Ask any driving enthusiast and they’ll say that you just can’t have too much horsepower. Well, imagine taking the already speedy and nimble MINI Cooper S and stuffing another 37 horses under the hood for an even 200 hp. That’s exactly what BMW’s MINI division is doing with its John Cooper Works edition. For $4500 plus installation, or about $5000, MINI’s technicians climb under the hood of a Cooper S, do some heavy-duty tinkering with the engine and exhaust system to give it added oomph. And believe me, 200 horsepower is a lot of punch for the MINI’s bantamweight 2700-pound physique.
What’s even better is the John Cooper Works package is installed at a MINI dealership, thus lumping the new hardware under the car’s existing four-year, 50,000-mile warranty. MINI adds the boost with a performance package made by aftermarket tuner John Cooper Works in the U.K. They supply the upgraded supercharger, a better cylinder head, and an airflow system that allows the car to breathe better.
Absolute power corrupts
Sounds like a sure winner, right? Well, that’s why we drive ’em. It wasn’t as great as I thought it would be. John Cooper Works did wonders with the engine, and the power is tons of fun. But the $5000 doesn’t include any kind of improved suspension work or even a better set of tires, which I thought the car really needed with the horsepower and torque boost it gets. And did I mention it’s five grand? That seems just a bit steep for 37 horsepower. When I first heard rumors that MINI was going to release a high-performance upgrade, I though its price would be in the $2000 to $3000 range.
The car’s biggest flaw is that it doesn’t handle the added torque all that well. The Cooper S is, after all, front-wheel drive, and boosting torque just forces the front wheels to do that much more work. The car struggles to hold its ground on rough pavement. I took the car on some winter-beaten roads — all too common in Michigan — and it has a tendency to skip along the seams and bumps at higher speeds. The car skids a little when diving in and out of turns, too.
I got the feeling the car really needed a set of performance tires or maybe a little softening in the suspension. Neither comes with the package. The car rides on the Cooper S’s standard 17-inch wheels and sport suspension.
Give it credit where it’s due, though. For just plain laying down some rubber, the car is everything one would expect. The Eaton supercharger has been upgraded for more boost and it gets a high-performance cylinder head to handle the added heat and compression. A performance exhaust helps the car breathe better. And since most people buying this kit would want to push the car, John Cooper Works engineered a new pulley system so it can run at higher engine speeds. The results: It gets 177 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm, up from 150 lb-ft for the standard Cooper S. The “Works” Cooper goes 0 to 60 mph in a jarring 6.5 seconds and has a new top speed of 140 mph.
The electronics are upgraded, too. John Cooper’s Electronic Control Unit manages the car’s power output. It results in a very responsive accelerator. You get tons of boost without necessarily having to downshift. I didn’t need to drop from fifth to fourth to pass other vehicles on the highway.
Still, the John Cooper Works package is really only for real speed freaks, and probably those living in warmer climates where the roads are pretty smooth. Like the Cooper S, there is good bang for the buck. My test car was priced at $17,800. Add in the cost of the performance hardware and you get a lot of performance for $22,800. But a Cooper S with leather seats and more goodies than my test car had can go for $26,000, pushing a loaded John Cooper Works car’s sticker over $31,000. That’s a lot of cash and it pushes the car into territory where some high-powered performance cars are lurking. Maybe with some first-rate performance tires, this car would be all it promises and more.
Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works edition
Engine: Supercharged 1.6-liter in-line four, 200 hp/177 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel-drive
Length x width x height: 143.9 x 57.5 x 56.2 in
Wheelbase: 97.1 in
Curb Weight: 2678 lb
EPA fuel economy (city/hwy): 24/33 mpg
Safety equipment: Driver and front-passenger airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags, four-wheel-disc brakes, side-impact door beams, all-season traction control, dynamic stability control, tire pressure warning system
Major standard features: Automatic air conditioning, power windows and locks, six-speaker AM/FM cassette player, electric rear defrost, remote keyless entry
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles basic