When it comes to performance driving, weight is enemy No. 1. Similarly, if you’re trying to squeeze every rolling metre out of a litre of fuel, too much junk-in-the-trunk is not the way to go.
Following this line of reason, a lightweight car with a highly-tuned small displacement engine is a formula for fun and efficient motoring.
Checking all these boxes is the 2009 John Cooper Works Mini — a Mini Cooper S coupe with a serious injection of oats. The 1.6L DOHC direct-injection turbocharged four is tuned to crank out 208 horsepower and 192 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,850-5,600 rpm, up 36 and 15, respectively from the Cooper S. Put your foot in it, and there is an overboost function that momentarily kicks the torque up to 207 lb.-ft.
This car is very quick. Deceptively so, in fact, so it’s a good thing the central speedo is the size of a manhole cover. “Street racing” velocities sneak up on you in the blink of an eye.
How many times has the Mini’s handling been compared to a go-kart? Enough for me to visit a couple kart-racer buddies who were doing some testing at Goodwood Kartways. They thought the car was a hoot, and confirmed its dynamics were somewhat akin to their high-powered karts.
Thanks to some bespoke suspension tuning and sticky 205/45R17 Continental ContiSportContact footwear, the Mini’s already quick reflexes are notched up to Chihuahua-on-amphetamine levels here. Turn-in is crazy quick and the upgraded Works brakes require a light touch. With the Sport button on the console engaged, steering and throttle responses sharpen. It takes a little while to recalibrate your inputs to drive this car smoothly.
One thing you can’t smooth out is the ride — on rough roads you’ll think you’re sitting in a paint shaker. However, when lasering through bends and feeling the neutrality in the chassis, all is forgiven.
On the flip side, this car settles into a comfortable cruiser at 120 km/h with the little turbo four humming away at 2,800 rpm. My tester had a lovely tan leather interior and the $1,900 JCW Comfort Package that includes a large double sunroof, heated front seats, automatic climate control, rain sensing wipers and auto headlights. The $750 audio upgrade sounded very good, too. Fit and finish are exemplary. It’s your call whether the interior design is super-cool chic or Fisher-Price gone horribly wrong.
Externally, the JC Works Mini gets a more aggressive front fascia with unique grill inserts, 16-spoke lightweight alloys, a large rear spoiler, and a pair of honkin’ chromed exhaust tips that broadcast a pretty sexy bark.
Yes, the 2009 JC Works Mini might be as cute as a puppy, but beware, it pulls like one, too. Hammer the throttle in second gear and you’re fighting to keep on the straight and narrow. Do the same at 100 km/h in third gear and it will still try to yank you into the corn.
All this fun comes with a price, however. The 2009 JC Works Mini lists for $38,390, with this specimen coming in at an eye-watering $42,020.
Comfort can be taken in the fact that the mutual thrashing between myself and JCWM burned only 9.1 L/100 km of premium fuel.
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