2009 Mini Cooper John Cooper Works Hardtop Review
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2009 Mini Cooper John Cooper Works Hardtop
The recent spike in fuel prices has been bad news for many high-performance car makers and drivers, but not for Mini and its enthusiasts. The newest members of the Mini lineup, the John Cooper Works models available in both hardtop and Clubman form, are the most powerful, quickest, and fastest yet - and still return fine fuel economy in everyday driving.
A factory-tuned engine with 208 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque (207 in overboost mode) sees to the performance. And yet during my week with a hardtop, try as I might I could not get the average fuel economy readout to go below 29 mpg. Yes, that time entailed more than the usual amount of freeway droning, but I had plenty of time in city traffic and even a few shots at deserted country roads, usually an invitation to low mileage driving. Spending the better part of an hour in such a setting testing the JCW's reflexes and abilities, I managed to get the readout to drop from 29.8 to 29.2. Which is not bad at all.
Besides the hot-rodded engine, with an additional extra 36 horsepower and 15 (or up to 30 in overboost) lb-ft of torque compared to a regular Cooper S, the JCW models get high-performance brakes, an even more sporting suspension calibration, a low-back-pressure exhaust system, an enhanced six-speed manual gearbox, and special 17-inch alloy wheels shod with high-performance runflat tires. Like the regular Cooper S, there is a "Sport" button that quickens response from the electronic throttle control and electrically power-assisted steering. The Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system incorporates Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) for the first time in a Mini. When those systems are switched off, Electronic Differential Lock Control is switched on for enhanced stability under acceleration and in corners in extreme sport driving.
And it's still as comfortable as an S, in a serious sports car way, and just as useful. If the three-door hatchback is a little small for your needs, there's always the Clubman, with a little extra length and interior space and improved access from the extra rear-access door.
Modern cars have been criticized for having a lack of character. That critique does not apply to a Mini, especially the JCW. It's a rambunctious little beast with plenty of personality and character, and it's still a practical daily driver. Its manner of combining a true high-performance driving experience with excellent fuel economy left a large smile on my face.
APPEARANCE: Other than its unique wheels, large brakes, and small "John Cooper Works" badges, the JCW looks like any other current Mini. So there is some (small) stealth factor. And while other manufacturers still make a big deal out of moving the wheels to the corners of the vehicle for extra interior space, Minis have been made that way since the original's debut in 1959. As ever, a Mini has a basic two-box shape, emphasis on box, although it's a bit rounded and just a touch larger than the previous generation car.
COMFORT: How to get maximum interior space out of a minimal footprint? Alex Issigonis solved that problem with the original Mini nearly 50 years ago by putting the passenger compartment in a large box and placing a small four-cylinder engine across the car in front of that and driving the front wheels. That allowed adequate room for four people in a car just ten feet long. Today's Mini is a bit larger, but still seems to stretch the laws of physics by having a larger interior than exterior. It doesn't, really, but the 2007 redesign improved interior space a bit. Being at the top of the line, the JCW gets excellent manually-adjustable sport seats in front (cloth standard, leather available). The rear seatback flips down 50/50, and rear leg and head room are comfortable up to about five-ten. Luggage space with the rear in place is tight, but as a two-passenger car the Mini is quite spacious, with cargo access aided by its hatchback design. Need more room? Check out the Clubman. The tach is still on the steering column, the oversized white-faced speedometer in the center of the dash, and the window lifts are in a "rack mount" enclosure, but despite all of the cheeky style, the controls are simple to use. The JCW's op-art checkered-flag floor mats are an amusing 60s-retro touch. Groovy, man!
SAFETY: The Mini meets worldwide safety standards. An extra-large front deformation zone, another one at the rear, and a strong safety cell around the passenger cabin form the basis, and are assisted by six airbags. Nimble handling and excellent four-wheel antilock disc brakes with stability, traction, and corner braking control help out in the active safety area.
RIDE AND HANDLING: The JCW builds on the regular Cooper S with a sportier tuning to its fully-independent MacPherson strut / aluminum-intensive multilink "central arm" rear suspension and "plus-one" 17-inch alloy wheels with 205/45 high-performance run-flat tires. It's firm, but supple enough to keep the wheels in contact with the ground on rough roads. With its short wheelbase and wide track, plus the amount of power transmitted through the front wheels, the JCW is extremely nimble and responsive. Particularly with the "Sport" button engaged, which quickens the electrically-assisted power steering ratio and decreases the amount of throttle pedal travel needed for response, it's a car that demands your attention when motoring quickly. Turn off the audio system, ignore any electronic gadgets, and enjoy the nearest thing to a 125 shifter kart that's street legal.
PERFORMANCE: To get more power out of the Mini Cooper S's 1.6-liter , 16-valve dual overhead cam turbocharged direct fuel-injection four-cylinder engine, the John Cooper Works performance department modified the cylinder head and pistons, and increased turbo boost. The result is 208 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 192 lb-ft of torque from 1850 to 5600 rpm. Under wide-open throttle, overboost - a little extra boost allowed for short periods - increases torque to 207 lb-ft. The result is noticeable - 0-60 times drop half a second to 6.2 seconds, top speed is increased a bit to 147 from the S's 139, and since that power goes through the front wheels, the steering wheel can seem to have a mind of its own under hard acceleration. Yes, it's a little wild and hairy, and such is the JCW's considerable charm. Since it's unlikely that anyone will be on the throttle all of the time, fuel economy is not seriously damaged. EPA ratings are 25 and 33, and as mentioned I couldn't get under 29 overall. That 6.2 second 0-60 and near 150-mph top speed put the JCW hardtop even with the other icon of `60s British motoring, the Jaguar E-Type...
CONCLUSIONS: The John Cooper Works Mini Cooper S is a ferocious high-performance car masquerading as a subcompact hatchback.
2009 Mini Cooper John Cooper Works Hardtop
Base Price $ 28,550 Price As Tested $ 30,050 Engine Type turbocharged direct-injection dual overhead cam, 16-valve inline 4-cylinder Engine Size 1.6 liters / 97.5 cu. in. Horsepower 208 @ 6000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 192 @ 1850-5600 rpm (207 @ 2000-5100 overboost) Transmission 6-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 97.1 in. / 146.2 in. Curb Weight 2701 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 13 Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline recommended Tires 205/45R17 84W Continental Sport Contact 3 ssr runflat Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson struts / independent central-arm multilink Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 25 / 33 / 29 0 to 60 mph 6.2 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES multi-function steering wheel $ 250 Black bonnet stripes $ 100 Bluetooth and USB/iPod adapter $ 500 Destination charge $ 650