2009 Mini John Cooper Works

By Brian Alexander, Road Test Editor

2009 MINI Cooper Hardtop 1
2009 MINI Cooper Hardtop

DriverSide Overview
There’s no denying that the Mini Cooper is a bit of a phenomenon in its own right, a thoroughly modern Germanic take on Britain’s quirky yet lovable front-wheel drive classic. A simple web search will pull up a plethora of Mini sites, providing anything from forums and community services to Mini-focused driving academies. With a following this unwaveringly obsessive, a high-end performance model is a no-brainer. In steps the Mini John Cooper Works, a Cooper S on turbocharged steroids aimed at popular compact performance icons like the Volkswagen GTI and Honda Civic Si. However, in this company the rowdy Mini is the loudest guest at the party, the guy who shows up with the beer bong and will only part with the karaoke machine when dragged away kicking and screaming. Its exhaust system is about as subtle as fishing with hand grenades, and the turbo whooshes and sputters like a rally car that has escaped from a nearby special stage. Add to this Brembo brakes and a stiff sports suspension and the result is one cracking front-wheel drive monster. Commence with the front-axle burnouts.

What's to Like
As a weapon for dissecting the zigs and zags of mountain roads and racetracks, the JCW succeeds marvelously. Compact dimensions make it a good compromise for buyers looking for a city car with a wild side, especially when it maintains the fuel economy numbers of the Cooper S. Parent company BMW’s quality is apparent throughout the interior.

What's Not to Like
At a hair under $30k, JCW ownership comes at a price. Compounding the problem is Mini’s decision to take a page out of Porsche’s book, tempting buyers with a never-ending options list. Inherent to the Mini design is styling that limits functionality, such as the planet-sized centrally mounted speedometer. A navigation system is offered as an option, of course, but we think a simple multimedia screen would work best.

The Drive:
DriverSide Driving Impressions

At just 1.6-liters, the JCW’s engine is unashamedly turbocharged. Swollen midrange torque is accompanied by the whistle of turbo vanes compressing air under acceleration, an orderly mechanical symphony that finds itself at odds with the engine’s off-throttle violence as unburnt fuel in the exhaust ignites upon contact with fresh air. Gear changes flow well with a notchy yet light tactility, and the steering is properly direct with minimal kickback over rough surfaces. Uncork the JCW on a back road and it performs superbly, the DCT system sorting out whatever torque steer is present in lower gears. Fully defeating DCT activates electronic differential lock control, a sort of limited-slip stand-in that does its best to eliminate wheel slip by braking the inside wheel when slip is detected. Like a lot of Brembo systems, the brakes are very grabby at the top of the pedal’s travel, becoming more solid as you push them harder. Get to a track day and demonstrate your late braking prowess.

Engine and Drivetrain
The Mini JCW utilizes the same 1.6-liter engine as the Cooper S, albeit with the volume knob dialed up to 11. It makes 208 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque, although under acceleration it uses an overboost function to temporarily deliver 207 lb-ft. Power is driven to the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission.

Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
Considering it’s a Mini, you could probably have a toaster in it if you really wanted. The brand has been synonymous with customization since its revival, and the JCW is no different. Anything from sports suspension and racing stripes to 10-speaker Hi-Fi can be yours, for a price of course.

Key Technology Evaluation
Like acronyms? Along with common systems like ABS, Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), the JCW brings with it Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Cornering Brake Control (CBC) and the aforementioned Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC). Tired of letters now? It takes a lot of electronic wizardry to keep those front wheels in check.

Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
For a hard-hitting performance hatch, the Mini JCW amazingly maintains the 26 mpg city, 34 mpg highway of the standard Cooper S. The emissions rating drops down to LEV-II, not surprising given the free-flowing exhaust. Those bangs and pops on the overrun are worth it, though.

A Closer Look:  Vehicle Details

If you’ve spent any time in Minis, you’ll know the hit-or-miss interior very well. For the most part interior styling comes across with old school charm, but some (like us) won’t be able to get past the massive speedometer. The seating position is superb for performance driving, pedal placement is spot on and visibility is fantastic. Those who know modern BMWs will recognize a lot of lights and displays that have been carried over.

JCW hardtops are available with either black or white roofs with matching mirrors, and wheel size gets bumped up to 17 inches. While the signature rounded front-end of the Mini Cooper remains present, the JCW features a more aggressive front fascia. The John Cooper Works model is also available in convertible and larger Clubman body styles.

Market Segment and Pricing
With an MSRP of $29,200 (the Clubman and convertible will set you back $31,450 and $34,950 respectively), the JCW isn’t what most would call cheap, and adding options can see that price grow as if it were suffering a terminal pituitary affliction. This gives its main rivals – the Honda Civic Si ($21,905), Volkswagen GTI ($23,230) and Volvo C30 ($23,800) – a significant pricing advantage.

What We Think
The Mini John Cooper Works is a phenomenal front-wheel drive handler, with tons of character thanks to its booming exhaust and unconventional styling. Judged purely on driving dynamics, it’s amongst top of its class. Unfortunately the price tag means buyers will have to be plenty committed to the car’s quirky attitude before the taking delivery of one. You know what they say though – never judge a book by its cover.

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