Tuesday 19th February 2013


The GP impresses when it's on the track - but is it any good out on the road?

Weíve already been lucky enough to enjoy a quick squirt in the second-generation Mini John Cooper Works GP. Four laps of a track were enough to tell us that this is a very well-sorted little car; tremendous fun to drive and pretty quick, too. But can the same be said when itís released from the confines of the circuit?

Ride still isn't quite as pliant as it could be
Ride still isn't quite as pliant as it could be
Easing out onto the road for the first time, and weíre squeezing our way along Lisbonís congested streets.†The ride quality isnít great Ė the combination of rock-hard spring rates and a short wheelbase mean the GP crashes through potholes, and it doesnít quite have the fluidity of a larger hot hatch like the Megane 265 Cup. That said, it isnít quite as harshly-sprung as the oldGP; thereís been some concession to usability here, and so much the better.

Nip and tuck
Get it out on an open road, though, and it becomes clear that that compromise hasnít been made at the expense of handling. The GP is still an absolute blast. Itís flighty Ė the steering follows ruts and bumps in the road a little too easily, so you have to grasp the wheel firmly when youíre on a charge Ė but in doing so it asks you to commit to driving it properly. The brakes Ė six, yes, six-pot callipers on 330mm discs Ė are awe-inspiring, chopping the speed down seemingly instantaneously. Pitch it in, and the front end darts wherever you ask it to with a twitch of the wheel. Leave the traction control in GP Racing mode Ė a special option unique to the GP that turns off the ASCís throttle intervention, leaving only the stability programís braking in play Ė and it manages to assist without ever poking its nose in when it isnít wanted. Lift off mid-corner, and the back end settles tidily without stepping out, allowing you to tune the carís attitude neatly on the throttle. And if youíre not happy with the way itís set up from the factory the suspension is fully adjustable, race car style.

Peaky power delivery rewards high revs
Peaky power delivery rewards high revs
The engine, meanwhile feels like itís been tuned for peaky power delivery, so unlike the normal JCWs, it isnít all about mid-range wallop. Rather, the GP rewards the more itís revved, begging you to stretch it right out to the red line. For anyone who bemoans the death of rev-happy cars, itíll come as a welcome relief. Thereís 218hp on offer here, although thanks to the carís 1,160kg weight it feels like more. Thatís matched to 192lb ft, with an overboost facility that brings torque up to 207lb ft under full-bore acceleration. 0-60 arrives in 6.3 seconds, with top-in-top coming up at 150mph.

Monetary policy
There is, however, a Ďbutí. In fact, there are a few. Firstly, thereís the diff Ė this time round, itís electronic. And as good a job as it does, it still isnít quite as convincing as a mechanical equivalent Ė it cuts inside-wheel scrabble out, but it doesnít slingshot you round the corner in quite the same way under power. Next, thereís the engine note Ė as great a powerplant as this is, it sounds just a touch anodyne compared with the characterful supercharger whine of the old car. Shame.

Huge fun. Not quite £29K's worth, mind.
Huge fun. Not quite £29K's worth, mind.
The biggest problem, though, comes when one turns oneís attention to matters fiscal. Take a deep breath, and have a sit down, because the JCW GP comes in at a faintly astonishing £28,790 on the road. Itís hard to see how that price can be justified. We do, of course, bang on about the M135i being great value, but when it offers over 100hp more, plus rear-wheel-drive and, well, more car Ė a pair of back seats, for example Ė for very little extra, it becomes ludicrously difficult to make a case for the GP instead. Of course, it might be the GPís pared-back ethos which appeals Ė but in that case weíd suggest you turn your attention to the afore-mentioned Megane 265 Cup, which offers more power, a proper diff, and just as entertaining a chassis Ė and, again, back seats Ė for three-and-a-half grand less.

Donít get us wrong. The GP is a joyous, beguiling little car. And weíd be heartily recommending it if it cost £26,000. OK, itíd be a bit steep when you bear in mind the competition, but you could just about justify it on the basis of its slick styling, handsome interior, customisable suspension and great residuals. At just shy of £29,000, though, and as good as it is, the fact of the matter is itís just too costly for all but die-hard Mini fans.

1,598cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 218@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 192@1,750-5,750rpm (Overboost: 207)
0-62mph: 6.3sec
Top speed: 150mph
Weight: 1,160kg
MPG: 39.8 (combined)
CO2: 165g/km
Price: £28,790 OTR

Author: Alex Robbins