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MINI maxes out at Detroit with the 2015 John Cooper Works Hardtop

The high-performance John Cooper Works version of the MINI Hardtop that debuted this morning at the Detroit Auto Show is the most powerful MINI production car to date. With 228 horsepower on tap from its small, turbocharged four-cylinder, the latest Works car is certain to deliver even more thrills than its predecessor, along with exclusive styling and newly available options.

Pricing starts at $30,600 when the Works Hardtop hits showrooms this spring. The new car will hit the track, too. MINI announced that the JCW model will compete in the Street Tuner (ST) class of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge later this year.

The previous-generation MINI John Cooper Works Hardtop is a blast to drive. The 2015 model ups the ante with a 20-hp advantage and some welcome hardware improvements that should improve both everyday comfort and, for the racer in you, higher performance at its limits.

Related: MINI John Cooper Works GP: The fastest MINI ever?

Chief among these are an electronic differential lock and a Torque Steer Compensation program for the electrically assisted power steering. With so much power to the front wheels, the previous Works car tended to rip the steering wheel right out of the driver’s hands under hard acceleration in a bend. Along with an electronic differential lock, the tweaked front end should make the latest JCW more manageable at full throttle.

Another drawback to the previous-gen car is a choppy suspension exacerbated by the MINI’s short wheelbase. For the 2015 model, MINI offers a two-mode adaptive suspension as an option, with sport and comfort settings.

The heart of the 2015 MINI John Cooper Works Hardtop, though, is a 2.0-liter engine that develops impressive output throughout its rev range. Peak torque of 236 pound-feet comes early at just 1,250 rpm. Just as it tapers above 4,800 rpm, maximum power arrives and sticks around until reaching a 6,000 rpm redline. The effect is impressive acceleration: 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds with an automatic transmission or 6.1 seconds with the standard six-speed manual.

The latest six-speed manual offers some improvements over the last Works Hardtop, too, with rev-matched downshifts. The automatic, also a six-speed unit, includes paddle shifters and a start-stop function for greater fuel efficiency.
Other standard features are matched to the most powerful MINI’s capabilities, including a Brembo brake setup and heavily bolstered front seats.

On top of the performance upgrades, the new JCW Hardtop distinguishes itself from more common MINI models with sportier styling, most noticeably a more aggressive body kit, large, center-mounted exhaust outlets and special John Cooper Works badges. Further, MINI offers exclusive wheels designs and some color choices reserved only for the Works car.

Frankly, the last JCW MINI was a handful, loads of fun but not the most refined performer. While the power bump for the 2015 model is welcome, its more sophisticated front end will help drivers to more easily translate that power into speed.