As you likely noticed, things were a little slow at BimmerFile last week.That ‘s because we were traveling with the MotoringFile crew working the MTTS epic road-trip extravaganza.We drove from Chicago to Indianapolis, picking up two legs from Boston and Atlanta, finally joining the west-coast contingent for a couple days festivities in Denver.MINI provided us the opportunity to drive several models during the trip, reviews to be found over at MotoringFile, but one bares a quick mention here.For three days we cruised through the heart of America in a 2010 MINI JCW Convertible; essentially stock with only cosmetic options.With the LCI MINI ‘s soon to debut there ‘s no sense in speaking to the chassis and interior appointments, well covered and redundant ground at this point.
For those not already familiar, the JCW MINI features a thoroughly revised version of the standard 1.6L, which understates the case.Some of BMW & MINI ‘s best have been after this engine, and it shows.Capable of 208 hp and 192 lb/ft of torque, with 16 available lb ‘s on overboost, this motor rips.Completely comfortable dawdling through town, the engine deviously whispers to you with a subtle growl and pop between changes or moderate to open throttle.Give in and she gets downright dirty.The 1.6 has plenty of power and pulls quickly to redline and into very jail-able speeds (with a great hollow growl along way).It rev ‘s more freely and with more power than any MINI I ‘ve driven in recent memory with great reserves of power at virtually any speed. In fact it does a great job ofhighlighting the only seemingly overlooked aspect of the car, standard suspension.
We ‘re generally rational people at BimmerFile, we can accept the “business-case ” for certain decisions and product direction, however for the JCW MINI not specing at least the sports-suspension should be a crime.With the sort of power and braking on tap in a JCW there is far too much dive and squat for this driver.While our use consisted of long highway drives, and for this the standard suspension was probably ideal effortlessly gliding over country B-roads, there was a sense the suspension didn ‘t marry well with the character of the engine and performance capabilities of the chassis.Giving that excellent engine a kick sends the chassis rocking back with some loss in traction, while heavy braking yields dive and some potentially unsettling moments for the less skilled as the rear tires loose traction.I don ‘t think I ‘m being too uncompromising here, it ‘s an unbalanced car in this regard.
Don ‘t get me wrong, we absolutely fell in love with our car.With the top-down the entire way, and sunburn to prove it, you can ‘t help it. Spending this much time with the car over the various roads we encountered: rural back roads, interstate & Colorado mountain twisties, the JCW convertible was exactly the right car for ripping across the country.The sport-suspension would ‘ve been nice, and the aero-kit would help keep it buttoned down at speed.But at $38,300 as equipped do you bring it home, or is it just that, a holiday romance?
For comparison, today I ‘ve borrowed a 128i for running a few errands.Similarly priced the 128i ‘s the one to bring home.Maybe I ‘m getting old, but the refinement of the 3L six, balance, & RWD sell me.The six spins sweetly and isn ‘t as aggressive in it ‘s overture for speed, but is no less potent for it with 230 hp and 200 lb/ft of torque.The muted baritone exhaust is a bit tame for my taste, easily remedied through BMW Performance.The steer and handling is unquestionably more balanced, throttle and tiller working in unison to move about with purer feedback and zero torque-steer, of which the JCW has plenty (until MINI eliminated it for the 2011 models).The suspension could use tightening as well, but isn ‘t highlighted in quite the same way as the JCW.As much as I ‘ll fondly remember our week in the sun, I can ‘t help but think the 128i is the better car for me. With a few days between me and the epic drive, it ‘s become clear that the 128i gives me more of what I value as an enthusiast, a more complete package.