Audiís rorty S1 usurped the old MINI JCW as king of the force-fed juniors. So can the new JCW wrestle it back?
eíve all tried limiting ourselves to Ďjust oneí at some point. But whether itís hot chips, surfing a wave, or an episode of True Detective, indulgence, the moreish bastard, usually wins out. We gorge, splurge, upgrade. Cars offer no exception to this rule, even in the world of shrunken hatches.
In a segment defined by tight wheelbases, cheap trims, and tiny engines, there is still a niche for performance and price tags that arenít so little. Thatís why those with cramped car spaces and bigbank accounts will be shopping for one of the outliers weíve brought along today.
Up first is Audiís S1. Itís the brandís cheapest ĎSí model and roams the small hatchback yard with some hefty knuckle dusters on its fists Ė specifically, the S3ís 2.0-litre engine and Haldex-based all-wheel drive system. Its wears a bloodied nose after losing to VWís brilliant Golf R last year, but the fact it put up such a convincing challenge meant it deserves a fairer fight.
The problem was, though, nothingís been able to offer one until now. At $49,900, the S1 commands almost twice the price of nearest size rivals like the Ford Fiesta ST and VW Polo GTI, and its dust-up with the Golf R proved climbing a weight class or two isnít a good idea.
Luckily, MINIís Cooper has recently welcomed its latest and most hard-core variant, the John Cooper Works. Based on the third-generation retro reboot, the longer and wider new JCW dive bombs into our comparison also with a six-speed manual and fourseat capability for only two grand less, at $47,400, bunkering in a trench right opposite the S1ís.
In terms of firepower, it too arms itself with a 2.0- litre engine. MINIís engineers stole the Cooper Sís unit then slapped on a new turbocharger and dropped new pistons in its bores. With a bigger intercooler and new exhaust, the turbo helps it deliver 170kW at 5000rpm and 320Nm as soon as 1250rpm.
With its bulbous-nose pointed down Heathcoteís dragstrip, we discover giving the MINIís front axle full responsibility for 320Nm is a recipe for axle tramp. Get too hasty with the throttle and itíll chatter in protest before scampering off. Senior road tester Messr Morley finds launching the JCW instead requires patience. Rather than stomp the loud pedal, you slowly roll on to it from low revs, easing it in to a healthy swell of torque that lasts until 4800rpm.
While the S1 makes the same power as the JCW, getting there requires coming from an entirely
different direction. That is, from above, not below.
Audiís engineers bolted a smaller turbocharger to the S3ís EA888 to erase 40kW, no doubt to save it taking its bigger brotherís lunch money. Thankfully, though, torque is only 10Nm less, the muscular S1 flexing 370Nm at 1600rpm Ė 50Nm more than the MINI.
This torque advantage plays out in the S1ís favour at the strip. With its impressive torque peak harnessed by all-wheel drive, it distributes power across Heathcoteís sticky mix in a cleaner fashion. But with temperatures cranking to 31 degrees C, we could only manage a best 0-100km/h time of 6.3sec and 14.27sec across the quarter mile.
It takes the JCW more than half a second longer to reach 100km/h, but with 135kg less to lug it reels in the S1 by two tenths at the end of 400m. Its higher powerto- weight ratio results in an extra two kilometres an hour at the traps and youíll also be further down a freeway on-ramp in the MINI, its 3.42sec 80-120km/h time a tenth faster than the Audiís.
Despite four-piston calipers hiding behind the MINIís front wheels, itís the Audiís humble singlepiston jobbies and 310mm discs that pull up the shortest from 100km/h. It could be a tyre issue, with the MINI on Dunlop run-flats and the S1 using wider Bridgestone sport rubber, but the Audi pulls up 1.5m behind the MINIís 39.97m effort.
While the JCWís front-drive antics are no help against a stopwatch, the sounds it makes while doing so suggests drama is part of its appeal. The dual-tip exhaust poking from its rear bumper squeezes out a delicious note that sounds like a chainsaw blaring through a digeridoo. Or lift off the throttle and itíll not only ignite unburnt fuel with a few juicy pops, but flush out a HKS-like sneeze from its compressor.
The Audiís war cry is a little more Germanic. Itíll growl with a discernible rort, hiss as its little turbo stuffs 20psi in four hard working cylinders, and even burp a little on upshifts, but overall it sounds like itís at work rather than having a genuinely good time.
Having escaped Heathcote for Victoriaís open roads the S1ís still the reserved one, but to its credit. Over poor roads it doesnít make imperfections disappear like a 7-Series Ė with such a small wheelbase it never would Ė but it pillows impacts better than the MINI and is less disturbed over bumps.
Meanwhile, MINIís thrown dual-mode adjustable dampers under the JCWís guards, but even they canít calm the abruptness created by its 18-inch wheels and 205/40 run-flat rubber. As we fire both cars over a single-lane bridge, the entry lip almost makes the JCWís dampers burst through the dash like a scene from Ridley Scottís Alien.
