First Drive Review: 2009 MINI John Cooper Works
This 2009 review is representative of model years 2007 to 2013.
Mallorca, Spain — A wonderfully twisty mountain road flanked by walls of solid rock and breathtaking drop-offs with nary a piece of Armco to spoil the view is just one of many luxuries provided by the island of Palma off the Spanish coast. Normally this "two-way" road would invoke claustrophobia, being not much wider than a single lane of a modern Interstate, but we're in a brand-new Mini John Cooper Works, and this just happens to be its forte.
Known for its potent supercharger upgrade kits for the previous Mini Cooper S, John Cooper Works is a brand that has always been synonymous with Mini. That is why BMW/Mini decided to coalesce the brands with two new performance models (like the M brand for BMW), the Mini John Cooper Works and Mini John Cooper Works Clubman.
In proper JCW fashion, power has been increased of the already-efficient 1.6-liter 4-cylinder to 208 bhp at 6000 rpm and 192 lb.-ft. of torque from 1850-5600 rpm...or 206 lb.-ft. from 2000-5300 rpm for the overboosting lead-footers. How, do you ask?
Revisions to the turbocharger include larger internal passages to move more air and exhaust and a new turbine housing material engineered to handle the commensurately higher temperatures. Peak boost rises to 18.9 psi up from 13.1 psi as new pistons bring the compression ratio down to 10.0:1 (from 10.5:1) to prevent knock. The intake valves and their seats have also been changed out for thermal reasons; this new hardware will also be used in newer Mini Cooper S engines to prevent complexity in the manufacturing process.
The sole transmission available is the easy-shifting 6-speed manual gearbox with its usual ratios, though all gears have been strengthened to handle the increased load. The drive axles have also been upgraded for the same reason and what used to be a limited-slip differential is now an open differential. What? Yes. The mechanical differential in the Mini Cooper S would not be suitable for the new power, so chassis engineers decided on a different route, taking into account the prospect of increased torque steer as well. Their solution is Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC).
Taking advantage of the Mini John Cooper Works' upgraded Brembo brake package (12.4-in. front, 11.0-in. rear), EDLC controls front wheelspin by applying a brake torque to the spinning wheel to simulate the function of a limited-slip unit. The result is a smoother, more progressive lock-up, one that won't yank the steering wheel from your hands or cause an inadvertent lane change.
For EDLC to be activated, you have to run with DSC stability and DTC traction control (both standard on this model) switched off. We had a chance to drive the car on a closed circuit, which really allowed us to experiment with the system at its limits. Fast sweeping corners were easy to negotiate simply with the throttle now, and tight hairpins were defeated, probably for the first time, by the mechanically open differential. It's truly a competent system, but with the inherent disadvantage of brake-lining dependency. Get too much heat in those pads and the differential performance suffers the same fate we observed about five laps in — our toasty street pads were about as happy as we were with our hairpin exit speeds.
Racetracks aside, we never encountered the problem during our spirited real-world driving route. Plus the mountain acoustics were more complimentary to the overrun exhaust burble that accompanies the sportier steering and throttle response of Sport mode, activated by the touch of a button.
Both models are on sale now, prices starting at $29,200 for the coupe, $31,450 for the Clubman, with a plethora of options available including a stiffer JCW sport suspension or full aero kit, to appease the needs of your inner hot-rodder.