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First drive: Mini Cooper with the Works

One with the Works: Mini’s JCW treatment is subtle, visually extending only to badges.

The M equivalent of the BMW-built Mini Cooper has arrived

Mini logo28 Jul 2003

By MARTON PETTENDY

MINI not fast enough? Meet BMW’s solution: the M-division equivalent for the Mini Cooper, an aftermarket go-faster kit courtesy of renowned British tuning house John Cooper Works.

That’s right, new generation Mini manufacturer BMW Group has introduced a fully integrated, dealer fitted and factory warranted performance package for Australia, where the gutsy Cooper S enjoys a higher share of Mini sales than anywhere in the world.

The deal, which sees kits for both the Cooper and Cooper S offered only through metropolitan Mini Garages from early September, officially rekindles the relationship between Mini and JCW, the spiritual home for Mini Coopers and the UK outfit that created the Mini race and rally icon of 40 years ago.

While BMW Group Australia will concentrate on the more significant, more expensive Cooper S upgrade kit, the entry level Cooper kit – which raises maximum power by around 10 per cent and brings the Cooper’s price to close to that of the Cooper S - will be available by special order only.

Taking five hours to fit, the Cooper kit costs $6000 and includes a completely new, higher compression cylinder head including valve gear, modified ECU, free-flowing air-filter, JCW muffler, silver JCW engine cover, front and rear “Works” badging and consecutively numbered JCW engine badge.

In addition to this, the JCW Tuning Kit for Cooper S, which takes nine hours to install, includes different spark plugs and a modified Eaton supercharger with coated rotors to replace the standard Roots-type blower. Maximum boost pressure is increased from 0.7 bar to 1.0 bar and the total cost is $9600.

In the Cooper, peak power is increased just 8kW at fewer revs - from 85kW at 6000rpm to 93kW at 5750rpm. Maximum torque is 6Nm up at higher revs – from 149Nm at 4500rpm to 155Nm at 14750rpm. The changes knock 0.3 seconds off the Cooper’s claimed 0-100km/h acceleration time, which drops from 10.5 to 10.1 seconds, while top speed increases from 201 to 204km/h.

More convincingly, the Cooper S increases maximum power by 27kW, from a standard 120kW at 6000rpm to 147kW (200hp) at 6950rpm, with peak torque lifted from 210Nm at 4000rpm to an even more impressive 240Nm at the same revs. It’s claimed Cooper S Works blasts to 100km/h in 5.6 seconds (6.7 standard), while top speed is raised from 218 to 226km/h.

On sale in the UK for a short time, both JCW kits come with a certificate of authenticity and do not affect the standard Mini warranty or service intervals. But neither kit is available in Minis fitted with a CVT.

BMW Group Australia currently holds 20 deposits and a further 50 expressions of interest for the JCW Tuning Kit and although the initial interest is expected to be high at the rate of four to five conversions a month, the overall take-up is likely to be around five per cent.

BMWGA hopes the release of re-make film The Italian Job, which heavily features Mini, on August 21 and the future release of JCW accessories such as sports seats and 18-inch alloy wheels will create further interest in Mini, which will undergo a number of running changes from this week.

Specification realignments for the model include the fitting of sports seats, larger 16-inch alloy wheels and illuminated vanity mirrors as standard in the Cooper, while Cooper S gets new design 16-inch alloy wheels, illuminated vanity lights and a multi-function steering wheel including cruise control as standard.

Both Mini models - which have notched up more than 2400 sales in Australia since the Cooper launch in March, 2002, to become the best selling European brand in the prestige segment - will also be available with a new rain sensor option, as well as an eight-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

AFTER a number of laps, plus slalom and skidpan exercises, at a closed circuit in Queensland – ironically linked previously with BMW but now named the Holden Performance Driving Centre – it is clear the JCW kit does a fine job of increasing Mini’s performance to impressive levels.

In the 1140kg Cooper S, that means HSV GTS-matching straightline acceleration that snaps at the heels of an elite group of supercars to 100km/h.

It also means a far more muscular midrange, an extended top-end power surge all the way to redline and a burble from the metallic sounding exhaust as revs return to idle.

On the downside, the trade-off is there’s probably a little less urge off idle and, even on the optional 17-inch wheels with which we back-to-backed the standard Cooper S against a JCW-kitted Cooper S, there was drastically more torque steer as the higher-boosting supercharger’s torque more easily overcame the tyres’ grip.

And, sadly, we can’t say how much difference the JCW kit makes to the entry level Mini Cooper because we didn’t drive it.

Suffice to say, however, its more modest power and torque increase would be insignificant next to the Cooper S’s substantial 27kW peak power boost, which all but overpowered Mini’s pin-sharp steering attributes.

Sure, Mini’s rock-solid chassis feels able to handle even more power, but it would come at the expense of even more steering response. On the patchy Norwell circuit the standard Cooper S easily scorched its inside front tyres while exiting its many tight corners, while the JCW-fettled Cooper S made light work of spinning both front tyres in the first two gears.

But even in this environment the Mini lost little of its famous composure, exhibiting sharp turn-in and sweet mid-corner balance even if it struggled for traction during rapid corner exits. Of course, the loss of steering accuracy and cornering grip under power will be exacerbated on standard 16-inch rubber.

Of course, while we can’t vouch for BMW’s claims fuel economy is unaffected, the integrated feel of the Cooper S JSW kit was notable, with considerable extra performance coming without any loss of engine smoothness or refinement.

That said, although the incremental performance increase is substantial, $9600 (24 per cent of the Cooper S asking price) is a lot to spend for it. On a model that’s not uncommon to see optioned to the value of $60,000, we’d rate 17-inch wheels and tyres as the higher priority.

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