The incredible handling exhibited by Minis shows that there’s more than one way to obtain automotive performance. Brute power is the more traditional way, but nimble, go kart-like handling is another. The new Mini Cooper John Cooper Works (JCW) model is a handling superstar with more power than ever before (208 hp from its turbocharged 1.6-liter I-4 engine).
The top-of-the-line JCW model pays homage to John Cooper, the man who first made Minis into performance sedans. The extra cost of the JCW model is reflected in its upgraded engine, suspension and brakes.
Walkaround: Other manufacturers should study the Mini Cooper S as an excellent example of how to make small cars attractive. Minis are fun without being gimmicky. The modern Minis expertly combine original styling cues with contemporary elements. The Mini Cooper S is new-stalgia done right (the VW new Beetle is another good example).
Interior: Mini Coopers have always been surprisingly roomy inside their compact exteriors. The original Mini concept was based on maximizing space and the 2009 models carry on that tradition. Front seat room is excellent although rear legroom is compromised unless the front seats are moved up. We consider the Mini Cooper S a two-seater with occasional four-passenger capability.
Mini Cooper controls are idiosyncratic. That’s part of their charm, but it can also be annoying. A long list of options and special packages mean Mini interiors can range from simple to sumptuous. We’re particularly fond of the oversize power sunroof.
Under The Hood: All Minis have come a long way since their initial 37 horsepower days, but they’re also longer and heavier. The base Cooper engine is rated at 118 hp, the Cooper S at 172 hp, and the JCW at 208 hp. A 6-speed manual and a 6-speed automatic transmission are available, although the JCW can only be had with the manual transmission. Fuel economy is surprisingly good as even the high-performance JCW can top 30 mpg on the highway.
Behind The Wheel: If driving a Mini Cooper JCW doesn’t make you smile from ear to ear, go immediately to the Emergency Room because you might be dead. During our week in the Mini Cooper JCW we did little else but drive. We sought out every winding country road we could find in western and eastern Washington.
Whines: The Mini Cooper JCW is so powerful that it can exhibit torque steer. This little car leaps off the line.
Bottom Line: The Mini Cooper in all its forms is what this country needs — high quality, practical, economical transportation that’s incredibly fun to drive (not to mention the Mini Cooper’s phenomenal resale value).