Our previous seat time in the Gen III Mini Cooper S Hardtop left us confident that the performance 2015 Mini John Cooper Works version was going to be something pretty special. A recent hands-on encounter with the new JCW Hardtop more than fully confirmed those expectations. We drove the new Works model with both an automatic and the new manual transmission, splitting a day spent on public roads in rural Connecticut with a track session at the Alan Wilzig Racing Manor followed by a quick visit to an autocross course. 

More of everything than matters

The latest incarnation of this iconic performance model is the most powerful, best-performing and arguably best-looking version ever created -- not to mention being the most technically advanced. Building off the BMW-penned UKL platform that also underpins the new Cooper/Cooper S, the JCW model puts a sharper focus on every aspect of driving dynamics, starting with its BMW-sourced 2.0-liter TwinPower Turbo 4-cylinder engine. 

Featuring a JCW-specific twin-scroll turbo, revised pistons, a lower compression ratio and a unique freer-flowing exhaust, the engine cranks out 228 horsepower -- 39 percent more than the 2.0-liter in the Cooper S and a 10 percent bump compared to the previous JCW's 1.6-liter four. It also develops 236 lb-ft of torque which arrives at just 1,250 rpm and hangs out in full measure until 4,800 revs. Beyond enthusiastic acceleration that delivers 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds with the paddle-activated 6-speed Shiftronic automatic and 6.1 ticks with the 6-speed manual, this remarkably smooth, purpose-tweaked 2.0-liter features a start/stop system that boosts efficiency. Both transmissions boast well-sorted ratios that enhance responsiveness and offer rev-matching on downshifts. 

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The chassis of the new JCW Hardtop gets a similar remix, with standard sport tuning (a less-intense baseline setup is on offer as a no-cost option) that can be augmented with an optional dual-mode Dynamic Damper Control. JCW kit also brings bespoke geometry, lighter/stronger front/rear suspension components plus extremely effective Brembo performance brakes along with a standard 17-inch alloys wrapped in 205/45 performance tires or an 18-inch upfit with similarly sticky, 205/40 run-flat alternatives. All of this interacts seamless with the JCW's Dynamic Stability Control, Electronic Differential Lock Control and Performance Control along with Torque Steer Compensation that virtually eliminates power-on twitch in this hot front-drive hatch. 

A dynamic delight

Collectively, the formula yields one seriously brilliant corner carver that matches quickness and agility with a full measure of flat-out fun. Like its lesser Hardtop siblings, the 2015 Mini JCW also has Sport/Mid-Mode/Green settings that can further tweak the steering, throttle and shift responses plus alter shock settings on cars with Dynamic Damper Control. While we found steering effort a bit high for our taste in Sport mode, the real caveat remains ride compliance. While quite good on well-maintained roads, comfort levels tend to drop -- and noise levels rise -- rather markedly when the JCW Hardtop encounters even modestly rough pavement, a condition that's further exacerbated on models wearing the optional 18-inch rolling stock.  

To ensure a suitably aggressive character, the JCW Hardtop boasts a bold but totally function-oriented exterior that sports edgier aero-optimizing fascias, bigger front intakes and a diffuser that incorporates central paired bright exhaust tips. The hottest Mini Hardtop also features flow-fostering side sills and subtle wheel-arch surrounds plus a decklid spoiler that trims high-speed lift by 30 percent. In addition to full LED lighting and John Cooper Works badging, an exclusive Rebel Green finish is available -- with or without a Chili Red contrast roof panel.  

Unique instrumentation

To reinforce its performance image, the cabin of the new JCW Hardtop features its own specific instrument display, a multifunction sport steering wheel, red/Piano Black trim accents and stainless steel pedals. Deeply bolstered and highly supportive John Cooper Works sport seats are matched with a split-folding rear bench all covered in Dinamica/Carbon Black fabric or Dinamica/Carbon Black leather. This maxi Mini also offers a slick Head-Up Display option as well as an available Cockpit Chrono package that adds oil and turbo boost displays plus a chronometer with stopwatch function. 

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2015

Pricing for the 2015 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop starts at $31,450 -- a mere $500 more than the previous one, with the automatic transmission adding another $1,500. (All JCW Hardtops built after July 1 will be 2016 models, but maintain identical pricing/specs). Buyers also can step up to the comprehensive Active Driving Assistant (camera-based active cruise control, collision/pedestrian warning, high beam assistant, road-sign detection, Park Assistant Package, Park Distance Control and rearview camera), along with a host of other packages that bring everything from a Harman-Kardon premium audio system, 8.8-inch color touchscreen and Mini Touch Controller to a Panoramic Sunroof, Navigation with real-time traffic and variable-color ambient lighting. Like its Mini brethren, the new JCW Hardtop also can be personalized with a near limitless selection of mix-and-match accessory items.

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