It’s difficult not to get a touch excited when you slip behind the wheel of any John Cooper Works tuned MINI. There is an air about the vehicle that just feels special. Fine details on the exterior hint towards the car’s performance edge, and tasteful interior highlights continue the performance theme. But in any JCW, the real excitement starts when you press the starter button.

How a 1.6 liter turbocharged 4 cylinder can make such glorious noise is beyond me. The mighty inline 4 belts out warrior cries at all revs, settling to a surprisingly bass-filled idle. To be completely honest, the sound alone is probably worth the price of admission – but the excitement does not end there.

Today we’re doing a MINI JCW Coupe review, a car that has had mixed reviews so far. Let me give you the skinny: MINI has been criticized for building a JCW product that does not fully conform to the form-follows-function design approach. The MINI Coupe is really a MINI Roadster, with a stylish roof – a Roadster with a fashionable hat. True, the roof is capable of surviving a roll-over collision, and it does add some structural rigidity to the car – but it’s marginal. MINI didn’t have to add the roof to make the car stiffer because it retains the beefed-up chassis stiffness of the Roadster. But this also means that the Coupe retains the weight of the Roadster. Oh Ohh.

As a matter of fact, the JCW Coupe does weigh 30 kg (66 lbs) more than the JCW and this weight does show up on more than the specification list – it also makes its presence known dynamically. The 0-60 time on a MINI Cooper JCW is 6.5 seconds while the JCW Coupe accomplishes the same task in 6.4 seconds. Wait a short one: the heavier car is faster in acceleration than the lighter one? What gives? As it turns out, MINI have shifted more weight onto the front wheels to give it more front end grip, and hence, better acceleration. Of course, physics can’t be fooled and you can’t bend math, so eventually, this weight is going to catch up to the car (as will the less attractive weight balance), whether it be under braking, through the slalom or in outright agility. For what it’s worth, the Coupe does enjoy a lower center of gravity, but it’s not of much consolation by the finish line.

So why buy the MINI JCW Coupe? I’ll give you one reason why, and it may be compelling enough to convince those who are ready to sign their name on the dotted line to take the Coupe.

MINI’s engineering team have changed the suspension kinematics of the Coupe such that the car is extremely neutral. Actually, I would go so far as to say that it’s tuned just a hair to oversteer. It’s brilliant. The change in handling is so drastic from your staple MINI that I couldn’t stop driving the thing. I didn’t want to give it back, and hesitated when the gracious owners (MINI) insisted. The MINI JCW Coupe is by far the most entertaining and joyful front-wheel drive car I’ve ever driven. It’s an absolute riot when pushed to its limits.

Admittedly, those limits are marginally lower, as we earlier discussed – but unless you’re racing another MINI, it just doesn’t matter. For those who count 10ths and frequent the autocross circuit or racetrack – this MINI is not for you. Take the keys to a MINI Cooper JCW and be on your speedy way. But for those who favor the feeling of the drive more than the numbers of the drive – this MINI is for you.

Looks are subjective, so I’ll leave that to you. Personally, I love the looks – I think the vogue chapeau looks sinister and aggressive from any angle. The pop-up rear spoiler is trick and functional while the more steeply raked windshield also adds purposeful flare and a side of intimidation. In JCW guise, the Coupe is just plain menacing. If I were shopping for a fun-loving compact car to terrorize the downtown streets of a major city, I can’t think of any car that I would prefer over this – save, perhaps, the MINI Roadster, which I’ve yet to drive.

My time behind the wheel was limited, but I still got my fill. I was given the keys at the top of the Austrian Alps near a city named, Khutai. Brushing the clouds, this locale offered incredible driving roads with an assortment of corners normally reserved for your dreams. The switchbacks represented the ultimate test for the JCW Coupe because they typically instigate understeer. Not in the Coupe, however. Driving into the corner, throttle lift and steering angle was all I needed to get the rear to rotate through the corner. I found myself counter-steering and back on the throttle early through most corners during my mountain pass blast. If you want to, you can easily drive the car on the edge of grip with a nice, clean line through corners. Or, if you’re addicted to the joy of it, you can hang the tail out through corners – predictably. Too much yaw? Simple, just get back on the throttle and the front wheels will pull you out of the slide and back inline.

Relatively speaking, it may be marginally slower than its rival brother, the Cooper JCW, but it’s still no slouch. Over a snow covered stretch of road I was able to keep pace with a MINI engineer doing a demo run in the Countryman JCW. He wasn’t quite flat out, but then the AWD goes a very long way in the snow. With some effort I could keep up, and this is a huge testimony to the JCW Coupe’s competent pace and neutral handling.

To the specifics, MINI’s JCW tuned 1.6 liter outputs 208 hp at 6,000 rpm and 192 lb-ft of torque (207 on over-boost) from 1,850 to 5,600 rpm. These figures are identical to the Cooper JCW. It tips the scales at a still sprightly 1,240 kg (2,733 lbs). Here’s an interesting fact: should you push the JCW Coupe to its terminal velocity, you will pass the Cooper JCW at about 1 mph thanks to the more steeply raked windshield and aggressive aerodynamics.

Starting with a base price of $31,900 USD ($38,000 CAD for gouged Canucks – why the $6,000 difference with a dollar at par?), the JCW Coupe is not a bargain by any stretch. This price puts it in the company of some very fast cars – but we’ve been over this: the JCW Coupe is not just about outright speed. This car is about the way it makes you feel, and how giddy you are when you wake up in the morning to drive it.

To summarize: the MINI JCW Coupe is a car for those who love to drive. It may not be as pure to the JCW mandate as its Cooper JCW stablemate, but you simply won’t care while you’re drifing through a corner, 1.6 liter blazing. This is a driver’s car, through and through. If you value its rakish looks and fun focused demeanor over a tenth here or there through an autocross then this MINI is the one for you. Leave the straight-laced, plain hat Cooper JCW where it rests, it’s time to play.

Special thanks to Irvine MINI for their sponsorship of this car review. Irvine MINI is one of the premier dealerships in Orange County, Los Angeles, and the entire country. To book your appointment with their relaxed sales team, click here. Hit the jump to leave a smile on their Facebook page.