Driven (briefly): Mini GP

Hero status is assured at the next London to Brighton Mini run if you buy one, but is the second incarnation of what's being dubbed the 'ultimate Mini' for brand fanatics only?

The GP version of the John Cooper Works achieved a kind of cult status when it first appeared in 2006 to mark the end of the first 'new' Mini. The UK allocation from the limited run of 2,000 were sold out before the £22,000 car properly went on sale.

DIY adjustable suspension as standard
DIY adjustable suspension as standard
This time Mini says our (unknown) allocation of the similarly restricted run of 2,000 worldwide hasn't yet been snapped up, but at £28,970 you've got to be a serious Mini nut to want one.

Brace! Brace! Brace!
Once again the rear seats are lost to a shiny strut brace and power is up 7hp on the £22,455 John Cooper Works hatch it's based on.

In total 55kg has been removed from the JCW car to bring weight down to 1,160kg, partly helped by the lightweight 17-inch wheels that copy the design of those on the original GP. Apart from the ECU tweak to lift power to 218hp, the GP also gains expensive new springs and dampers that can be manually adjusted to lower the ride height by 20mm for track days. Sticky tyres help with track grip while torso grip comes from some deep Recaros with alcantara covering for the bum and back.

Plenty of luggage space in this Mini
Plenty of luggage space in this Mini
Gym fit
Despite being 35kg lighter than the old car, there's enough sound deadening material this time to stop the tininess of the door slam. A quick run behind a Mini Challenge race car around a short but surprisingly good track on Mallorca won't be as exciting as the rapid 8min 23sec lap of the Nurburgring Mini claims, but we're not complaining.

First impressions? The 1.6-litre turbo engine still sounds bland, even when revving hard. Disappointing that some of the over-run crackle of the Challenge car couldn't be sneaked in.

More so
But that expensive JCW makeover of the PSA Peugeot Citroen shared engine has created a powerful, flexible unit. As the official 0-62mph time of 6.3sec points to, the GP is properly fast and that's leading to some pretty untidy lappery as we work out where the track goes.

As we bump over kerbs it's clear the GP has a very pleasing compliancy in the suspension. Guessing here, but it might a combination of the weight loss and the extra stiffness from the strut brace allowing for more softness without compromising grip.

Old car's proper LSD is lost to electronics
Old car's proper LSD is lost to electronics
Unlike with the last GP, there's no mechanical limited-slip diff this time so it does scrabble out of corners. That also sends the stability control light flashing, but to cure that there's the 'GP racing mode' which cuts out all help bar an electronic version of LSD that brakes the inner wheel to cure understeer. Without any interference you can tighten the line with a lift of the throttle into the bend. This is properly good fun now.

The steering is nicely direct as you'd expect from a Mini and the six-speed gearbox doesn't obstruct the shifting. Both are more road than race, but that's where it'll live the majority of its life.

Our four-lap, thumbs-up verdict needs the scrutiny of a proper UK road drive, but as a garage toy the car fits the bill. The gaudy red detailing, deep chin and the roof spoiler are the right show-off touches for a car that doesn't really have to apologise for its existence, not when you've got a fanbase as large as Mini's.

1.6-litre, 4-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 218@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 260@2,200-5,800rpm
0-62mph: 6.3 seconds
Top speed: 150mph
Weight: 1,160kg
MPG: 39.8mpg
CO2: 165g/km
Price: £28,790

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Comments (27) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Nikolai Petroff 02 Dec 2013

    I think people really need to drive one before they comment. I got mine and haven't regretted it one bit. It's certainly MUCH better value then a regular JCW (just look at the residuals) and MUCH more fun to drive then a M135i which feels like a soft family hatch with a big engine. The GP is a little touring car for the road but is actually not too uncomfortable. Price wise, here in Switzerland the difference with the JCW is just insignificant when you factor what the GP has as standard.

  • TTmonkey 15 Nov 2012

    "Strut Brace".

    errr, no its not. Its not a Brace, it ha no real structural integrity. On the last GP it was fixed to the metal work that usually holds the rear speakers. I believe the metal tube wasn't even welded to the two red mounting points, it was just held there in place like the clothes rail in a wardrobe! Highly unlikly to add to the handling characteristics of the car.

    Its just to stop people carrying rear passengers in the car really. Don't know why they just don't admit it.

  • nickfrog 15 Nov 2012

    Not new though. But I kind of agree anyway...

  • simonpeter 15 Nov 2012

    You would have to be a mini nut to pay that kind of price. Especially when you can buy a very good porker for that kind of money.

  • nickfrog 14 Nov 2012

    Actually, it's about 10% more than the M135i as I doubt they'll discount the GP while 9% off can be achieved on the BMW.

    Although strangely, I'd be more excited about driving the GP than the M135i. Don't know why, but the MCS and JCW are such grippy / tractable / neutral / communicative handlers, the GP must be pretty impressive what with the added neg camber.

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