Taking the 2nd generation Mini Cooper S to a higher level is the Mini John Cooper Works. This sample model was first introduced into the Malaysian market last year. Having driven the car just over a few days, I concluded that it is possible to have a car with dual identity. You can drive it and blend with other cars on the road without a hint of complaint from the engine, but when you need to, it can transform into a tarmac burning vehicle capable of taking on some of its illustrious rivals.
Externally, the car hints of being a higher performance Mini Cooper. There is a rear spoiler which appears to be made from carbon fibre. The car comes with redesigned front and rear bumpers. It has larger 17 inch wheels with prominent red brake calipers. Then there is the John Cooper Works badge at the front grille and at the rear.
To maximize its performance, a number of modifications are made to its engine, chassis, transmission, exhaust system and brakes. The car has a host of safety features. All this resulting in a more sporty and powerful setup compared to the ‘basic’ Mini Cooper S.
When I first pressed on the ignition button, I was quite surprised at the engine note. It was loud but was not as loud as the Mini Cooper S. In fact, after the initial roar the engine piped down a bit and it was quite silent inside the cabin when it idles. Ignition can be performed keyless.
The leather seats provide good all round support but there is no memory function and seat adjustments have to be made manually. The driver gets a good view of the front and rear. There is no Park Distance Control (PDC) but it would not be necessary for a vehicle of this dimensions. The car is only able to accommodate 4 persons including the driver. There is limited leg room at the rear seats.
Internally the car retains the same retro design as other 2nd generation Mini Coopers. There is a prominent and large speedometer at the centre of the dashboard. The tachometer is located behind the steering wheel and faces the driver. The position of switches remained similar to the Mini Cooper S. Although the car key has a remote boot release button, once you start driving there is no remote boot release from inside. You will need to unlock all the doors and release the boot externally. Boot space is limited and good for one or two medium sized bags.
The powerplant is the same 1.6 litre unit as in the Mini Cooper S, but with a remapped ECU, modifications to the air filter/intake and exhaust system, it generates max output of 211bhp @ 6,000 rpm and max torque of 260nm @ 1,850 rpm – 5,600 rpm. The overboost function extends the torque further to 280nm @ 2,000 rpm. According to the offical statistics, acceleration from 0-100km is achievable in 6.5 seconds.
Transmission is the Getrag six speed manual which has been upgraded to cope with the higher power and torque output. With shorter throws, gear shifts can be performed quickly and fluidly. The weight of the clutch is well matched to the firm movements of the gear lever. I could not obtain official information on the gear ratios but it felt like a close ratio transmission system with wider ratios for the 1st and 2nd gears to improve torque.
One aspect which can be improved is the design of the shift pattern. The design is such that is it quite easy to accidentally engage the reverse gear when you intend to engage the 1st gear. Perhaps to address this, the gear lever should have a switch or a button to be depressed for engaging the reverse gear.
Once you shift into 1st gear and floor the accelerator, the overboost kicks in. The car accelerates quickly with an addictive exhaust note which is unique to this model. The modified sports exhaust system with its polished stainless steel twinpipes also helps to reduce counter pressure. I did not feel any turbo lag during hard acceleration. Hold the steering wheel firmly when you do this as there is quite a fair bit of torque steer.
There is a sports mode button near the gearshift lever which when activated improves the throttle response and sharpens the steering. Unlike the sports mode in the Mini Cooper S which I felt just raises the rpm and shifts to a lower gear, this sports mode is the better deal as there appears to be no difference in idling speed but once you accelerate the car responds better as you shift through the cogs and floor the throttle.
The electrical power assisted steering is precise and has good balance of weight/feedback. This makes it easy to steer and point the car to the intended direction. The leather sports steering wheel comes with multifunction buttons to control the volume (Radio/CD), voice activation and cruise control system. Having volume control buttons on the steering wheel is crucial as the main rotary volume knob appears to be placed at an awkward (lower) position on the dashboard.
The cruise control system performed within expectations. However, the system did not automatically disengage when you step on the brakes. You need to manually disengage the system via a button on the steering wheel. The lighted indicator showing when the system is engaged/disengaged is located off the driver’s view at the large central speedometer which is not ideal.
Brakes are high performance Brembos which bite well and has good stopping power. The bright red calipers on the extra large disc brakes give a nice contrast on the alloy rims. To enhance the brake system, the car is also equipped with ABS, EBD (Electronic Brake Force Distribution, and CBC (Corner Brake Control). Tyres are 17 inch Dunlop SP Sport run flats (205/45 R17) which provided adequate grip.
Ride quality on the car’s sporty suspension system is on the firm side with some harshness especially if road conditions are not ideal. The car rides lower than the Mini Cooper S but has sufficient ground clearance. Unique for a car of this size is the multi-link rear suspension system. There are also anti-roll bars at the front and rear.
The sample model has traveled quite a fair bit with a mileage of around 3,400km todate. One unusual finding was a rattling sound from the rear of the vehicle when we drove on bumpy roads. The sound appears to be coming from the rear suspension. Perhaps the car has been pushed to the limits by other test drivers?
For a sports car, fuel consumption on this Mini John Cooper Works is not bad. With a fuel tank capacity of 50 litres, the combined average fuel consumption based on the official statistics is around 6.9 liters per 100 km. In actual driving, average fuel consumption was higher at around 8.8 liters per 100 km which was not surprising since there was a lot of spirited driving.
The sound system features an eight channel amplifier with 10 speakers. This is one of the better car entertainment systems in the BMW/Mini marques. The speakers project well and are forward sounding with distinct lows, mids and highs without an overpowering bass. Coupled with the good insulation, this sound system is well matched to the car which has a higher than average engine note.
The car retains the similar lights package as the Cooper S. The Bi-Xenon headlights are bright and give good illumination at night. The front interior lights are bright enough to enable reading at night. However, I did not notice any available reading lights for rear passengers.
Overall, the car retains the Mini Cooper charm and yet is able to perform at a higher level. Take away the rear spoiler, the John Cooper Works badges and paint the car and brake calipers with a more subdued colour, and many would just mistake it to be an ordinary Mini Cooper, until you floor the accelerator and leave them in the dust…
|Engine:||1.6 litre turbocharged, 4 cylinder/16V|
|Max Output:||211bhp/6,000 rpm|
|Max Torque:||260nm/1,850-5,600 rpm*|
* (280nm/2,000 rpm with Overboost)
Source: Mini Brochure
Note: Please reconfirm the above specifications with an authorized Mini dealer
Click on these to sample sounds from the car!