When the MINI marque was launched back at the turn of the century, it resonated well with a relatively young demographic. It was an alternative to the more grownup-looking hatchbacks and practical products that the market offered, and MINI sold people both a car and a lifestyle that went hand-in-hand. But these fresh-out-of-college customers are no longer fresh-out-of-college. They’ve started to settle down and start families. MINI has realised that their demographic is growing up – and they need to grow along with them.
Cars like the Countryman and the Clubman and the 5-door hatch were born out of this school of thought. Each of these cars have little to do with the rich history of the original MINI, but they have proved to be heavily popular among this new generation of MINI owners. MINI’s products have grown consistently in size over the one-and-a-half decades since the marque has been refreshed, resulting in products that are substantially larger than the classic MINI form. This is a fact that annoys purists, but is an entirely necessary step in garnering wider market acceptance.
The 5-door hatch in particular has been a great middle ground – for those who want the compact width of the standard MINI hatch with a little more length and a full set of five doors. It’s not quite the bulky behemoth that is the Countryman nor the full-on wagon form of the Clubman, but a solid compromise from a size perspective. It sits on an extended variant of the MINI 3-door hatch platform, and critics have said that it possesses much of the dynamic character that MINI specialises in. Perhaps the only issue is that in lower-spec forms, MINI products are usually powered by lacklustre engines. The Cooper model is only barely acceptable, while the Cooper S variant is the only one which provides appreciable performance – performance on par with the image that MINI created for their products.
That is, until now. John Cooper Works (JCW) is a MINI sub brand that has its stamp on any performance product that comes from the British marquee – and they’ve worked their magic with the 5-door hatch as well. Arguably, a John Cooper Works MINI is a MINI in its most distilled form – designed to be quicker and more agile, and closer to the go-kart analogy than anything else. With 211 hp on tap and a kerb weight of just under 1,200 kg, the MINI JCW Pro Edition is quicker than even the venerable Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Specific to the JCW Pro Edition are a number of aesthetic touches that take it beyond even regular JCW models. It comes exclusively in a Midnight Black Metallic, contrasted with the red accents and a red chequerboard roof. Despite its diminutive size, this particular MINI is capable of making a racket: it comes with a louder exhaust system that can be quietened via a BlueTooth remote. Your arrival can be preceded by a cacophony of pops and crackles, or you can choose to cruise in silence with the push of a button.
But then the question comes: why would such an aggressive car work well in day-to-day duties? It’s the combination of compact dimensions and peppy performance that makes this MINI a serious contender. MINI styling language has evolved over the years, but at its core is still the 2-box design with various curves and features overlaid. Short overhangs and huge windows all round make it easy to manoeuvre this MINI in and out of parking spaces. There’s none of that tapering roofline nonsense here: a consistent flat roof means rear passengers don’t have to suffer from a lack of headroom either. The boot has increased in space by 67 litres over the paltry one in the 3-door, allowing you to fit more than just a rucksack.
While there may not be many trunk roads on the morning run to school or work, the nimble characteristics and quick steering can still be appreciated in everyday situations. Changing lanes requires little more than a flick of the wrist, allowing you to effortlessly thread your way through traffic on the way to your next appointment. Perhaps the only aspect of MINI products that may be difficult to live with is the firm suspension – even more so with JCW variants. Despite being an excellent choice for a jaunt around a race track or on a Sunday drive, the suspension tends to be a little uncomfortable when dealing with our commonly potholed roads.
MINI products benefit from the company’s relation to BMW. Most of the entertainment system is ported over from higher-specification BMW models, with an offshoot of the BMW iDrive taking centre stage in the centre console. With premium components filling the brunt of the interior, there is little luxury lost in these MINI products – perhaps a deviation from the original bare-bones concept of classic Minis, but definitely not unwelcome distractions during long traffic jams.
The MINI isn’t a conventional choice by far, but the expansion to the 5-door form has definitely made the basic MINI hatch a more acceptable product for family use. It has just enough versatility to function as a family mover, at least for a few years, before the children outgrow the back seats. By then it may be time to trade up to a larger SUV, but the sheer fun factor of this MINI may find you keeping it for the long term. It’s a left-field choice compared to the more conventional German hatchbacks, but one that can deal out the fun just as effectively.