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Never one to rest on its performance laurels, Mini has announced a clean-burning, new-generation engine for its flagship John Cooper Works models, along with a package of fuel-efficiency technologies called Minimalism - which seems an odd name for a car so rich in high-tech complexity, but then the Mini has never been a logical car.
The 1.6-litre, twin-scroll turbo engine develops the same levels of output and torque, but with even quicker responses and substantially reduced fuel consumption and emissions.
All John Cooper Works models can now be ordered with a six-speed automatic transmissioin and the John Cooper Works Countryman now comes with the ALL4 all-wheel-drive system as standard.
The Countryman also has a specially tweaked version of the new-generation engine, tuned for 160kW instead of the 155kW of the rest of the range, presumably to compensate for the losses inherent in the all-wheel-drive system.
Peak torque of 280Nm is available from 1900-5600rpm, taking the JCW Countryman from 0-100km/h in seven seconds flat, whether manual or auto. Top speed is quoted as 225km/h (automatic: 223), and fuel consumption in the EU test cycle as 7.4 litres per 100km (automatic: 7.9).
BASED ON THE MINI COOPER S
The new John Cooper Works engine is based on the 1.6-litre Mini Cooper S mill, with twin-scroll turbocharger, direct fuel-injection and variable valve control based on BMW's Valvetronic system for instant response.
The JCW engine has an aluminium block and bearing mounts, reinforced pistons, a high-strength cylinder head and lightened crankshaft. The exhaust valves are sodium-filled, and the intake camshaft has infinite phase adjustment.
The turbocharger is set for extra boost and the engine breathes out through a special exhaust system with dual polished stainless-steel tailpipes.
BMW quotes 155kW at 6000rpm, with 260Nm on tap from 1850-5500rpm - and 280Nm available from 2000-5200rpm for a few seconds on overboost.
Standard issue is a six-speed manual gearbox but all John Cooper Works models can now be ordered as an option with a six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission that allows the driver to change gear manually using either the selector lever or the shift paddles on the steering wheel.
This energy-saving suite of technologies starts with what you won't see or feel working, but that significantly reduces the load placed on the engine by the car's electrical system.
It simply disconnects the alternator when the engine is pulling hard, switching it back on when coasting or on the overrun, using energy that would normally be wasted as heat by the brakes to charge the battery.
Then the idle stop function (only on manual gearboxes) switches off the engine while the car is standing still in traffic and, once you're moving again, a shift indicator advises the driver of the most fuel-efficient moment to change gear.
The electric power steering also does its bit to reduce fuel consumption, its electric motor only using energy when power assistance is actually needed.
According to BMW, the whole package cuts fuel consumption by about half a litre per 100km, depending on where and how you drive.
THE RIGHT STUFF
All John Cooper Works models come standard with a Sport Button (which allows the driver to tweak the car's accelerator responses and steering characteristics), uprated brakes, dynamic stability control with traction control and an electronic differential lock, and run on special 17” alloys (18” on the Countryman) shod with runflat tyres.
Also standard is an aero kit for optimal airflow over the cars - and extra visual impact. Special paint and roof colours, plus an ultra-sporty interior with special seat upholstery and interior trim elements, add further custom touches.
There's even a special sports steering wheel with a John Cooper Works logo in the lower section of the centre spoke.
Racing-car engineer John Cooper first started building seriously hot Minis for the track way back in the 1960's when the standard engine was only 850cc.
Today, says BMW, that racing DNA is still there in each of the six new John Cooper Works models, which will go on sale in South Africa in the last quarter of 2012.