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MINI Challenge 210 Edition review

Just 210 of these special-edition hot MINIs will go on sale - and it sounds brilliant

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

With the rise of smaller-capacity turbocharged engines, getting modern cars to sound as sweet as their predecessors is getting increasingly difficult, so MINI deserves some serious credit for this phenomenal exhaust. With a near £30,000 price tag, the Challenge 210 Edition is difficult to justify, but we can’t recommend enough fitting it to the standard Cooper S – do so and from as little as £20,460 you’ll have one of the naughtiest-sounding cars on the road.

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MINI is a past master at flogging extra equipment to its customers – the sheer length of the options list means it’s impossible to resist it all. However, if you want to save yourself the hassle and simply go for ‘one of each’ then the new fully-loaded Challenge 210 Edition is the MINI for you.

Limited to just 210 examples for the UK, and named to draw attention to the new MINI Challenge race car (which we’ll also be driving in the coming weeks) it showcases the enormous breadth of accessories and technology that you can now fit to your MINI, should you so wish. There’s also a new piece of technology guaranteed to appeal to the inner nerd in us all.

Taking the Cooper S as a starting point, the Challenge 210 gets a new John Cooper Works pro tuning kit and exhaust (both fitted at the dealer, not the factory) that bumps power from 189bhp to 207bhp, and torque from 280Nm to 300Nm. The exhaust, believe it or not, is operated wirelessly via a purpose-built Bluetooth controller: two clicks and the flap opens fully, another two and it closes taking the volume down to something like the standard Cooper S.

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To give you an idea of just how raucous it is with it open, this car comes with a yellow warning tag on the controller – apparently the activation of ‘Track Exhaust Mode’ is not officially permitted on public roads in the UK. Luckily we had a test track at our disposal for our exclusive first drive.

Even at idle, tapping the button twice turns the noise from a muffled rumble to a more guttural buzz. Give it full throttle and the rasping, crackling exhaust note bounces of trees and buildings for miles around. Selecting Sport mode in the standard Cooper S unleashes flurries of pops and bangs on the overrun – do the same here and those pops turn into small nuclear explosions.

And it’s not just the noise that has been turned up, the extra 18bhp and 20Nm of torque bolsters the performance right throughout the rev range. We’ll have to wait until we drive the 228bhp, 320Nm JCW in the coming months to say for certain, but 207bhp feels like a sweet spot for the new MINI; fast enough to rip around a race track and across country roads, but not enough to constantly overwhelm the front tyres and create unpredictable torque steer.

Besides optional variable dampers being fitted, the chassis is standard Cooper S, and that’s fine by us. OK, on 18-inch alloys it crashes over holes in the road - but there’s nothing wrong with the tight body control and pointy steering. Toggle up through the Eco, Mid and Sport driving modes and the steering weights up, the throttle response becomes sharper and the exhaust does its best impression of a fireworks display. We spent 95 per cent of our time with the car in Sport mode and with the exhaust activated – any discomfort is massively outweighed by the sound, speed and overall sharpness of the package.

The elephant in the room is the price. At £29,990 on the road the Challenge 210 Edition is seriously expensive, especially when you consider the new 228bhp MINI JCW will costs from £22,865. However, for that you get a head-up display, top-end Harman Kardon stereo, MINI’s ‘XL’ infotainment system and a parking camera.

On the outside there’s only one colour combination, but you do get stripes and decals, a carbon bonnet intake, rally-style LED spotlights and those 18-inch wheels. The full Sport pack styling kit gives it those JCW front and rear-bumpers, too. Our advice? Take a standard Cooper S, add the new JCW pro tuning kit and exhaust for £1,620 (£1,800 with carbon tailpipe finishers) and then add some options with a little more caution.

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