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…

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…