On the flipside all that stiffness makes it hyper-alert in corners, like a kick-boxer thatís just drunk their weight in Red Bull. It dives for apexes with feverish alacrity, activating a lively rear end that wants in on the action. But, again, thereís a trade-off. Youíre always winding off lock in the JCW and its electric steering canít shake a simulated feel. Also, the MINIís grip limits are spookily vague, so itís hard to commit.
The MINIís gearshift, too, is far from satisfying.
Its shorter throw needs more effort and slots with a smidge of reluctance. The fact reverse neighbours first and can be freely slotted from neutral without a safety mechanism is also a worry.
Contrastingly the Audiís a friendlier companion. It doesnít offer huge amounts of grip, but thereís enough that you can mash the throttle before charging down the road in a hissing fit of boost and quattro stick.
Softer springs means it likes to lean more, but its steering rack feels so natural and bang on for speed,
WHILE OUR MINI JCW and Audi S1 share a whole lot on paper, their ancestors donít.
ĎCooperí first appeared on a Mini thanks to John Cooper, who exploited the original Miniís brilliant packaging by creating a sports version that debuted disc brakes, bigger wheels, and a bigger engine Ė which eventually grew to 1275cc.
Audiís original S1 also sported a Ė front transverse engine, but thatís where the similarities ended.
The S1 was based on Audiís allpaw Sport Quattro and stuffed with a boost-hungry turbo 2.1-litre fivebanger.
It also relied on a carbonkevlar body, air-grabbing aero, and even debuted the double-clutch gearbox in í85. Both cars, however, enjoyed considerable international rallying success.
you can exploit this to your benefit, knowing you can catch whatever adjusted angle you choose with brakes or throttle.
Their interiors, too, are interestingly similar in personality to each carís on-road behaviour. In the MINI, itís like stumbling upon a night-time carnival.
Thereís an array of things going on: lines of coloured stitching, coloured inserts, mood lighting that changes to suit the chosen drive mode, and details like the chequered Ďredlineí from the speedoís 200km/h to 260.
Itís as well put together as youíd expect, but even with all its verve and refinement, its functionality takes odd directions: accessing the brilliant iDrivederived controller requires pulling up the armrest; the starter switch is hidden behind the gear stick. And while the speedometer has thankfully moved from the centre console to a smaller dial behind the steering wheel, the tachometer now sits offset in a half-moon dial. With the needle only needing to only travel a few inches from idle to redline (which is 6500rpm, like the S1), itís hard to keep your eyes on when to shift.
Call it naff, or eccentric, but you canít accuse MINI of not having fun. After youíve got your head around its flaws, and flood the cabin with notes from the 410W Harmon Kardon system, you might even catch yourself feeling its good vibes.
Switch to the Audi and itís an immediate mood change. At five years old, the S1ís infotainment systemí is well behind the MINIís for intuitiveness and ease of use. Without any options adding funk to its cabin, the only Ďfun bitsí inside the S1 are its red stitching and metal pedals, which makes it as stimulating as a dentistís waiting room in comparison.
That said the cabin oozes with refinement and thoughtful design. Its armrest is similarly obstructive, blocking your elbows during gearshifts, but the touchpoints are spot on Ė the leather steering wheel is a particular highlight Ė the shift knob moulds to your palm and the door handles are less awkward to grab.
Better yet, the instrument clusterís speeds and rev readouts are easy to scan, and its big digital speedo in the centre screen is handy.
Looking at the cars from the outside suggests the MINI was designed for ADD sufferers Ė thereís so much going on. Its front bumper grabs at the air with multiple cooling cut-outs and a faux bonnet scoop is flanked by a power bulge. Big headlights dominate its face while black bonnet stripes ($200), a red stripe in its grille, and plastic wheel guards are eye-catching but rob it of any aesthetic refinement.
Meanwhile, drinking in the S1ís facade is like rinsing your eyeballs with Ritalin. Audiís used its contour lines strongly to create a cleaner, sharper looking mite. The xenon headlights, silver mirrors, and horizontal frontgrille slats also give it a more premium vibe. Sure, itís missing some venom by lacking the angrier spoiler and the Ďquattroí stickers offered as options, but the contrasting roof dome ($600) and 18-inch wheels (part of the $3900 quattro exterior package) are enough to catch your attention. Especially when matched to the Vegas Yellow hue.
Unlike the Audi, a premium sound system, reversing camera, parking sensors, contrasting roof colour, and 18-inch wheels are standard on the JCW, which makes it a more full-fruit package. But thatís the larger problem. It feels like MINIís thrown everything possible at the JCW. From the brawny engine and rock-hard suspension, to the feverish styling and loads of equipment, itís a MINI Cooper with the lot, which only exaggerates it as less than the sum of its parts.
We could be to blame for that because MOTORís previously nailed the Cooper S for lacking sparkle in the last 20 per cent of its drive experience. This must have tickled MINIís ears back in Oxford because we have no doubt the JCW would carve up a track, where thereís plenty of space for it to unleash its crazy.
Thereís no doubting itís quick, but on the road, it feels one parole-check away from a straitjacket.
