking Mini of the 1960s.

Journalists were told they had to ‘cap up’ the word MINI when writing about the new generation car – old school Mini associations just weren’t welcome to the branding fest spawned by BMW.

Times change and somebody in Germany did eventually realise the benefits of being associated with an automotive icon. Which is why the company’s official Mini website has a page on the John Cooper Works car entitled ‘Inspired by a Legend.’

Jon Cooper developed a standard road Mini into an incredible rally car. And this week’s test car pays homage to that – albeit at a rather hefty price.

The new, JCW Mini goes head-to-head with the class-leading Ford Fiesta ST for the supermini crown. Most commentators think the Fiesta is better but I for one hope they have got it wrong.

Join us over the next few days to see how we get on with the fastest Mini ever…

Why motoring photographers love the Jeep Wrangler for tracking shots

cropped-jeep_1743.jpg

July 5 Ask any motoring photographer and they will tell you that their least favourite job is a tracking shot – shooting from car to car, often hanging out of a sunroof or side window.

I’ve seen countless near disasters over the years – photographers falling out, scratching the back of their heads on branches and losing pieces of equipment on the roadside.

Car’s aren’t designed to be photographic platforms – apart from the Jeep Wrangler. It’s quite brilliant because the split opening tailgate means the photographer can sit safely in the boot with the glass screen open.

Of course, the Range Rover is equally as good but the Jeep has a larger window aperture, which snappers love. I obviously can’t advocate sitting in the boot of a moving vehicle, but you get the picture, don’t you?

The Jeep Wrangler is sadly a bit too retro in the manner it drives too…

cropped-73654jee_2.jpg

July 4 Stephen, the Welsh doorman at The Milestone in Kensington, has driven almost as many cars as me. Parking is tight outside the hotel, which means he’s shifted everything from Bentleys to Bugattis to avoid the traffic wardens.

Being a fisherman, he likes a 4×4 and was almost as excited about moving the Wrangler as a Rolls. His verdict? He loves the way the Jeep stands out from the crowd of SUVs, the retro look and the huge, comfortable seats.

I get all that but have to point out to Stephen that the Jeep is also ‘retro’ in the way it drives on-road. It might be cool to look at but even something from Vauxhall is more exciting to steer.

So I’m not sure Stephen will be saving his tips towards buying one of these. Besides, he has access to an old Defender that will take him home to Cardiff on Wednesday night for the biggest game in Welsh football history…

The Jeep Wrangler is a better all-round proposition than the iconic Land Rover Defender

cropped-jeep_1756.jpg

July 3 It would easy to forget that the Jeep Wrangler always was an off-road vehicle. That’s what it was designed for and, just like the Land Rover Defender, it works best in the mud.

The only vehicle I own is a Landie but even I have to admit that the Wrangler is far better on road than the Defender ever was. Yep, it’s actually comfortable and you can hold a conversation inside the cabin without the use of sign language.

The Defender is no more but after 350 miles in the Jeep, it genuinely feels like a better proposition, if you want a vehicle that can crash across a muddy field and then sit comfortably on the motorway at speed.

Don’t go thinking the Wrangler is refined though! It’s very much an acquired taste and really has to be worked hard to return any sort of performance. But it is now the only viable alternative to a Defender and deserves your attention…