You don’t really notice how truly huge everything else on the road has gotten until you’re behind the wheel of a Mini, especially a 2019 Mini Cooper JCW Hardtop. This is the Mini that still unapologetically has two doors, as the fun car gods intended.
Honda Pilots soar past above. Ford Explorers enjoy their lofty positions. Toyota RAV4s blot out the horizon. Semi-trucks roar by, their massive wheels thundering at eye-level.
(Full Disclosure: I asked Mini if I could borrow a two-door model over the holidays. I wanted the basic two-door, nothing with JCW in the name. Mini didn’t have any of those in the fleet. Instead, it set me up with a John Cooper Works Hardtop Knights Edition. I took it to Cape Cod.)
But I was in a two-door Mini. I had big windows. I could see. I could sense my place on the road. I was certain, and confident, and knowing.
As with the classic Mini, the 2019 John Cooper Works Hardtop also has a fixed roof and two doors. There are minuscule back seats and a little trunk, but front seat space is decent. Minus the JCW bits and markup, this is perhaps the closest you’ll spiritually get to a classic Mini, as the rest of the models in Mini’s lineup have four doors.
This particular Mini JCW two-door was also the Knights Edition. All that means is it has some black and silver exterior paint. Red-contrast stripes. There’s a John Cooper Works exhaust flap system and exhaust chrome tips. My favorite features are the blacked out Mini logos. They’re a subtle touch.
From a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-banger comes 228 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, powering the front wheels through an automatic transmission. In a body that weighs 2,845 (!) pounds, this does not translate to what you might call a fast car. But it’s punchy and feels quick, which makes it fun.
It has a 11.6-gallon fuel tank capacity and gets an EPA-rated 28 mpg on highway and city driving combined. Most of the driving I did was on highways and sweeping state roads, and because the tank was so little, I was filling up constantly. If you live big distances apart from friends, family and other stuff, this will be your life, too.
You’d think, looking at a two-door Mini, that there wouldn’t be much space inside. Sure, if you’re trying to move furniture. But if you’re petite, those back seats work for you just fine.
And when you fold them down, you can actually fit a good amount of stuff in the car. Autoblog measured 38 cubic feet of total cargo room, which is just about the same amount of space you’d get in a trunk of a 2019 Toyota RAV4. We managed to pack ours up to the windows with two suitcases, groceries, backpacks, a purse and other miscellaneous loose items.
I drove a lot of big cars last year, so it was a relief to finally have something small. And not performatively small, as a Smart is. That car feels like it’s small just for the sake of being small, sacrificing breathing room and sanity. This Mini, meanwhile, is exactly as large as it needs to be. The cabin, with its big windows, is airy and easy to see out of. Even with mounds of stuff occupying the rest of the car, I never felt claustrophobic in it. There is ample room for the front two passengers.
Parking, as you’d imagine, is a dream. You see a parallel spot open up? Schloop. Pull right into it. The overhangs are pretty short, so you know exactly where the car ends. After driving bus-like SUVs, it took me a while to learn how to properly fit the Mini in parking spaces. You don’t have to keep pulling so far forward like a clown!
Mysteriously, the driver’s side window on our loaner also wouldn’t roll all the way up sometimes because it would get caught on the weather stripping. We came out one rainy morning to find it cracked open, the inside of the door lightly splattered with rain. But if you rolled the window up while the door was open, then it would close flush agains the stripping. And then after a few times, it went back to working normally. I have no idea why this happened.
And I really wish I had it in a manual.
The Mini isn’t light-footed as a Miata is, but it’s still great fun to zip around with. It feels like a dense, solid, heavy and brick-like something that throws its weight in corners. Like a bulldog. It even sort of looks like a bulldog: front-heavy, low-slung, stocky, smushed-in face. Imagine what bulldog would be like to drive and you’d get this Mini.
Much of this has to do with the steering. BMW’s steering is largely trash across the board these days, but not the Mini’s. The Mini’s is tight, responsive and weighted very nicely. Even in normal mode. Why isn’t this more prevalent in the BMW cars?
You do have to work with the car at low revs, though, as it’s a bit gutless. Press your foot down, wait for the downshift, wait for the turbo to spool up, and then go. Once it goes, it’s not bad. You just have to get there first.
Cars such as the Honda Civic have done a much better job masking this lag, but the Mini still hasn’t. Just another reason why a manual would have been the preferred transmission here. I can’t think of more fun I’d have in a Mini than in this little two-door hardtop and rowing my own gears.
It wouldn’t matter if I had to go pick up cat litter (I don’t own a cat) or climb a mountain pass. Both would bring joy.
The laziness of the transmission is improved somewhat when you put it in sport mode. But the real reason to do this is for the noise. The exhaust gets louder, burbles harder and you can feel the whole car quivering around you. It is at the ready. This is the mode to be in, always.
In a straight line, the Mini will not win you any drag races. But this is hardly the point. It’s for rocketing about, absolutely following the speed limit, but feeling that low center of gravity anchor you to the ground and you pivoting around it.
I wouldn’t recommend push-pushing in those corners, however. There is a real threat of understeer. And for me personally, it was cold in Cape Cod and we were on all-season tires. I ain’t no fool.
Are you sitting down? Good, because when all’s said and done, my Mini JCW Hardtop came to $42,565. You now have my permission to hoot with laughter.
I really wanted to try out a base two-door. No JCW treatment. I wanted to see what a barebones Mini was like. Mini puts out many press releases about its four-door and JCW models, but the base two-door is where it all started. It’s a car that costs $23,400, has 134 HP and weighs 2,760 pounds. Yes, still heavy. But cheaper and probably also fun. Alas, Mini didn’t have one in its press fleet.
For roughly $10,000 more, you get 100 more HP, some noisy exhaust and stripes. Seems like a lot of money for such a small car. Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed my time in this Mini, as I suspect you would as well. I just can’t really justify the price.
A car literally called a Mini is a hard sell in today’s market, when everyone wants puffed-up, buffoon-barges for their 1.5 children. I’m delighted Mini still offers a little car with two-doors. And judging from all the two-door Minis I saw on the roughly 700-mile trip I took in the JCW Hardtop, most people didn’t buy the JCW treatment. I hardly see any that have it. It’s a more expensive version of an already expensive and unpopular car. I get it.
Last year, Mini sold just 8,462 hardtop two-doors. That’s compared to the 13,969 Countrymans (Countrymen?) it sold. The release does not differentiate which of those two-doors were the JCW, but I can’t believe it was that many.
The Mini is great fun. But also, like other depreciating luxury cars, is perhaps best picked up used.