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The performance version of the reimagined minicar is as fast as a sports car and handles like a go-kart.

COURTESY PHOTO: BMW - The 2022 MINI Cooper John Cooper Works comes with refreshed styling, the most powerful engine ever, a stiffer suspension, bigger Brembo brakes, and loads of charm. John Cooper Works is the performance version of the 2022 MINI two-door hardtop and convertible. On paper, the 228 horsepower produced by its twin turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder engine may not sound like much. But because they only weigh around 3,000 pounds and have one of the lowest centers of gravity of any car on the road today, the performance is exhilarating, especially on twisty roads where the improved handling from the upgraded suspension really shines. And there's a Sport mode turns it from a near sports car to a go-kart.

As British car aficionados know, the original Mini was first introduced in 1959. Produced by the British Motor Corporation and its successors until 2000, they were revolutionary — small on the outside but large on the inside thanks to their practical boxy design and front-wheel-drive, transverse-engine layout. Although designed to be an affordable family car, the MINI was quickly embraced by racers because their high power-to-weight ratio and remarkable handling, all of which could be improved for relatively little money.

COURTESY PHOTO: BMW - The 2022 MINI John Cooper Works is named after the famed race car designed that turned the original innovative affordable family car into a track legend in 1960's England.

The last original Mini's were produced by the British company Rover, which was acquired by BMW. It began producing its own versions in 2001, designated in all caps. Although still manufactured in England, they were all new and completely modern. The first version — released as the MINI Cooper — retained the previous styling and design, but had BMW-developed engines, transmissions, suspensions and electronics. Sales soared, leading to the introduction of different versions, including the slightly larger MINI Clubman wagon and even bigger (though still small) Countryman crossover, both with available all-wheel-drive.

The 2022 MINI Cooper has been refreshed many new exterior and interior features, ranging from new rear bumpers to new steering wheels, new front grilles, new interior surfaces, new upholstery and a new (sports) suspension – we considered it all with our brand new 2022 designs. To the uninitiated, all versions of the MINI may seem a little cartoonish because they recreate so many of the original features. In addition to boxy design, exterior features include oversize grills, bulbous headlights and large wheel wells. The dash is festooned with toggle switches and a huge dial in the center center that originally housed the speedometer and other gauges, but is now the infotainment display screen. Other retro cars, like the Ford Mustang, also try to update but still reflect their early styling. It doesn't take long for the MINI to feel truly inspired.

COURTESY PHOTO: BMW - The interiors of all MINI models are surprisingly roomy given their small sizes. That is the result of the sticking with the original boxy design and transverse-mounted front-wheel-drive engine layout.

John Cooper Works versions are named after sports car designer John Cooper, who paved the way for the classic MINI on the race tracks and rally tracks. Three overall victories at the Monte Carlo Rally helped the British small car to legendary status as early as the 1960s. The package is also available on the Clubman and Countryman.

The John Cooper Works two-door hardtop is still a successful race car. The weekend before my tester arrived, the MINI JCW Team, operated by LAP Motorsports, won third place in the highly competitive Touring Car A class of the 2021 SRO TC America series at Road America in Plymouth, Wisconsin.

Although that car is of course heavily modified, the 2022 Mini John Cooper Works hardtop and convertible offers all the excitement most enthusiasts could want. The package includes the most powerful engine every offered in a MINI, suspension upgrades and bigger Brembo brakes, light alloy 18-inch wheels, a unique grill, and special interior and exterior trim. The package is also available on the Clubman and Countryman, which are also offered with adaptive suspensions.

COURTESY PHOTO: BMW - Special features in the John Cooper Works package include light 18-inch ally wheel with Brembo brakes. They look great and work even better.

My tester was the two-door hardtop with the John Cooper Works package. In a week of testing, it was always a joy to drive — and much to get into and out of than a small sports car because of its large doors and surprisingly ample interior space. Mine came with the optional eight-speed automatic transmission, which was very responsive, although purists will prefer the six-speed manual. I originally thought the suspension might be too stiff for daily driving on the poorly-maintained streets in my neighborhood. But, in the Green and Mid modes, it was not nearly as punishing as those on some much more expensive sports coupes and sedans I've driven from German manufacturers. The Sport setting is best saved for smooth roads with little traffic, however.

The rear seats are ridiculously small, which is why MINI has brought out the wagon and crossover for families. Cargo space is also limited, but the same is true of all subcompacts, including those not nearly as much fun to drive.

COURTESY PHOTO: BMW - The MINI dash designs are a mix of retro elements and modern tech, like the contrast between the toggle swithces and the electronic automatic transmission shifter. The huge dial on the dash original housed the speedometer. Now it is the display screen.

The base MINI Cooper two-door hardtop start at under $24,000 with a turbocharged 1.5-liter three cylinder engine that produces 134 horsepower. It is still fun to drive, but the S version comes with a 189-horsepower turbo 2.0 beginning at less than $28,000. The John Cooper Works model starts at just under $33,000, which a good price for so much charm and performance. A limited edition Anniversary Edition is also available with such special features as John Cooper's signature on the driver's door frame and a handwritten note that reads, "60 years of Mini Cooper - The Unexpected Underdog." My fully-loaded version lists for $40,750, but as one friend reminded me, it's actually a BMW after all.

Several other manufacturers offer serious performance versions of their small cars, most notably Honda with the Civic R, Volkswagen with the Golf GT, Subaru with the Impreza-based WRX, and Hyundai with a number of N and N-line cars. But only MINI allows owners to be welcomed as full-fledged members of all the British car clubs in the world, as I learned when I drove the 2022 MINI John Cooper Works to the 44th annual All-British Field Meet at Portland International Raceway over the 2021 Labor Day weekend and welcomed to join the dozens of other Mini's and MINI's on display.

COURTESY PHOTOS: BMW - The John Play Works family includes the two-door models on the right side and the larger Clubman and Crossman models on the left.

2022 MINI John Cooper Works

Base price: $32,900

Price as tested: $40,750

Type: Subcompact two-door hatchback

Engine: 2.0-liter twin turbocharged four-cylinder (228 hp, 236 lbs-ft)

Transmissions: 6-speed manual; 8-speed automatic (as tested)

EPA estimated mileage: 25/34

Overall length: 152.5 inches

Curb weight: 2980 pounds

Final assembly: Oxford, United Kingdom

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