2013 MINI JOHN COOPER WORKS GP REVIEW
What’s Hot: Super-fast, tough-looking, sounds great.
What’s Not: Australia only gets 55 of them, rear seats MIA, no cruise control.
X-Factor: Fastest Mini ever. Need we say more?
Vehicle Style: Small sports hatch
Engine/trans: 160kW/260Nm (280Nm overboost) 1.6 turbo four | 6sp manual
Price: $56,900 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.1l/100km | tested: 9.1l/100km
The current R56 MINI is on the way out. So, what better way to send it off than to bring out one last (very) special edition in the form of the John Cooper Works GP?
For aficionados, it's the JCW GP.
The MINI behind that alphabet soup is a strict two-seater, the rear seats discarded to help pare down the weight to 1160kg. It also comes with a bit more power, sticky tyres and a wild aero kit.
It’s meant as a trackday warrior that you can also live with on the road. Does it manage this delicate balancing act?
Quality: It’s no secret it’s a BMW and the interior quality reflects that.
It’s more fun in here than a 3 Series though. Big dinner plate central speedo, steering column-mounted tacho (with digital speedo for ease of use) and toggle switches help make it special inside.
Excellent materials abound but there’s the occasional twitter and creak from the trim here and there (mostly, we noticed, coming from the covers that replace the rear seats).
Comfort: Two big Recaro buckets grab you and hold you tight. Larger folk won’t appreciate the big bolsters but there is excellent support in all directions.
In even the hardest cornering these seats won't let you go and are upholstered in grippy Alcantara across the back and squab.
The steering wheel is adjustable for reach and rake and the aluminium oval pedals are surprisingly well-spaced (for such a small car).
Equipment: There’s not a lot of room in the MINI for too much gear, but the JCW goes with the “less is more” maxim.
The feature list extends to keyless entry, electric front windows, Bluetooth, USB, aux-in, heated front Recaro seats, ambient lighting, red-stitched leather upholstery, climate control air-con.
Unfortunately, a standard USB cable doesn’t work, nor does it have cruise control.
Storage: A large glove box is the highlight of the storage up front, joined by two cupholders and a very small tray under the toggle switch array.
There’s a lot of extra space behind the front seats where the rears used to be, but that is compromised somewhat by the extra bracing. Unique to the GP is a pair of shallow trays under a floor covering that was loose in our car and rattled.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Hyperactive, but sensational.
The new JCW GP is powered by a 160kW/260Nm version of MINI's 1.6 litre turbo engine, edging out its 156kW predecessor and the regular 135kW/240Nm JCW model.
The extra couple of kilowatts and reduced weight mean the JCW GP can streak to 100km/h in 6.3 seconds and then onwards to 243km/h (should you find a nice track to stretch out those little legs).
Switch on Sport mode and the DSC off (GP Mode), and the MINI becomes a hissing, spitting terrier that can be flung at corners at improbable speeds and, thanks to the limited slip diff, punched out of them with startling violence.
Fortunately, even with DSC off, the safety net remains, but the parametres are extended to allow controlled slip and tuck-in driving.
The sticky Kumho tyres are track-biased and provide excellent grip in the dry.
Thanks to the tyres, revised front-end geometry and an electronic differential acting on the driven wheels, the steering is much sharper than the standard JCW Mini.
Hitting the Sport button also puts a bit more weight into the steering and sharpens up the throttle for even more involvement.
The slightly-cartoonish aero pack, which includes a carbo-fibre wing and rear-diffuser, is also a track day affair and designed to reduce rear lift by ninety percent at 100km/h.
The steering is cut-throat-razor sharp, and the firm suspension keeps the body completely flat both in cornering and braking. It is quite an experience threading this one through a series of bends.
Flooring it out of corners is breathtaking: the engine has an overboost function that takes the torque figure from 260Nm to 280Nm and absolutely slings it from apex to apex.
Refinement: While the tyres aren’t too noisy, they are noisier than a standard MINI’s. The engine growls and barks, but it’s not intrusive.
The firm ride is less forgiving than the 'standard' JCW let alone the Cooper S, and, yes, can get bouncy.
Switching to Sport mode makes the exhaust pop on on the overrun and gives the no-nonsense twin pipes a distinctly harder rasp. It sounds great.
Suspension: The adjustable coilover suspension is already 20mm lower than the standard JCW but using the tools supplied, can be adjusted through another 20mm to make it splitter-threateningly low.
The wheels also have an additional two degrees of camber (up from 0.5 degrees) to aid in-corner grip but also means having to keep a firm hold of the wheel on uneven surfaces as the front wheels follow the bumps and ruts.
The rear seats have been removed and in its place is a very unsubtle, stout red cross brace. Under the bonnet is another suspension cross brace.
That all adds up to a very firm but ultimately composed ride and a very responsive front end.
Braking: Monster six-pot Brembo calipers grip the larger 330mm front discs (the rear disc size is unchanged) but are very well-behaved at all times, with a nice, firm pedal. Performance is epic, with very little evidence of fade even after a good thrashing.
ANCAP rating: 5 stars
Safety features: Six airbags (front, side and curtain), pretensioned seatbelts front and rear, front active headrests, brake assist, electronic brakeforce distribution, traction control, stability control, corner braking control.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited, 12 years for body perforation and corrosion, 3 years for paintwork.
Service costs: As with parent company BMW cars, the MINI will tell you when it needs a service via a dash indicator. MINI dealers offer a service plan for between three and six years of servicing.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
RenaultSport Clio ($34,990) - While the Mini’s pricing is closer to the Megane 265, the three door Clio hatchback is closer in philosophy.
The Clio is slightly slower but almost as much fun as the substantially more expensive JCW. Specced up, the RSC can hit $45,000 without matching the quality and attention to detail of the Mini. There’s a new one on the way, too. (see Clio reviews)
Opel Astra OPC ($42,990) - While quite a bit bigger than the MINI, the Astra OPC is a hardcore driving machine.
The interior may not have the character of the quick brick, or the quality, but it’s a fine place to be and to go hard. And those svelte looks are hard to ignore. (see Astra reviews)
Peugeot RCZ ($54,900) - The striking RCZ just had a refresh and is now even better-looking. While it shares the same basic engine with the JCW GP, it’s a little down on power and performance but is a sweet drive in 2013 form. (see RCZ reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
If you like what you see, we’ve got some good news and some bad news - they’re almost all sold, the 'bad', but wait: we hear that the same GP magic will be worked on the Mini Paceman JCW.
Can you live with this track-ready car every day? Yes - if you’re a little more tolerant than the average motorist of a crisp track-focussed ride and don't care that the rear seats are missing in action.
That said, it’s highly unlikely any of the "automotively disinterested" would even know the JCW GP exists, much less pay north of $55,000 for one.
The obvious downsides of high purchase cost and even more limited practicality than the standard JCW are obliterated by the car’s performance. It’s huge fun on the road and track, and bound to be a modern classic.
(And it’s now going to take weeks to wipe the silly-arse smiles from our faces.)