Mini Cooper S Works

AutoTrader NZ
Published 3 September 2020

The John Cooper Works version of the Cooper S raises the question of just how much power can this competent chassis stand?

One of the few criticisms of the standard 85kW Mini Cooper is that it could do with more grunt. The 120kW supercharged S-type version, which uses the same 1.5-litre engine as its basis, was an answer for people seeking more power.

But buyers who are hungrier still can now opt for the factory approved Cooper S Works, a shining endorsement of the philosophy of installing heaps of horsepower in a small, well-engineered package.

A benefit of supercharging is a wide powerband that actually makes the car feel slower than it is. The mere thought of 200 horsepower (or 148kW) in a light, 1140kg, front wheel drive, 3.6-metre long three-door hatchback conjures up images of a wheel-spinning, uncontrollable rocket ship.

Yet this special Mini is smooth, refined and as docile as a lamb. But get on the gas pedal with vengeance, and the solid response is reminiscent of a big car with a large, multi-cylinder engine.

Do you remember the sensation of doing 100mph (160km/h) in an original modified British Leyland Mini? It was quite a milestone if you could actually reach triple figures and you really knew when the buzzy car was doing the ton.
Not so the 2003 Cooper S Works which simply hums along at this pace, feeling more like 100km/h than 100mph.

Even at this speed there’s generous acceleration still on tap as the wee car surges on to a top speed just short of 220km/h (137mph).

At the other end of the scale, this most powerful of Minis is happy trickling along sedately. Easing through heavy London traffic, the car pulls away from as low as 1000 revs in sixth gear, underlining the big engine/small car feel – amazing.

The car’s low-speed tractability is reminiscent of the original 1960s Cooper 1275S which displayed the best low-down flexibility of all Mini models. Refinement, of course, is in another world – the 2003 rendition is a remarkably quiet car.

Anyone spending this sort of money is not going to be worried about fuel economy. Drive the Works in earnest and don’t expect much better than 11.3-litres/100km (25mpg), yet that’s no worse than a standard Cooper S.

Still, with a 50-litre tank, I could almost see the fuel gauge needle sliding towards Empty as we exploited the car’s many talents.

The limited edition Works model is the result of numerous visits to BMW in Munich by Michael Cooper, son of the legendary John Cooper, and an engineering team based at the small Cooper headquarters near Brighton on the south coast of England.

You would expect the conversion to be totally professional and it is. Externally there’s little to distinguish this mega Mini from the Cooper S, and there are hardly any visible under-bonnet differences.

The key to the Works conversion is a larger Roots supercharger which provides greater boost pressure, up from 0.7 bar in the cooking Cooper S to 1.0 bar. There are also changes to the cylinder head and exhaust system but the 8.3:1 compression ratio is unaltered. Heat build-up can become a problem when increasing the boost but this doesn’t happen under the bonnet of the Works. Performance differences between the Works and the Cooper S aren’t shattering, but they are sufficient to provide a real edge.

Peak power is produced at 6950rpm (that’s 950 more revs than the standard Cooper S) and is 23 percent higher. Compared to the naturally-aspirated Cooper, power is up a massive 74 percent.

And if you’re wondering why the car is so flexible and responsive, the wonderful 240Nm of torque developed at 4000rpm is 14 percent higher than the 210Nm/4000rpm for the S-type and 61 percent up on the 149Nm/4500rpm of the standard Cooper. Note how the blown Minis achieve their best torque at lower revs than the regular Cooper.

The Works’ low-end torque is brilliant and it pulls right up to 6750rpm, unlike the standard Cooper S which falls off a little as the revs rise.

Academically, top speed is up only marginally. The 0 to 100km/h time improves by about a second to 6.7 seconds. But the Works races to 160km/h in 17 seconds, making it a serious challenger for rival hot hatches like the Ford Focus RS, VW Golf R32 and Honda Civic Type R.

The gearing is still rather high, with third good for almost 160km/h, but that does make the Works an unstressed open road cruiser, more like a long-distance GT than a small town runabout.

Put the Works on a twisting rural road and experience pure magic. It says much for the standard Cooper S suspension that absolutely no changes were made to the springing, brakes, and dampers.

Yet this most extrovert of Minis is beautifully balanced, with sharp turn-in, communicative steering, neutral response and fine anchors.

Even the ride is surprisingly good, given the large diameter alloys with low profile 205/45R 17-inch tyres. Expect a stiffer ride if you opt for the even bigger 18-inch rims with 205/40R rubber and reinforced sidewalls. I’d stay with the 17s.

The Cooper S is already in the upper price scale of small hot hatches and you’ll pay around $9000 more for the privilege of owning a Works version. More than 50 grand Kiwi seems a lot for a small car – and it is. But money doesn’t really come into the equation. Buying one of these Minis is essentially an emotional decision, driven by the incentive to have a real icon with high-performance presence.

The thing about the Mini, at least in Britain, is that everyone seems to like the car and even the really quick ones fail to attract animosity. The last thing any owner needs is for a passer-by to run a bottle top down the side of their car and this seems unlikely to happen with a Mini.

It’s still the model to be seen in. Juan Pablo Montoya may have a nerdish fascination with gadgets but he also has a Mini Cooper S as his road car. This car’s got class, character and widespread appeal. It’s more a loveable creature than a car.

One of the beauties of the Works conversion is that it can be retro-fitted by Cooper in just nine hours.

The 48-page accessory catalogue for the Mini range is bigger than the brochure for the actual car and provides an insight into how customers can spend so much optioning up their machines.

Ten different styles of alloy wheels, ranging in diameter from 15-inch to 18-inch, are available.

A Mini dealer I spoke to in Britain had sold two Mini Coopers with price tags of £30,000, or the thick end of $90,000. Ninety grand for a Mini?

One client who owned a Bentley finished in a special shade of green asked for his new Mini Cooper S to be stripped down and repainted in precisely the same colour.

Mini madness? Well, this was a fact of life in the 1960s so why should today be any different?

Story and photographs by Mike Stock.