2003 MINI Cooper S/John Cooper Works Edition

2003 MINI Cooper S/John Cooper Works Edition

Special factory tuner package adds more power, boost and bang
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Rather than a separate model, the John Cooper Works (JCW) version is actually a tuning kit for the MINI Cooper S. In the era of the original British-built MINI, which was sold in the U.S. from 1960-67, John Cooper was the creator of a long string of masterful-and successful-little rally-racing machines. He'd also contributed to the development of the initial MINI, which remained in production for sale elsewhere in the world until the dawn of the 21st century.

When BMW introduced the modern-day MINI in 2002, they added Cooper's name as a model-designation suffix to honor his contributions. At Detroit's North American International Auto Show, the MINI Cooper was named 2003 North American Car of the Year. Late in May, a remake of the 1969 caper movie "The Italian Job" was released, starring a flock of MINIs.

In basic form, the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine in the MINI Cooper yields 115 horsepower. Supercharging sends the Cooper S to 163 hp. Officially called the John Cooper Works Tuning Kit, the new component group boosts output to an even 200, at 6,950 rpm. That kind of power promises quite a wallop. Because 44 percent of the MINIs sold during 2002 were supercharged Cooper S models, performance is clearly a sought-after attribute.

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Expect to pay $4,500 extra for the tuning kit, plus a charge for the 9-hour installation by a MINI dealer. For that price, you get a higher-speed supercharger compressor that contains abrasive-coated rotors for increased efficiency, a reconfigured cylinder head, and a parallel-flow sport exhaust system with a sound all its own. "John Cooper Works" badging is placed on the hatchback lid, and stamped into the twin exhaust outlets. Beneath the hood, the logo appears on the intercooler surround, next to an individually numbered valve-cover plaque. Not only is the kit available on brand-new MINIs, but it can also be retrofitted to any 2002-03 Cooper S.

How could the MINI folks have taken such a marvelous little machine and transformed it into an utterly irresistible one? An extra dose of performance, while assuredly welcome, is only part of the appeal. Zero-to-sixty acceleration time of 6.5 seconds, for instance, is just 0.4 second quicker than the regular Cooper S. Passing response in the 50-70 mph range, on the other hand, is claimed to be a full second faster. Even in midrange gears at highway speeds, you can expect a vigorous reaction when pushing the pedal hard. And it's accompanied by a sweet supercharger whine that almost sends shivers down the spine of those who love sporty little European cars.

No less satisfying is the level of sheer, total control that you feel at the wheel. Hardly an automobile in the world-certainly none at this price-grasps the pavement with such intense affection. Despite its performance credentials, the "Works" Cooper rides with a surprising degree of comfort. Pavement separators and potholes are emphatically felt, but the suspension completes its reaction so rapidly that the disturbance is almost forgotten immediately.

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All you need to do is keep pointing the steering wheel in the desired direction. This MINI joyfully follows your instructions meticulously, never wavering from its assigned task. Change course a bit, and the MINI follows right along without a hint of fuss. Takeoffs can be a tad jerky if you're not careful with the somewhat aggressive clutch, but paying attention produces great rewards. Better yet, the 6-speed shifter is sheer, sensuous pleasure to operate. Like all MINIs, visibility is fine to the rear and satisfactory to the sides, but the low windshield can make it difficult for taller drivers to see overhead traffic signals without scrunching down.

"Driving is believing," said Jack Pitney, general manager of the MINI organization, during the high-performance model's launch at the New York Auto Show in April 2003. He's absolutely correct. Throw in the fun quotient of a JCW MINI and any imperfections quickly fade out of consciousness.

A numbered Certificate of Authenticity accompanies each John Cooper Works MINI, signed by Michael Cooper who has kept his father's aftermarket business active. Unlike many aftermarket add-on high-performance components, the John Cooper Works Tuning Kit was developed in cooperation with MINI and is fully covered under the MINI's factory warranty. (www.bmwusa.com)

2003 MINI Cooper S John Cooper Works rear
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