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

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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..

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

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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

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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…

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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…

Friday – Conflict of Interest

593863_P90102781_highResJessica There are a range of contrasting emotions evoked by the Mini GP ….

On one hand, it sits there looking the epitome of a boy racer toy, something that a young lad would aspire to which, as a parent, would fill me with cold dread. On the other hand, it is a Mini and it does look rather dashing with its sporty flashes of red and matching mini spoiler with gimmicky wheels (move over Herbie).

Does that make me a secret boy racer? Or have Mini managed to make a ridiculous car appealing to a wide range of speed merchant tpyes?

Once inside, I feel a little mutton dressed as lamb. Especially as I strap myself in with the racing red seat belt and see the vast Mini centre display with red stitch detail around every part of the dashboard, presumably to make me feel it is worth spending £29,000 on a little car.

It certainly takes me back to friends of my youth, who had old Minis as first cars. I seem to remember then that everything seemed fast and they certainly did not have anything like the power of this little monster.

I must say though that driving it does bring a smile to the face. It is remarkably like driving a go-kart (in a great deal more comfort) with super responsive steering and handling. Yes it is fun, I could not keep the grin off my face … The great thing is it feels like you are going fast without breaking the law, so there is little need to test the impressive speed available.

Ultimately, I feel I should be a disapproving parent but the GP is fun. I should also be a little over the hill to be enjoying the frivolity of it all but ridiculous though the car may seem on first viewing, it is a little gem. I’m rather sad I did not have my enough time for own Mini GP adventure with it this week, a missed opportunity…

Thursday – Too Many Horses…

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Jeremy I’ve spent the day interviewing Pippa Funnell – the equestrian rider who is probably Britain’s most successful, three-day event sportswoman.

Driving the Mini GP 100 miles to her Surrey stud was hard work, especially on the motorway stretches where noise levels are high. Then snow started to fall and the hills around Forest Green are riddled in deep, back crunching potholes. Not pleasant in a car with such robust suspension.

Exchanging the GP’s 215bhp for one horsepower should have been a more relaxing ride, except a highly tuned dressage horse is even less forgiving than an F1 car. At least the horse and the GP have one feature in common – an excellent heated seat.

The GP is heading back to Mini UK tomorrow and CarCouture will be exchanging keys for a BMW 6 Series Convertible, with the sublime, high-powered diesel engine. As we’re fed up with British weather, the plan is to take it over to France and check out the delights of Le Mans

You can read about my riding exploits with Pippa in next weekend’s Financial Times Magazine.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday – Gripping Stuff

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Jeremy One fact about driving a Mini – you are always going to meet an enthusiast who just wants to talk. I’ve just filled up for a trip to Sussex tomorrow and a guy with a gleaming white, original Cooper cornered me at the fuel pumps. I thought ‘classic’ Mini fans loathed the current version but he proved me wrong.

Not only did he own the Cooper, he also had a John Cooper Works GP from 2006. And to prove it he fished out a photo from his wallet. My GP looked a whole heap better, with a much lower, squat stance and those red air intakes in the front sill. The latest GP is some 20mm lower at the front than a standard JCW version (and £6,000 dearer!).

The GP’s trademark, four-spoke alloys look sensational and wrapped in Kumho Ecsta tyres, I can’t imagine it ever losing grip. On the twisty lanes around Longleat, the handling is simply sensational – virtually on a par with a Caterham 7. The slightest adjustment on the steering wheel and the Mini responds without hesitation.

I’m even starting to believe I could cope with a GP as an everyday car! It’s a creeping, overwhelming fever that is only caught by those who drive it…