We like a good special edition. Give us stickers, different wheels, flashy trim. The kitschier the better. Mini is very good at this, introducing special editions almost annually. One of the latest is the Knights Edition, based on the hot, hardtop John Cooper Works.
It is, like most of Mini’s other special editions, predominantly an appearance package with unique wheels and some flashy stickers to spice up the Midnight Black/Melting Silver color scheme (not to mention a few pieces of equipment, like heated seats, a head-up display, and a panoramic roof). It’s handsome, but the Knights Edition’s most significant change is its new dual-mode, Bluetooth-activated exhaust system, which gives the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder a far more prominent singing voice. So prominent, in fact, that the button to activate the exhaust warns that switching the to the louder setting on public roads will void the car’s warranty.
Even this special edition Mini is subject to some of the range’s long-running issues, though. There are a number of strange concessions in the interior design, and $41,000 asking of this particular 228-horsepower hatch exceeds those of all the leading hot hatchbacks. And of course, the ride still sucks, despite an unusually lofty ride height for a small car.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new MINI Hardtop
There hasn’t been a Mini engine that matches the charm of the supercharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder of the Cooper S and JCW from the early 2000s, but the latest 2.0-liter still shows well. Packing 228 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, this is a capable powerplant, able to propel the John Cooper Works to 60 miles per hour in a respectable 5.9 seconds. There’s ample low-end torque with a minimal amount of turbo lag, while the engine seems all too happy to run up to redline.
The Knights Edition features the usual JCW-spec exhaust, but complements it with a Bluetooth-controlled exhaust flap. Tap the button on a little controller, which looks more like the kind of thing that’d you’d use to detonate a bomb, and a little flap in the exhaust opens. The result is a louder, more characterful engine note, complete with additional bangs and crackles from the twin pipes. Here's a brief taste of the difference with the exhaust flap open and closed:
It’s a cool setup, but there are shortcomings. For a start, the little controller thing seems kind of silly, and there’s no way to keep the flaps open once you shut off the ignition. That means you’ll have to pretend to set off a bomb every time you start the JCW. If we owned a Knights Edition, the first thing we’d do is figure out how to keep the flaps open all the time.
The third-generation Mini is a bigger, heavier car that lacks the immediacy and urgency of earlier examples. That said, the JCW Knights Edition is still more than able to put a smile on its driver’s face with its sharp, precise steering and willingness to change directions. The Mini still bites hard on initial turn-in, all while offering balanced and predictable behavior when pushed. You can feel the Mini working and moving around you, even though the feedback isn’t as immediate or as hard to ignore as it once was.
Mini has rather slavishly stuck to a specific interior design language since its relaunch. A big dial in the center, a column-mounted instrument cluster, and toggle switches have all been recurring features over the years. But there’s still a lot of oddness in this cabin. For a start, the adjustable center armrest moves every time you engage the manual parking brake, because the rest itself is huge. We’d hate to see the Mini lose its traditional handbrake, because it makes an already fun car more enjoyable in slick conditions, but this is just a poor design. At the same time, some of the kitschier design details, like the toggle switches for the , just seem unnecessary in a world where BMW’s iDrive has made its way into the Mini.
The standard John Cooper Works Hardtop starts at $31,900, which is more than the far more sporty Hyundai Veloster N, but less than the Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf R. Our tester’s Knights Edition package added $3,700 to that price (not outrageous when you consider it adds heated front seats, a panoramic sunroof, a head-up display, automatic climate control, and an upgraded audio system along with all the cosmetic gear), while the upgraded 8.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system demanded $1,700. Finally, our tester included $2,915 in “Knights Edition Accessories,” which includes the Bluetooth exhaust.
The as-tested price is a lofty $41,065. That’s not great, considering the $36,300 Civic Type R or the $40,395 Volkswagen Golf R, two vehicles with performance characters far closer to the upcoming Mini John Cooper Works GP than this humble JCW Hardtop. The Mini is more stylish, but those cars largely match it from an equipment standpoint, while offering significantly more capability and fewer compromises in everyday driving.
The Mini still has a remarkably short wheelbase and a stiff, sporty suspension tune, so it’s little surprise the ride is lousy. It tolerates smaller imperfections, but larger bumps and impacts send a shiver through the chassis and a jolt to the steering. At the same time, the JCW’s ride is abnormally high. Look at that gap between the tire sidewall and wheel arch! That’s at least four or five inches. Yes, we know, complaining about a lofty ride height and a lack of comfort seems contradictory, but it’s not too much to ask for one or the other to be better.
2019 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop Knights Edition