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There is no missing the 2019 Mini John Cooper Works International Orange Edition as it comes down the street. With its flashy orange paint job and checkered graphics, subtle is definitely not in its vocabulary. This is nothing new; the JCWs have been the loud, extravagant performance Minis for years now, with a racing heritage that spans back decades.

This special edition is special for being very, very orange, among other things. It’s also very, very fun, but that comes with an eyebrow-raising base price of $41,600. How can it justify a starting price that’s $7,000 more than a standard JCW two-door Mini, and nearly $20,000 more than a Cooper S?

(Full Disclosure: Mini needed Patrick George to drive a JCW International Orange Edition so badly they gave him one for a weekend, but then I took it off his hands when he realized he’s owned two of them and doesn’t have anything original to say about them anymore. This made me very happy.)

Photo: Erica Lourd

What is it?

Technically, its full name is the 2019 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop International Orange Edition, and yes, I did have to copy and paste that because I am a professional. We mortals would call it a limited edition JCW two-door Mini Cooper.

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In addition to the more powerful engine and performance suspension standard on the JCW models, this special edition Mini gets a litany of nice standard features like meaner styling, a double panoramic moonroof, a 12-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, a heads-up display, a touchscreen infotainment system and driver safety and assistance tech.

I felt pretty lucky that this was the first Mini I would ever experience, once I was handed the keys, considering it is the sportiest of the lineup, and limited edition.

On top of that, I would be able to (safely) tear up the orange and red tree-lined backroads in my hometown in Connecticut for the weekend. This flying pumpkin, I figured, was ready to make an entrance.

(To get a better sense of its size, here is a model Mini Cooper for scale that I found in my childhood bedroom.)

Photo: Erica Lourd

Specs That Matter

The pumpkin puts out a smile-inducing 228 horsepower and 236 lb-ft from its BMW-sourced turbo 2.0-liter four. Going with the International Orange Edition scores you no extra power than your average Joe John Cooper Works though, sorry.

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Zero to 60 happens in a not-too-shabby 5.9 seconds. Power feels pretty linear once you are behind the wheel; whether accelerating from a standstill onto the highway, or moving from 55 to 70 while driving, there isn’t a significant amount of turbo lag.

The JCW International Orange Edition comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, but our tester had the six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. Other Minis use an eight-speed automatic gearbox these days, but the smaller two-door keeps it at six.

Basically, in addition to the funky color, you’re getting a bunch of extra options as standard that you would have had to tack on before. It’s a good package, but again, it’s also $43,950 for a bitesize Mini Cooper.

Photo: Erica Lourd

What’s Great

As if this was any surprise, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to drive, even if those power specs seem modest compared to a lot of hot hatches these days. The car benefits from its smaller size, always feeling quicker than it is and encouraging you to treat bigger vehicles as stationary objects (rolling road blocks, as I like to call them) to be passed.

In sport mode, the steering tightens up, the car shifts later, and the grumble of the engine is more present. Utilizing the paddle shifters in sport mode make this thing drive far more aggressively than that cute face lets on. There is also a track mode only, Bluetooth-controlled JCW Pro exhaust too, in case the engine wasn’t loud enough, well now you can be louder.

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The style, inside and out, is pretty nice to look at. It stands out. Besides the bright orange paint, you have the black details on the spoiler and the gas cap, carbon fiber side mirrors, 18-inch double spoked wheels with red brake calipers and chrome exhaust tips.

Inside, the heads up display, colorful ambient lighting (with multiple color options that you can toggle between with a switch in the headliner, obviously I chose pink), the panoramic sunroof, and the extremely bolstered JCW performance front seats are only a part of what makes sitting inside a unique experience.

Photo: Erica Lourd

The safety-focused technology, similar to what is provided on the higher end non-special-edition Minis, include emergency automatic braking, front collision warning, back up camera, and pedestrian warning. Its 2018; even small cars come packed with this stuff now.

The two easily accessible USB ports provide charging or access Apple Carplay, but you could also just use Bluetooth audio as I did. As a loud bass enthusiast, I have to say the 12-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system passed my test. It works very well.

The flying pumpkin the JCW International Orange Edition is just fine as a daily, casual driver, but on the loud side. There is a good amount of road noise and engine noise, so someone who isn’t necessarily trying to be noticed might not be happy here.

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But aggressive—otherwise known as “doing this properly”—driving is where the JCW pumpkin shines. The engine encourages recklessness. It wants to be held at high speeds, pushed hard into the turns, and revved high, especially while holding gears using the paddle shifters. Not to mention with a car this small and nimble, weaving through city traffic—or even on the highway—is what it does best.

Photo: Erica Lourd


What’s Weak

Overwhelmingly, the weakest part of an otherwise strong package is the price. The mid-$40,000 range is hard to justify for a Mini Cooper, even a fun, well-equipped one. Is it a lot of fun? Yeah, absolutely, but when the two-door hardtop S (not JCW, but really only slightly slower) variant costs about $26,000 and the two-door hardtop JCW Classic trim (i.e. not International Orange edition) costs $32,000, and has the same engine... well, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

I know, a limited edition is a limited edition and therefore it’s inherently special because the brand said so, but damn, thats a lot of cash for a Mini, either way.

Also worth noting that unless you put the rear seats down, the trunk area is pretty tiny. Although i was able to load it up with groceries, it was a tight fit. Put the seats down and it becomes a moving van, though.

I am sure this comes as a surprise to no one if you have gotten this far but the ride quality is pretty stiff. You will feel that pothole, no matter what size it is.

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Photo: Erica Lourd

Value

Although the car is fully loaded with technology and fun, it is still a little hard to justify at that price tag. The mid-$40,000 will get you into a lot of performance cars, from the Ford Mustang GT to the Honda Civic Type R and Subaru WRX STI, and many more. And within the extended BMW family, the 2 Series comes to mind as a similarly priced, similarly fun car that has more power and rear-wheel drive, not to mention sexy.

You’re buying this special edition JCW because it’s the car you want above all others, period. It’s not a rational decision. But the fun you will have in it isn’t rational, either.

Photo: Erica Lourd

Verdict

If money was not an object, I would absolutely be happy with this car. Truly, price is the biggest drawback. I could easily make do with the space issue. I felt happy and excited every time I was behind the wheel, and for some people, that’s really all they can ask for.

If you can live without being orange, and special, it makes a lot more sense to me just to opt for a JCW Hardtop. You’ll be saving money and also time from not having to tell everyone you drive a 2019 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop International Orange Edition.

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