First Drive: Mini Cooper S Works 210

Is this a thoroughbred or a little lame?

If you need to clear a field of horses, there are worse cars to do it in than this Mini Works 210. I hadn’t planned to rearrange the equine inhabitants of a field somewhere near Wantage – I didn’t even know they were there – but as I braked from a speed somewhere in the region of the legal speed limit, ready to flick the Mini into a reasonably sharp right hander, excess fuel started to explode in the exhaust, creating a machine gun fire series of cracks, pops and bangs. The horses, initially lined up along the fence as if to watch the car going by, didn’t like it one bit, but the aural pleasure was just the start of the automotive gratification provided by the Works 210.

What is the Mini Cooper S Works 210, to give it its full name? It starts life as the Cooper S that’s then fitted with gloss black wheels and a John Cooper Works bodykit of aggressive front and rear valances and a split-level roof spoiler. Both are options you can specify when buying a Cooper S, but then the 2.0-litre petrol engine gets its computers upgraded to boost power to 207bhp, and an active exhaust is fitted. Press the button on the special key fob and a silencer bypass is opened in the exhaust – this creates a free-flowing system, improving engine responses, and generating a lot of noise. Enough noise to scare horses, seemingly. In defence of Mini, who you may think is being irresponsible, there is a warning that it should be restricted to track use only, but who can resist pressing a button like that?

The interior is standard Mini Cooper S, which means you get plenty of room for the driver and passenger, and little usable space for anything else. A couple of adults could fit in the rear seats, but they’d be uncomfortable and those in the front would need to slide their seats forward a tad. The dashboard oozes retro cool, with a large infotainment screen sitting in the 60s-inspired circle on the centre stack, although the dials for the driver are a touch small to read clearly on the move.

The driving position is near perfect though, encouraging you to extract the maximum from the car. Reach left and rotate a dial from Normal to Sport and the throttle responses sharpen, the steering gets noticeably heavier and, just to remind you, the centre screen announces that ‘Maximum go-kart feel’ has been enabled. The engine growls, and the Mini rockets from the line, the slick short-throw gearbox being used late to keep the revs high. Hit the bends and the Mini feels energetic, keen to demolish the tarmac beneath its wheels and move on to the next bend. However, despite the go-kart suggestion, the 210 works best on a flowing road with room to engage with the car, as it responds to every touch of the throttle and every flick of the wheel with nothing but immediate acceptance. It finds grip where others fail, the firm suspension ignoring ruts and creases that would throw its rivals offline. Somehow, despite that, it remains comfortably supple when driving normally, a trick that’s difficult to pull off.

It comes out as being the near perfect hot hatch. It’s light years ahead of the Peugeot 208 GTi, Audi S1, Fiesta ST200 (although there’s a new ST coming…) and even its own beefier brother, the Mini John Cooper Works. It’s thousands cheaper than the JCW too, and competitively priced against its rivals, although the options list is lengthy and expensive. Not that it matters much, as the car is spectacularly good as it is, encouraging you to return time and time again for a circuitous drive to the supermarket, or an unnecessarily long drive to the station.

The Works 210 is a feel good car, and it works its magic every time you get behind the wheel. It’s not subtle about it, especially once you press that magic button, but the symphony of sound that echoes around the environment is intoxicating. It’s not just engine noise, it’s music, as soulful and dramatic as any piece of art, film or music. It’s the 1812 Overture in automotive form, complete with cannons.

Model Tested: Mini Cooper S Works 210
Price: £22,155
Range: £15,900 – £26,090
Top speed: 146 mph
0-62 mph: 6.8 seconds
Power: 210 PS (207 bhp)
Torque: 300 Nm (221 ft lb)
Monthly PCP*: £303
Official fuel economy: 48.7 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 136 g/km
Car Tax: £140
Insurance group: N/A
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.

Phil Huff

Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, DAD.info and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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