2013 MINI COOPER REVIEW
What’s Hot: Extremely nimble, superglue-like grip, raw driving thrills
What’s Not: Ride is very firm, no back seats, expensive for a hot hatch
X-Factor: One of the purest FWD driving experiences you can have, regardless of cost.
Vehicle Style: Small hot-hatch
Price: $59,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 1.6 litre petrol turbo / 6spd manual
Fuel Economy listed: 7.1 l/100km
It’s akin to riding a jetski in a kiddie pool - you know, trying to review a car like the MINI John Cooper Works GP out in the tedium of public roads.
It can be done, but there’s way more fun to be had at a different venue.
For the JCW GP, that venue is a race track.
MINI invited us down to Tasmania’s Baskerville Raceway to give the GP a strap. And here in its natural environment, like the tight technical layout of Baskerville, this car is a masterpiece.
At $56,900 it’s one of the most expensive hot-hatches around, but in terms of dollars per grin-inches, it’s phenomenal value.
ON THE TRACK
Drivetrain: The John Cooper Works GP employs the same 1.6 litre turbocharged petrol four-pot as the rest of the JCW range, but with the wick turned up slightly to 160kW - that’s a slim 5kW more than the rest of the JCW two-doors.
That output is line-ball with the 1.6 turbo in the JCW Countryman and JCW Paceman, but the GP’s 280Nm of torque is down on twist by 20Nm.
No matter, it’s a lot of ‘go’ in a very small car and, at 1160kg, it’s a real featherweight.
Zero to 100km/h is dusted off in 6.3 seconds, and, thanks to the turbocharging, its mid-range power is really strong for a 1.6 litre.
Flat-chat down Baskerville’s back straight we were nudging 185km/h, which is a decent pace on what is quite a short circuit.
The engine’s flexibility means you can either rely on revs, or the strong mid-range torque, to pull it through. There’s a little turbo lag at low rpm, so it works best keeping the tachometer north of 3000rpm.
The GP’s six-speed manual is every bit as slick and user-friendly as any other manual-equipped MINI, with a light shifter and a light clutch pedal.
Heel-toe downshifts are also a cinch, even despite the GP’s unorthodox surfboard-shaped accelerator pedal.
Handling: In a straight line the GP is quick, but that’s not where its true appeal lies.
It’s in the corners where the GP earns its keep. With a highly responsive chassis and razor-sharp steering, it’s one of the most chuckable cars we’ve ever piloted around a race track.
Besides being lighter than an MX-5, the GP’s extra chassis-bracing confers a great deal more rigidity to the bodyshell.
The suspension is also unique to the GP. Adjustable dampers allow the suspension to be tailored to different surfaces, the springs are lower and stiffer, and the front suspension has its own GP-specific geometry settings.
The rear suspension is also an independent multi-link design, unlike the torsion beam set-up used by every other hatchback in the GP’s size class.
That translates into tight body control and rear-end grip over challenging roads - something you can feel both through the wheel and through the seat of your pants.
Further aiding grip is the ESP-based pseudo limited-slip differential, not to mention a set of Kumho Ecsta V700 motorsport tyres.
There’s so much grip in fact, that we found it tremendously difficult to get the JCW GP unstuck. It hangs on resolutely in corners, and its chassis balance is remarkably close to neutral.
Stable and well-behaved at high speeds, that flat underbody and rear diffuser (it’s a legit diffuser too, not some tacked-on bit of plastic) clearly works.
The steering increases in weight when the ‘Sport’ button is thumbed, but to be honest we liked the rack more in normal mode. It’s direct and accurate, and given it’s electrically-assisted, it does more than a decent job of conveying feedback to the fingertips.
Braking: The JCW GP gets six-piston rather than four-piston front calipers, as well as 330mm front rotors instead of 316mm. The rear rotors remain 280mm solid items.
Braking performance is exceptional. Between the reduced kerb weight, sticky tyres and larger front rotors, the JCW GP stops in a heartbeat and remains fade-free when subjected to track abuse.
Feel through the pedal is strong, but not too grabby during light applications. It’s a very capable package, but also very streetable.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
I’ve been resisting the urge to use the “go-kart with a licence plate” cliche all through this review, but it’s an annoyingly apt descriptor for the John Cooper Works GP.
Light, nimble, not over-burdened with power but certainly quick in a straight line; this is the core of the GP experience.
Small tight tracks like Baskerville, Broadford or Winton will flatter it, but it will also deliver bulk thrills on twisty mountain roads - if you can bear its ultra-firm suspension.
The price will be an issue for some, particularly when compared to faster machines like the Opel Astra OPC and Renault Megane RS - each costs substantially less than the $56,900 asking for the JCW GP.
But the JCW GP is special.
Only 55 will ever be sold in Australia, and there’s few remaining in showrooms. It’s collectable, it’s so chuckable, and it will put a smile on your face every time you drive it.