7

The 210 Challenge Edition Mini has been built to celebrate the fact that the latest Mini will soon hit the track competing in the Mini Challenge race series.

It's essentially a standard three-door Cooper S hatch, with its 2.0-litre petrol engine boosted from 189 to 207bhp and given an extra 15lb ft to get you in the party mood.

Visual upgrades on the outside include 18in alloys, stripes, spot lights and lashings of carbonfibre, while inside every car comes as standard with usually expensive options such as Mini's Media XL pack, front and rear parking sensors, a Harmon Kardon sound system and variable dampers.

Besides the increased power and torque, the also standard John Cooper Works tuning kit offers a new exhaust with a carbonfibre surround at its business end and two modes: Standard or Track. Unlike conventional sports exhausts, it's switched on and off using a Bluetooth remote and comes with cautionary small print: 'Track is not to be used on the public road'. 

You could think of the 210 as a 'JCW-lite', then. A taster before the real deal is launched soon. However, at near enough £30,000 there's nothing 'lite' about its price.

I'm sure you want to hear about that exhaust first. Well, two clicks of the Bluetooth remote's button opens a baffle, and from then on the noise is unlike anything we've heard from a road-going Mini before. Of course, enjoying it is reserved for the track.  

It's not only loud but also full of character, popping, cracking and gurgling on and off the throttle. Another double tap of the remote closes the flap and you're back to standard Cooper S noise, but to be truthful, the small print all seems a bit much. It's noisy, yes, but no louder or more antisocial than, say, Jaguar's F-Type REither way, it adds to the experience.

The extra power, if well managed, feels welcome and usable rather than overwhelming at the front wheels, and moving through the six-speed manual gearbox is every bit as enjoyable as it is in the standard Cooper S, and causes more drama at the pipes. Being able to pull harder from low revs is useful, too. 

Aside from the variable dampers, the suspension and steering are unchanged from a standard Cooper S. No bad thing, because there's decent front-end bite, while over-confident entry speeds and the subsequent understeer can be sorted with reduced throttle input to help the nose to fall back in line.  

Switching from Normal to Sport mode increases throttle response and damper stiffness, but there's little noticeable difference in cornering ability and a drop-off in ride quality in return. The steering is given an extra dollop of weight, too, but it never feels as communicative as that of a Ford Fiesta ST.

The 210's interior is also standard Cooper S, save for some carbonfibre trim. Therefore, the dash materials and leather seats are suitably plush, the switchgear nicely damped and the infotainment, being BMW iDrive-based, one of the best on the market.

If you're sold on what you've read so far, I'd get down to your Mini dealer. Scratch that, pick up the phone, because there are only - you guessed it - 210 examples being produced.

You'd have to be extremely keen to own it at £30,000, though. Given that the more powerful new JCW is just around the corner and will be available from around £23,000, and that the 210's trick exhaust should only be used on track, there's currently more sense in saving a huge sum and buying a standard Mini Cooper S.

However, sense aside, the 210 Challenge Edition is very well equipped and genuinely faster and just as fun without being more frantic. It remains to be seen whether the even more powerful JCW will manage to blend those qualities quite as well.

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Mini range

Driven this week

  • Lexus LC500
    Car review
    20 October 2017
    Futuristic Lexus LC coupé mixes the latest technology with an old-school atmospheric V8
  • Maserati Levante S GranSport
    First Drive
    20 October 2017
    Get ready to trade in your diesels: Maserati’s luxury SUV finally gets the engine it’s always needed
  • Jaguar XF Sportbrake TDV6
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The handsome Jaguar XF Sportbrake exhibits all the hallmarks that makes the saloon great, and with the silky smooth diesel V6 makes it a compelling choice
  • Volkswagen T-Roc TDI
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    Volkswagen's new compact crossover has the looks, the engineering and the build quality to be a resounding success, but not with this diesel engine
  • BMW M550i
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The all-paw M550i is a fast, effortless mile-muncher, but there's a reason why it won't be sold in the UK