Mini splits the difference between Cooper S and John Cooper Works, and what a revelation it is

The market for the go-faster Mini has become somewhat muddled and fragmented since the arrival, in 2015, of the top-of-the-current-series-production-pile John Cooper Works.

Since then, we’ve had the ultra-low-volume stripped-out 228bhp John Cooper Works Challenge limited edition, complete with adjustable suspension, Cup tyres and £32k price.

2018 should be a bumper one, with the new Yaris GRMN, Fiesta ST, Polo GTI and others. I’d bet this Mini remains in our class top five, though

Then the slightly less rare but still limited Cooper S 210 Challenge Edition, built to celebrate the return of the Mini Challenge racing formula.

And finally, last year, the Cooper S Works 210: a permanent addition to the factory range that copied the mechanical recipe of the 210 Challenge Edition but was available with less lavish interior equipment and at a lower showroom price.

Oh, and don’t forget the John Cooper Works GP concept, which we saw a couple of months ago at the Frankfurt motor show; not that you’re likely to, given the extravagant scoops and aerofoils it had.

Anyone due to replace a Cooper S or JCW over the past year or two may have been waiting for his or her head to stop spinning.

Now, though, things may have calmed down. The Cooper S Works 210 has clearly been doing well enough for the past 12 months to justify Mini’s decision to make it a permanent addition to the showroom range, and that’s why the firm has just made the car available as a convertible and a five-door, as well as the classic Mini three-door.

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It’s an opportune time, then, to find out what this halfway house between the amusing if slightly lukewarm Cooper S and the full-fat yet straight-laced JCW is all about. The car is UK market only and fitted with the key mechanicals that lift it beyond Cooper S spec not at the factory but at the dealer.

Can a makeover like that really result in a meaningful difference to the pace and idiosyncratic flavour of this effervescent little driver’s car? And is it better or worse than the Cooper S or JCW?

Mini Cooper S Works 210 2017 First drives