First Drive: Mini John Cooper Works Challenge
The Challenge is the most hard-core, track-focused Mini ever made, and is targeted at those who like to spend time lapping at track days.
What is it?
Mini has long ensured that a large percentage of its models have a sporty flair – including the Cooper S, Cooper SD and John Cooper Works. But now Mini has developed an even faster and more track-focused John Cooper Works Challenge edition. Tuned for circuit driving with as much weight cut from the car as possible, the Challenge provides the purest driving experience you will get from any Mini. The only downside is the somewhat hefty price, as £32,000 is a lot for any hot hatch. Yet, if you value the purest of driving experiences, this is unmistakably the Mini to have.
What's under the bonnet?
Under the bonnet you will find the same 2.0-litre 228bhp turbocharged petrol engine as in the standard John Cooper Works. This is no bad thing though as it is a fantastic engine, and thanks to 320Nm of torque, it provides all the pull you would ever require. The Challenge comes with a six-speed gearbox and front-wheel-drive. Also, our test car was fitted with particularly sticky tyres, meaning that the claimed 0-60mph time of 6.1 seconds could probably be improved on.
What's it like to drive?
Unsurprisingly the Challenge is fantastic to drive - it was developed for a track after all. The grip levels are phenomenal, even better than the standard JCW which we thought would take some beating. The sticky tyres, larger brakes and differential provide a focused drive experience that few cars can challenge.
While the pure driving experience, particularly on track, takes some beating, unfortunately the road experience is just a bit too much. While the Challenge is still incredible on country roads, we can't help but think it is too track-focused. Those new springs and dampers are painfully firm, just too much to enjoy on a daily basis, particularly in town driving.
How does it look?
To tell the truth the John Cooper Works Challenge looks very similar to a standard JCW, and it retains the quirky and distinctive looks that any Mini has.
There is a lower splitter, a large rear diffuser and a tasteful boot spoiler, but every JCW has these anyway. The subtle differences to the Challenge include a lower ride height, black alloy wheels and red brake callipers.
What's it like inside?
Mini has really cut back on the interior of the John Cooper Works Challenge, to reduce weight and improve performance. The large central infotainment screen has been replaced by a simple display, and you still get air-con, but little else. Mini designed the car to be as minimalist as possible, but you can't help but feel it is just a step too far for most Mini owners, especially when it costs £32,000.
What's the spec like?
There isn't a huge amount to say about the spec, as truth-be-told there isn't really much in the way of standard equipment. The Challenge still has adaptive LED headlights, cruise control and rear parking sensors, but it all feels a bit bare inside, especially if you are accustomed to the features you get in the standard JCW. Yet, it's still a typical Mini as it is well made and trimmed in high-quality materials, which provides a bit of comfort to help deflect your attention from the bone-shattering ride.
There is no way of getting around just how fun the Challenge is. Particularly on track, the driving experience is sublime and it is clear just how much development was done on a circuit. The unfortunate truth is that on the road, it is just too firm, and leaves you wanting something with a smoother ride, ideally that of a standard JCW - and there lies the problem. The limited-run may appeal to some who want that track-focused rare car, but for most people, the standard JCW is easily fast enough, much cheaper and far easier to live with on a daily basis.
Model as tested: John Cooper Works Challenge
Max speed: 150mph
0-60mph: 6.1 seconds