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Mini John Cooper Works Mini Cooper S Works with JCW tuning kit

Driven February 2008

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For a company never short of a self-congratulatory word or two, Mini is keeping curiously quiet - secretive, almost - about the new Cooper S Works, the first new Mini to get the warranty-approved John Cooper Works treatment. A quick glance at the stats reveals why.

While the old JCW-tuned Mini could be fettled well over 200bhp without too much effort, the Works develops a piffling 189bhp. The problem is the new engine, which isn't as easy to tune as the old supercharged unit - that twin-scroll turbo is a tricky little bugger to squeeze more power from, say the engineers.

Even with a revised ECU and a new sports exhaust and air filter, the Works manages just 17bhp more than the standard Cooper S. For a £1,500 premium. On paper, that's not great.

But that's on paper. On the road, JCW boss Mike Cooper reckons that the Works might be the quickest Mini ever.

And you know what? He might be right. The Works is seriously quick. And, on wet roads at least, seriously lairy. Just under seven seconds to 62mph doesn't do justice to the power on tap here: maximum overboost torque of 199lb ft is available from just 1,750rpm, making it all too easy to spin up the front wheels and send the Mini skittering cheerily across the tarmac.

Unless you fancy starting a traction control light disco in the cabin, you'll need a delicate right foot. Even with the most feathery inputs, there's a lively dose of torque steer delivered through the steering wheel, amplified by the Mini's direct steering, which becomes even heavier when you press the little sports button (located somewhat close to the 'traction control off' switch for my liking).

But the Works still feels a bit of a poseur at heart. Maybe it's the stop-start system fitted on our test car. Admirable as the engine cut-out is, it sits uncomfortably on a car that demands to be revved at the red light just to hear its raspy overrun.

Or maybe it's the hideously chintzy mood lighting. Surely the JCW engineers could've done something about it? Something involving a large hammer, perhaps? Whatever it is, the JCW can't quite shake off the impression of a fashion statement first and a driver's car second.

But there's a solution here. Later this year we'll see the proper stripped-out JCW Cooper S, which will be lighter and come with more power. Expect something around 210bhp - not bad for an impossible-to-tune engine. That one really will be the quickest Mini ever. And you can bet that Mini won't be at all secretive about it.

Sam Philip

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