FACT’s motoring man, Tony Sidgwick, puts the most powerful production MINI, ever creat ed, through its paces on the Yas Marina Circuit. He isn’t disappointed…

Some of you may remember our review of the MINI Cooper S a couple of months ago ( June 2015 issue, to be exact), in which we lauded the fantastic style and great features of the Cooper S, but bemoaned the fact that it felt just a little too soft around the edges for a hot hatch. We said at the time that if you’re looking for true driving thrills from a MINI, you should probably take a look at the John Cooper Works (JCW).

Well, this month, we can confirm that we were dead on the money. In a driving event where both cars were provided for us to experience side by side, we were able to make a true comparison between the two, and the JCW outshone its sibling in practically every way possible. So what is it about the JCW that makes it so much better? Well, for starters, there is the car’s snarly 2.0l TwinPower Turbo four-pot, a superb little engine that also happens to be the most powerful ever fitted in a serial production MINI. It puts out 231hp and an impressive 320Nm of torque through the six-speed automatic transmission, taking the JCW from standstill to 100km/h in just 6.1 seconds, and on to a top speed of 246km/h.

The six-speed auto box is excellent, with snappy gear changes and the option of manual paddle shift. In manual mode, the gearbox in the JCW is less invasive than in the Cooper S. When you’re pushing the red line, the Cooper S has a tendency to shift automatically before you have the chance, which proves quite frustrating. Not so with the JCW, which gives you much more leeway before it intervenes.

It’s not the difference in power that really makes the JCW stand out from the Cooper S, though; the handling is greatly improved too. With less roll, less understeer, and more overall grip, the JCW feels much firmer and more planted than the Cooper S. This is largely thanks to the various stability and traction control systems, partnered with MINI’s exclusive 18-inch John Cooper Works Race Spoke light alloy wheels and a newly-developed Brembo sports brake system.

However, what also makes a real difference is how the traction control interferes less in the driving experience.

When you floor it coming out of a corner, the Cooper S will wait until it has gathered itself and all wheels are firmly planted before it lets you lay down the power. Again, not so with the JCW, which obeys the accelerator immediately, scrabbling and growling out of the corner like a whippet, and allowing the high levels of grip and stability to do their job instead.

All of this adds to the MINI’s cool retro styling and plush interior that we already love, which is also enhanced by JCW-specific details like the improved aero kit, wheel arch flares, sports seats and more. What it all adds up to is a MINI, which is harder, faster, meaner, and a whole lot more fun to drive.