Expert Reviews

2023 Mini Cooper JCW Review

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
  • Safety

I’ve always been kind of a weirdo, but I’ve learned that what makes me weird is what makes me great.

As a brand, Mini has embraced that same philosophy and offers some of the most fun and unique vehicles around. The three-door 2023 Mini Cooper John Cooper Works (JCW) is a silly little hot hatch that is ridiculously fun and stands out in a sea of oatmeal-flavoured vehicles – but it’s also not perfect.

Styling: 9/10

This Mini is one of the most fun-looking vehicles available right now. This tiny hatchback is freaking adorable and doesn’t try to shy away from its cuteness. Even with this JCW’s body kit and big spoiler adding some aggression, it can’t help but look happy.

I love the combination of the dark metallic green paint with contrasting red roof, mirror caps, and racing stripes on the hood, but Mini offers a bunch of customization options so shoppers can pick combos that suit their personalities. There’s also lots of clever details that add an extra level of cheerfulness, including the hood scoop (sadly, not actually functional), retro fuel filler door, and Union Jack pattern in the taillights.

The fun continues inside with circular shapes for nearly everything, including the housings for the touchscreen, air vents, and door handles. It all adds to how silly and playful everything feels. I particularly love the retro-style toggles, including a dramatic red ignition switch, that make it feel like you’re piloting a vintage fighter jet. Mini doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I love that the brand isn’t afraid to have some cheeky fun.

Driving Feel: 8/10

That cheeky fun translates into the Mini Cooper JCW’s driving dynamics that are more of the brand’s calling cards. The regular Mini Cooper is fun as it is, but the JCW version amps it up even more to give it full hot hatch credibility. This Mini is tons of fun to drive, it’s scrappy, and it has a big personality, which has a lot to do with its tiny footprint and growly exhaust note.

The Mini’s handling is a highlight; it dives into corners eagerly and sprints out of them with confidence. Its short and stout shape along with its zippiness help it feel like a go-kart, sticking to the pavement and staying flat through corners while joyfully darting around and changing direction with ease. The clutch is engaging and provides great feedback, but it’s also very forgiving and easy to modulate smoothly. The gear selector is a bit tall and I wish it was a bit shorter so shifting felt more direct. The steering is heavy and responsive, though a bit overkill when parking. The Brembo brakes are responsive and strong without feeling twitchy.

The Mini Cooper JCW doesn’t feel as refined as some of its hot hatch competitors like the Volkswagen Golf GTI or Hyundai Veloster N, but I chalk it up to the fact that in rare cases, imperfections can give cars a certain personality, and I think that’s what’s happening here. Whether intentional or not, the Mini somehow gets away with being less refined because it gives it a rawness and edge that adds to the car’s scrappy vibe.

For example, there’s tons of torque-steer when you’re launching with full force, so you have to hold the steering wheel steady as the front tires struggle to find traction. It’s not how it should be but, against my better judgement, it works somehow and makes the JCW feel a bit like a rabid dog trying to escape. It’s far better than a car that feels lifeless, and this Mini is certainly full of life.

Power: 9/10

The front-wheel-drive 2023 Mini Cooper JCW is powered by a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 228 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission helps get the zippy hatchback to 100 km/h in 6.3 seconds, while the optional eight-speed automatic transmission cuts that time to 6.1 seconds. In sport mode, the manual offers automatic rev-matching downshifts, which spikes the engine speed and makes the driver feel like a star. It’s worth noting that the Hyundai Veloster N offers more power and torque and slightly faster acceleration.

User-Friendliness: 5/10

While it’s fantastically fun to drive, the Mini Cooper may be one of the most frustrating cars to live with on a daily basis. One big red flag for me is that it doesn’t offer Android Auto at all, which means you’re forced to use the native navigation system. If you’re like me and have zero sense of direction, this might be a deal-breaker, because there’s no sugar-coating how annoying it is to use the car’s infotainment system. Of course, if you have an iPhone, your life with this Mini will be easier thanks to its standard Apple CarPlay integration.

