Two unusual sparring partners team up to represent very different motoring worlds
There’s a detonator switch in one of the bottle holders of the beautiful British racing green Mini Cooper S JCW Pro Edition that you’ve got to click twice. It engages track mode, which basically turns traction control off and tickles the vocal chords of the carbonfibre covered JCW end pipe. As I step on the gas and hold this rabid bulldog by the scruff of its neck, it lets the exhaust pop and crackle when I’m lifting off the gas or running through a gear. The hills are alive to this absolutely mental Mini as I do that while I’m following the striking cuts and creases of the BMW i8. I’m driving the raw Mini behind the antithesis to this car in many ways, yet the two have quite a few things in common.
Up ahead in the i8, Abhishek (our publisher) is giving the i8 a boot full of acceleration. I know he’s focusing hard on the road ahead because piped into the cabin of the i8 is a sonorous sound track of a fast car’s exhaust note with the engine in its upper midrange, coupled with the natural whine of the electric motor. It helps you concentrate and gauge the potency of the hybrid cocktail powering the BMW, more inside than out. As the two spar up on a winding road, it’s the Mini throwing the punches with all its accessible power, ability to tackle the occasional poor patch of road, and its less intimidating shape. With the i8, you’ve got to be careful at first.
The doors when they are open create more drama than a celebrity walking into the room. Even four years after it was officially unveiled, it still looks like a concept car, and I think I’ve got the best view of the i8 from the seat of the Mini. Now here’s one thing you need to know if you are chasing the i8 in a Cooper S JCW Pro Edition. The i8 makes 357bhp and 570Nm with the petrol and electric motor working together. 0-100kmph comes in 4.4 seconds, and there is no way a JCW Mini can stay in its mirrors when the EV is fully charged. However, the battery has a range of 37km on an economical drive, and with your foot smashed into the firewall, it’s even less, and soon enough, I know there’s going to be level playing ground. The battery will run out of juice and leave the i8’s propelling responsibilities purely to the petrol motor.
That petrol motor is a 3-cylinder 1499cc engine borrowed from a Mini Cooper. Not this Cooper S JCW Pro, mind you. Obviously BMW fettled with it enough to get 228bhp out, almost 100bhp more than what you get in a Mini Cooper, so I’m thinking that should even things out. This Mini shouldn’t be confused to be a JCW Mini which makes almost 230 horsepower; though, this is the car with the JCW tuning kit. It makes 208bhp and can sprint to 100kmph in 6.5 seconds. I’m sure the loud JCW exhaust adds more intimidation into the mix. Now here are two cars built by the same group appealing to two very different set of audiences, and in some way, evenly matched when it comes to just the driving. The i8 sits low and has better aerodynamics working in its favour, but it is also about 250kg heavier than the JCW. You need to brake harder in the i8, but the carbonfibre chassis is great and you don’t feel the forces as much when you turn into a corner; the all-wheel drive car grips superbly on a switchback and makes for a delight of a drive on a winding road.
The Mini keeps up, engages you more, and although the power is sent to just the front wheels, the compact dimensions, low centre of gravity, and again a fantastic chassis make for an engaging drive. Driving the two cars back to back made me wonder which car I’d pick. On 9 days out of 10, I’d pick the Mini. It’s a daily driver with a boot full of performance. This JCW Pro Edition comes with dynamic dampers that make the ride so much more bearable in the city that you can actually use it every day. The engine is calm when you want it to be, the steering is light, and the ground clearance isn’t that low to worry you about scraping its underbelly. The rowdy exhaust and stiff set up in Sport mode will give you the thrills too, as will its handling.
On that tenth and very special day when I am willing to crab crawl over speed breakers, do my bit for the environment by driving in EV mode, and don’t mind waking up at ungodly hours to make it to the hills for a pedal-to-the-metal hill climb, I’d take the futuristic i8. It’s six times the cost of the Mini, twelve times the drama when it’s parked, and as much of a hoot when on the move, yet with a totally different appeal to that wonderful British bulldog. Also, I’d have ten great days of motoring.