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We've had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a few MINI variants, including a 2007 Cooper S and more recently a 2008 Cooper Clubman. Despite some quirky interior design cues and limited practicality, it's hard not to love the MINI for its superb handling and slick-shifting transmission. Still on our to-do list, however, was to experience some of the John Cooper Works options that were absent on our previous test cars. Fortunately we were able to schedule a short drive with a 2008 MINI Cooper S with a few select JCW options. Are the upgrades worth the price of admission? Read on...

All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

Our MINI arrived in style with Lightning Blue paint and a handsome interior with Lounge Carbon Black leather seating, just slightly more subtle than the Leather Lounge Redwood seats in the Cooper S we previously tested. Our car was also fitted with the Premium Package with a panoramic sunroof ($1,250), limited slip diff ($500), computer NAV system ($2,000), and the leather sport wheel w/ multifunction ($250).

But enough with the "regular" options. We're here to test out the goods from the John Cooper Works parts bin. First up is the Tuning Kit ($2,100) consisting of a high-flow air intake box, a low-restriction sport exhaust system with larger diameter chrome tips, and a reprogrammed ECU that increases throttle response. The result is an increase of 17 horsepower for a total of 189, as well as a boost of torque to 185 lb-ft, or temporarily up to 200 lb-ft with overboost. Amazingly, that torque is available from 1,000 rpm all the way to 5,000 rpm, and combined with the increased throttle response, it's nearly impossible to resist dipping into the throttle just for the fun of it. The exhaust note is also much improved, and the Cooper S now emits a proper growl. While $123/horsepower isn't exactly a great bang for your buck, there's something satisfying knowing that your extra horsepower is covered under the factory warranty. Plus you get those cool John Cooper Works badges!

Next up is the JCW sport suspension system ($1,295). The kit includes stiffer springs and new shock absorbers. MINI claims benefits of increased cornering ability and reduced body roll through the corners, and we'd be inclined to agree. We know the Cooper S can handle like a go-kart, and the JCW suspension enhances the MINI's corner carving abilities even more. The car exhibited practically no body roll even through the tightest turns, and the front wheels simply go exactly where you point them. The only downside is a slightly rougher ride that would become annoying if your daily commute involved potholes and uneven roads. We are 50/50 on whether we would check this option, and it would probably depend on if we used the car as a daily driver or a weekend toy.

The last set of JCW options for our Cooper S include the wheel, tire and brake packages. MINI has probably more wheel options for its cars than any other, with the John Cooper Works versions being both the best looking and most expensive. We liked the 18-inch double-spoke composite wheels wrapped with 205/40R18 run-flat tires, although they are a pricey option at $3,585. Since wheel design is a purely subjective category, we'll leave it up to you whether these are worth the money or if an aftermarket wheel would be a better alternative. As for the brakes, our car was fitted with the Sport Brake Kit ($1,360) as well as the option for drilled front rotors ($218). The package includes larger rotors and red-painted calipers as well as special brake lines for the rear brakes. While we didn't have the opportunity to test the brakes to their limit, we found them to be more than sufficient with excellent pedal response.

We immensely enjoyed our seat time in the JCW-equipped MINI Cooper S, but it's tough to say whether we would put the check mark in the option box for these items. The engine, suspension, wheel/tire, and brake upgrades added a total of over $8,500 to the price of our MINI, quite a sum of money considering the near $20,000 base price of the Cooper S. Adding even more JCW options like the carbon fiber interior accessories, aero kit, strut tower brace, roof spoiler, and more can push the MINI's price into the $40,000 range and even higher with additional options. With that sort of price you can buy a BMW 135i that offers more power and a better interior, as well as many other cars that offer more room and more power. When it comes down to it the MINI Cooper S is a fantastic vehicle for around $25,000, but the JCW options don't benefit the car enough to make it a good value at $40,000. Still, there are those out there that would rather have a Cooper S in the garage, and the John Cooper Works options offer the ultimate MINI experience straight from the factory.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

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