Even so, the infotainment system’s menus don’t make much sense, typing in an address is finicky, the map is hard to read, the voice recognition barely understands basic addresses, and the cupholders are too small to hold or prop up my phone, which was running Google Maps while testing because I was desperate to get to my destination and inputting an address was taking an eternity. The shape of the vents and the small amount of real estate on the windshield also don’t give much space if you want to use an aftermarket phone mount.

Making matters worse is the fact that the dial that can be used to control the touchscreen is backwards; you need to turn it counter-clockwise to scroll down a menu and clockwise to scroll up, which is entirely counter-intuitive. Yes, using the touchscreen helps, but the menu structure makes it more difficult than necessary to complete even simple tasks like finding a radio station.

In another annoying moment, I discovered the wireless phone charger in the armrest was too small to fit my phone, which isn’t even one of the largest available today. A word to the wise: make sure you test to see if your phone fits.

Comfort: 6/10

Another issue with the armrest is that it’s essentially useless because it gets in the way of comfortably shifting gears, so I kept it in the upright position during testing. The rear seats are also pretty useless because there’s no real way anyone with legs can fit back there, so they’re best saved for emergencies or people you don’t like very much. [Now I know where I stand (or sit), Jodi. – Ed.]

The front seats are decently comfortable for running about, but do take note of how jarringly stiff the Cooper JCW is. While it pays off on a smooth and winding back road, the way it crashes over railway tracks or potholes is just so uncomfortable and it makes me feel old for complaining about back pain.

Practicality: 6/10

If practicality is important to you, then a three-door hot hatch probably isn’t at the top of your shopping list in the first place; but even compared to some of its rivals, the Mini feels harder to live with in this regard. There’s almost no small-item storage in the cabin, and the cupholders are located in a place that if there’s a water bottle in there, it blocks access to certain buttons. The door pockets are also very tight and basically useless for anything except cramming receipts into.

With 211 L in the trunk, there’s not much room, but there’s decent space with the seats folded down, which opens up 731 L in total. The unfortunate part is that the seats don’t fold flat, so you can’t easily slide something inside. There is, however, a decently sized underfloor storage compartment that’s good for stashing emergency items or for keeping valuables like laptops out of sight.

Safety: 7/10

There are some key safety features missing at this price point, and the lack of blind-spot monitoring is disappointing. The Mini, however, comes standard with steering-responsive headlights, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning.

Features: 7/10

Some highlights amongst the standard features include heated front seats, ambient lighting, automatic climate control, wireless phone charging, a head-up display, sunroof, digital instrument display, 18-inch wheels, upgraded audio system, and connected navigation with real-time traffic information.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

Over approximately 400 km of mixed testing, the Mini Cooper JCW was returning a fuel economy average of 9.3 L/100 km. The manual transmission version is officially rated at 10.7 L/100 km in the city, 7.5 on the highway, and 9.3 combined, so it was spot-on. It calls for premium-grade gas.

Value: 6/10

The Mini Cooper JCW 3-Door starts at $47,190 before a $2,245 destination fee. With some aesthetic options added, the final price of this tester came to $53,985. That’s significantly higher than the equally fun but more refined and user-friendly Hyundai Veloster N, which rings in at just under $40,000 before taxes.

The Verdict

I adore how much fun the 2023 Mini Cooper JCW is to zip around in and how it has such a huge personality, but I wish it was more well-rounded and easier to live with on a day-to-day basis. If you drive like you’re starring in your own chase scene at all times, this Mini is rewarding and will make you smile. But sometimes its quirks get in the way and take you out of that fantasy altogether.

Engine Displacement 2.0L
Engine Cylinders Turbo I4
Peak Horsepower 228 hp
Peak Torque 236 lb-ft
Fuel Economy 10.7 / 7.5 / 9.3 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 211 / 731 L seats up/down
Model Tested 2023 Mini Cooper JCW 3-Door
Base Price $47,190
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,245
Price as Tested $53,335
Optional Equipment
$3,800 – Dinamica/leather interior, $2,250; JCW Rebel Green paint, $1,000; Piano black exterior trim, $350; JCW hood stripes, $200