Mini Cooper JCW Hardtop essentials: One for the superfans

Our Opinion: Driving this Mini John Cooper Works hardtop served as a reminder that just about everything we’ve written about Mini and its cars, both positive and negative, rings as true as ever. If the Mini hardtop is cute, sometimes almost too cute for its own good, it’s also an extremely credible front-wheel drive performer. Whether the optional automatic represents a real upgrade over the fun six-speed manual, especially when you have to pay $1,500 for it, depends on the mission profile. If you’re trying to shave off seconds at the track, it may be worth it.
And oof is it still stiffly sprung. Part of it is the JCW-specific sport suspension, which is perfect for a track day but less well-tuned for the streets of Detroit. All Minis contend with relatively low-profile tires and a short wheelbase (98.2 inches in the case of the Hardtop) that’s not exactly optimal for soaking up road imperfections. As always, your best bet is to use that lauded handling to drive around potholes rather than crashing over them.
The joke about the Mini — now in its third generation, this particular version having been introduced in late 2013/early 2014 —  not being particularly mini anymore, is, on the other hand, feeling a little bit stale. Since the new, BMW-owned Mini launched nearly two decades ago these things have grown, and the part of me that likes tiny cars is sad about that. Then again, so has everything else on the road. Parking all 150.4 inches of this JCW Hardtop next to a midsize crossover, let alone a full-size pickup, is an eye-opener. On US roads at least, this thing is still, well, mini, even if its 2,864-pound curb weight means its not exactly a lightweight.