This, however, shouldnít deter thrill seekers from the Audi. Every time you hop in it, its snicky gearshift and point-and-boost driving style conjures juvenile behaviour. Itís a brilliant tool for blasting through
MINI JCW Audi S1 0-10km/h 0.51 0-10km/h 0.24 0-20km/h 1.01 0-20km/h 0.79 0-30km/h 1.54 0-30km/h 1.27 0-40km/h 2.09 0-40km/h 1.69 0-50km/h 3.02 0-50km/h 2.14 0-60km/h 3.62 0-60km/h 3.02 0-70km/h 4.22 0-70km/h 3.65 0-80km/h 4.84 0-80km/h 4.31 0-90km/h 5.84 0-90km/h 5.42 0-100km/h 6.86 0-100km/h 6.28 0-110km/h 7.74 0-110km/h 7.22 0-120km/h 8.7 0-120km/h 8.28 0-130km/h 9.72 0-130km/h 9.76 0-140km/h 11.4 0-140km/h 11.05 0-150km/h 12.81 0-150km/h 12.53 0-160km/h 14.32 0-160km/h 14.24 0-400m 14.68sec @ 161.95km/h 0-400m 14.27sec @ 160.13km/h 80-120km/h 3.42sec 80-120km/h 3.53sec 100-0km/h 39.97m 100-0km/h 38.5m
SPEED IN GEARS SPEED IN GEARS 1st 58km/h @ 6500rpm 51km/h @ 6500rpm 2nd 94km/h @ 6500rpm 93km/h @ 6500rpm 3rd 132km/h @ 6500rpm 156km/h @ 6500rpm 4th 180km/h @ 6500rpm 216km/h @ 6500rpm 5th 228km/h @ 6500rpm* 246km/h @ 6075rpm* 6th 274km/h @ 5925rpm* 246km/h @ 5050rpm* As tested by MOTOR: Heathcote Dragway, 12.20pm, 31 degrees, dry. Driver: Dave Morley. *Manufacturerís claim
urban city traffic and genuinely entertaining. Better yet, its unintimidating look means you can get away with such things.
At the same time, to quote Morley, the S1 also manages to feel more grown up than the JCW. Its greater thirst at the bowser might not suggest so, and the cruise control might feel ďcalibrated by a cabbieĒ to quote him again, but the torquey engine and cushier ride means the S1 can also be driven at a more relaxed level, whereas the MINI bounces around you like a bored puppy, begging to be played with.
For that, the Audiís the winner. Is it twice the car a Volkswagen Polo GTI is? Probably not. But thereís a genuine depth to its mechanical package and polish to its vibe that helps it feel like a ridiculously cheap S model rather than an A1 dialled up to 11. It also it injects the Ďsuperí in to supermini.
Sure, youíll need to add a hefty chunk of options to have one looking proper (Iíd have mine in black with the quattro wing; thatís $4990 in the S Performance Package). Itís a sting, but remember that time you promised yourself one chip? Exactly. M
BODY 5-door, 4-seat hatch DRIVE all-wheel ENGINE 1984cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo BORE/STROKE 82.5 x 92.8mm COMPRESSION 9.3:1 POWER 170kW @ 6000rpm TORQUE 370Nm @ 1600-3000rpm POWER/WEIGHT 127kW/tonne TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual WEIGHT 1340kg SUSPENSION (F) A-arms, adjustable dampers, coil springs, anti-roll bar SUSPENSION(R) multi-links, adjustable dampers, coil springs, anti-roll bar L/W/H 3975/1746/1423mm WHEELBASE 2469mm TRACKS 1474mm (f); 1452mm (r) STEERING electrically-assisted rack and pinion BRAKES (F) 310mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers BRAKES (R) 272mm solid discs, single-piston calipers WHEELS 18 x 7.5-inch (f/r) TYRE SIZES 225/35 R18 87Y XL (f/r) TYRE Bridgestone Potenza S001 PRICE AS TESTED $52,490 PROS Entertaining; sure footed; refi ned CONS Boring interior; needs more power STAR RATING 11113
BODY 3-door, 4-seat hatch DRIVE front-wheel ENGINE 1998cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo BORE/STROKE 82.0 x 94.6mm COMPRESSION 10.2:1 POWER 170kW @ 5200-6000rpm TORQUE 320Nm @ 1250-4800rpm POWER/WEIGHT 141kW/tonne TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual WEIGHT 1205kg SUSPENSION (F) struts, adjustable dampers, coil springs, anti-roll bar SUSPENSION(R) multi-links, adjustable dampers, coil springs, anti-roll bar L/W/H 3874/1727/1414mm WHEELBASE 2495mm TRACKS 1485 (f); 1485mm (r) STEERING electrically-assisted rack and pinion BRAKES (F) 330mm ventilated discs, four-piston calipers BRAKES (R) 259mm solid discs, single-piston calipers WHEELS 17 x 7.0-inch (f/r) TYRE SIZES 205/40 R18 86W XL (f/r) TYRE Dunlop Sportmaxx RT DSST PRICE AS TESTED $49,350 PROS Extroverted driving fun; exhaust note; cabin spec CONS Weird look; spooky grip limits; steering STAR RATING 11123