First Drive
By most accounts, the MINI Cooper S is about as much fun as you can have (with your clothes on) in a front-wheel-drive car. The '09 John Cooper Works takes what's good about the experience and brings it up several notches-more power, more torque, and an overall more sporting demeanor.

Certain drivetrain components are reportedly derived from the John Cooper Works Challenge racing model. The Works car adds optimized induction and exhaust systems and modified turbo assembly to the standard 1.6-liter inline four. The air filter, the air mass meter, the exhaust tract and catalyst, along with a new turbo exhaust housing and turbo air inlet, have all been revised. The changes raise peak output to 208 hp (SAE) and 192 lb-ft of peak torque. On hard acceleration the "overboost" function is engaged, increasing torque to a maximum 207 lb-ft between 1950 and 5500 rpm. The six-speed manual transmission features identical gear ratios to that of the MINI Cooper S, but the cogs themselves have been replaced with high-strength versions to cope with the augmented output.

Standard safety features include Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), as found in rear-drive BMW applications, abut unique to the front-drive MINI. The front axle also incorporates an electronic lock differential control function that allows more power to be put to the ground when, for example, accelerating hard out of a corner.

Surprisingly-or maybe not so much-this high-powered MINI actually feels more at home on the racetrack than on the street. Unpredictable torque steer has always been an issue even in our 170-horse long-term Cooper S, and is even more evident on the Works car. On hard throttle the car may pull unpredictably right or left, especially on rough or uneven pavement, which can make it feel a little unsettled at speed. On well-maintained, smooth pavement-like a track-power is applied much more effectively, and this is where the MINI can really show off its much-touted "go-kart-like" handling.

Aside from torque steer, which really only becomes an issue at full or close to full throttle, the car is supremely stable and exhibits no detectable body roll. Still, the ride is comfortable enough for leisurely or long-distance driving. If you want an even more hardcore setup, you may opt for a sport suspension package ($500) that includes firmer dampers and larger antiroll bars for even harder corner carving. There's also a signature JCW Sport suspension package for $1,295 if track time for your MINI is a foregone conclusion.

Lightweight 17-inch wheels and high-speed 205/45-series tires are standard running gear. Standard Works brakes feature fixed calipers finished in red,12.4-inch front rotors and 11-inch rears.

Visually, the Works is distinguished from your ordinary MINI with cues like a revised front fascia with a deeper lip spoiler, larger tailpipes, the unique wheels and brakes, and John Cooper Works badging. For those seeking to personalize their car even further, a slew of factory options are available, including factory and dealer-installed aerodynamics kits, color-matched or contrasting roof and side-mirrors, and a variety of upholstery and interior trim options.

The MINI John Cooper Works is available in both standard hardtop and Clubman configurations, and both are available today-meaning now.

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