We're used to sporty MINIs, but the John Cooper Works GP model has what it takes to pique the interest of the most jaded motorist. Jonathan Crouch explains why.
Ten Second Review
With 215bhp on tap and a 150mph top speed, the two seat MINI John Cooper Works GT model is no stripes and chicken-wire grille run-out model. It's something very special with a custom interior, sticky tyres, extremely focused suspension setup and big brakes. But it's certainly not cheap.
It might not have escaped you that MINI is on something of a product offensive. Paceman, Countryman, Clubman, Coupes, Convertibles, Roadsters and every conceivable spin from the theme seem to have been thrown at us in recent years and, if I'm frank, there have been good 'uns and some genuine duffers. The trick for the enthusiast is to be able to filter the signal to noise ratio and home in on the good stuff. Cars like this MINI John Cooper Works GP edition. Yes, I know you're probably a little fatigued by a constant run of go-faster MINI models but this one is most certainly worth your attention. We've had a GP model of the 'new' MINI before back in 2006. This was limited to 2000 models of which the ULK received 459 and was certainly the best of the original 'R53' MINI models. With 218bhp from its supercharged 1.6-litre Tritec engine, it was thirsty but hugely communicative. The GP badge is now back again but in this later 'R56' model and it's attached to a car that definitely deserves your attention.
The GP doesn't want for power. There's 216bhp on tap from the four-cylinder turbo engine which is plenty for a car that weighs in at just 1,160kg. Adjustable coilover suspension and some fearsome brakes provide the control and helped this MINI to a time of the full Nurburgring circuit of just 8 minutes 23 seconds. With its 0 to 62 mph sprint time of 6.3 seconds and a top speed of 150 mph, the GP is properly punchy, and features a stability control package that isn't paired with DTC traction control like a normal MINI model but instead features a special GP racing mode. This disables the ASC engine power reduction, so this system offers just ASC braking, based on the EDLC (Electronic Differential Lock Control) which uses the brakes to add the stability effect of a differential. Got that? In layman's terms, it drags the car into a corner more sharply when you're really throwing it down the road. That coilover suspension allows the ride height to be lowered by up to 20 millimetres. Among other things, this means the suspension set-up can be fine-tuned to different circuit conditions whenever the MINI goes out onto the track. Stickier tyres also feature on this car along with upside down front shock absorbers and increased front camber to really give the car a strong front end. Outstanding braking performance is provided by the JCW GP's six-piston fixed-calliper disc brakes, vented at the front. It's no half-hearted effort, this.
Design and Build
The JCW GP isn't looking for any bushels to hide its light behind either. The 'Thunder Grey' metallic paint might not shout 'look at me!' but the detailing certainly catches the eye. There's red edging around the bonnet opening, as well as for the exterior mirror caps and the side air intakes in the front apron. John Cooper Works insignia appear on the lower air intake and the tailgate and GP side stripes also feature. That's on top of an aero kit that includes big front and rear aprons, side sills, a roof spoiler and a rear diffuser. Together these are claimed to reduce lift at the rear axle by 90 per cent. Otherwise build quality feels much as in the rest of the MINI range. The interior is a bit plusher and while there's plenty of room for two up front, you don't get seats in the back at all. Look over your shoulder and there's a red-painted strut brace that runs across the cabin. Let's face it, the back seats in a MINI are a bit of a joke anyway, but the fact that there are no occasional rear seats for ferrying kids about might be a bit of a deal-breaker for some. The load area is fairly big as a consequence, with a couple of handy cubbies in the floor although there is a step in the middle of it and there's no load cover.
Market and Model
There are some cars in this class that are quite exciting to drive but let the side down when it comes to interior ambience. I'm looking at the likes of SEAT and Renault here. You wouldn't expect a MINI to fall into that trap and the JCW GP is extremely well equipped with a number of interior finishes that make it feel a cut above the norm. The raw feel is helped by the lack of a rear bench seat, filling the car with induction and exhaust notes. The front seats are both Recaro items with deep bolsters and GP stitching. A cargo guard prevents items from sliding forward out of the luggage compartment when the car's being piloted enthusiastically. The JCW thick-rimmed leather steering wheel and the gearshift knob with chrome ring and red shift diagram are nice touches as is the anthracite roof liner, the piano black interior surfaces and door grips, and the anthracite rev counter and speedometer dials. Value? Well, a car's only worth what someone will pay for it and for many, around £29,000 might well seem distinctly steep. Choose a few options and you can easily be looking at a thirty grand MINI here. What else is there around for that sort of money? You could spend £25,000 on the slower but prettier Toyota GT86 coupe or there's the maniac Renaultsport Megane 265 Coupe which retails at around £26,000.
Cost of Ownership
I recall running one of the original MINI GPs and realising with a somewhat ashen face that over my period of ownership, the car had averaged 14 miles per gallon. Yes, I did drive it as if I had stolen it in most cases, but it was hard not to. Whenever the pedal wasn't being buried in the carpet, the car just never felt happy. And that's pretty much the case with this MINI JCW GP too. Yes, fuel economy is massively improved with this more modern engine and MINI will quote a figure of 39.8mpg at you, but if you ever return anything over about 28mpg, take it from me, you're doing it wrong. Emissions are rated at 165g/km which means that you're not going to get nailed too heavily if you've got an understanding or somewhat dopey fleet manager. Private buyers aren't going to be too badly off either. Residual values? That's a tough one. The original GP model's values took a sharp nosedive and have gradually firmed up as used buyers realise what a great car it was. The same may well happen this time around.
Is the MINI John Cooper Works GP model an unqualified success? Not really. It's a bit too expensive and that, coupled with the fact that this is a run-out model of this generation model, might well be enough to deter a lot of shrewd buyers. Is it a whole tall-stack of fun? Absolutely. It's not the best-sorted hatchback out there and at times it can feel downright boisterous, but that only adds to the feeling that this car is something a bit removed from the norm; a tool whose objective is to paint a huge smile on your face and make every drive an event. Judged in those terms it's a winner. There aren't many cars that feel naughtier to drive now that the Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo turbo nutter models have been pensioned off. In that regard at least, the MINI JCW GP feels like a throwback, a hot hatch from the days when driving was about having fun on a clear road. Is that a realistic sell these days? MINI clearly thinks so and they hope 2,000 kindred spirits out there agree.