Mini John Cooper Works: Mini gets the full works

5 Mar 2008

208bhp Mini John Cooper Works promises 148mph and 0-62mph in just 6.5sec

Just when the hot hatch competition looked like it was catching up, it seems that Mini has moved the game on with this, the Mini John Cooper Works.

Unveiled at the Geneva show, it has the potential to be one of the finest hot hatches ever, producing 208bhp at 6000rpm and hitting 62mph in 6.5sec – that’s 36bhp up, and over half a second down on the benchmark figures for the already mightily rapid Cooper S.

It’s probably worth clearing up a possible area for confusion here: there has been a Cooper S ‘Works’ for some time, but that car was simply a Cooper S with an ECU remap raising power to 189bhp. The Mini John Cooper Works on the other hand has taken over three years to develop and is a completely different creature.

The engine is based on the 1.6-litre unit found in the Cooper S but it has been given a serious going-over. Strengthening is the main theme, starting with a stronger, more thermally stable cylinder head with beefed-up intake valves and valve seats. There are tougher, polished pistons and a lower compression ratio too: the intake pipe leading to the turbocharger has been enlarged and the turbo itself has new internals that can cope with the sugnbificant increase in boost pressure from 0.9 to 1.3bar.

Intake and exhaust manifolds have also been changed to improve airflow. Combined with a new exhaust system – complete with 85mm diameter stainless steel tailpipes – the JCW sounds very, very good indeed, even just manoeuvring around a studio.
The result of all this engine work is not just an increased power figure and a top speed of 148mph, but also an engorged torque curve, with 192lb ft available from 1850rpm, rising to 206lb ft between 1950 and 5500rpm when the overboost function kicks in under acceleration.
With all this on tap (channelled through slightly shorter ratios in the six-speed ’box), a sophisticated traction control system was called for, so Mini has pinched some of BMW’s technology and adapted it for front-wheel drive.

At first there was ABS, EBD, CBC and DSC, but now there is also DTC (Dynamic Traction Control). This has three levels to it: the first is what you’d expect, the second allows more slip and spin, but things get really interesting when you turn everything off, because although this removes the traction and stability controls, the electronics start working like a limited-slip differential instead.

BMW first showed the technology on the 135i (Mercedes has something similar on its C63 AMG) and it works by braking the faster spinning wheel. In the Mini it will effectively be up to 50 per cent locking (the mechanical diff available in the last-generation Mini was only 30 per cent locking). After telling me this, John Cooper Works product manager Ralf Hoffmann adds – with a big smile – that it’s possible to ‘turn the car on the back axle’, which, combined with a few hand movements, I take to mean oversteer.

The JCW remains on run-flat tyres but gets new 17in alloys that weigh less than 10kg a corner. Behind the new rims are bigger, vented (drilled as an option) discs complete with four-piston calipers (painted red). The standard suspension will be as the Cooper S. However, Sports Suspension can be specified as an option, bringing firmer dampers and stronger anti-roll bars. Customers can go further still, though, and opt for John Cooper Works suspension, which lowers the car by 10mm, stiffens the dampers even further and increases the diameter of the anti-roll bars. A front strut-brace can also be added.

New side-skirts and deeper front and rear bumpers mark out the fastest Mini, but, as ever, there’s a long list of extras with which to personalise your car – carbon wing mirrors anyone? As you can see, there will be a Clubman version too, which will have the same engine and options and will reach 62mph just 0.3sec slower.

The Mini John Cooper Works will cost a basic £20,500 (£21,700 for the Clubman) when it goes on sale in the UK in the summer. We’ll have to wait until closer to that time before we get behind the wheel of the production version, but we’ve already driven something a bit similar…

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