BACK WHEN most cars could still be relied upon to regularly break down, racing and rally car constructor John Cooper invented the original pocket rocket. He race-tuned the astonishing BMC Mini to create the Mini Cooper. It earned iconic status by dominating saloon car and rally racing in the 1960s. It won the Monte Carlo rally three times.
BMW’S latest John Cooper Works GP is certainly a rocket, even if the modern Mini is too big to be “pocket”. It is the fastest production Mini that BMW has built and, since only 2,000 JCW GPs will be made, I suggest you move quickly if you want one.
Speed is what the 2013 JCW GP excels at. With an official 0-62mph figure of 6.3 seconds, I expected it to be fast. However, the performance time improvement on the regular JCW doesn’t look very impressive at only 0.2 seconds faster than the standard version. So why would anyone pay an additional £6,000 for the GP?
Firstly, it’s been created for bona fide Mini aficionados, and at £28,790 a pop, pretty wealthy ones at that – think Mini geeks and boys’ toys collectors. It’s a decent enough purchase, too, if the residual price for the first generation GP model from 2006 is anything to go by.
Secondly, this is the best Mini yet. The company has taken the original JCW model and turned it up to 11. There are no rear seats, just a nice, shiny red strut brace that sits behind the front. And though it has the same 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine as the JCW, it gets a power hike by 7bhp to 218bhp. It also has upgraded suspension, better tyres and brakes and aerodynamic improvements that do more than make it look cool.
Inside it has GP badging, Recaro sports seats with red stitching and a leather dash and steering wheel. It’s a smart new take on a familiar design. I was driving the car along the sweeping coast road and through the Serra De Sintra mountains to the west of Lisbon. The weather was perfect; cold, dry and sunny. Winding our way up and down the narrow, twisting forest roads was enchanting. The GP’s straight-line speed is quick but it’s the handling that impresses most. The ride is softened by race-spec suspension with front and rear struts and inverted front shock absorber pistons. The coilover suspension reduces the ride height by 20mm compared to the regular JCW and this model has undergone modifications to the rear diffuser and engine undershield. It also has a carbon fibre reinforced rear spoiler that reduces lift by 90 per cent. It turns sharply and the steering is responsive. Surprisingly, it isn’t as tooth-rattling as I had anticipated. In fact, most of the time, it was comfortable – not too jarring at all. It’s worth mentioning, however, that on our pothole-ridden British roads, the experience may be different.
Combine all of this with a three-stage stability control system, and this is one exceptionally grippy Mini (although during our drive through slippery woodland roads, the JCW GP occasionally struggled to transmit all of its power to the road when you accelerated hard out of bends).
This Mini is all about the corners. It may be pricey and aimed at hardcore Mini fans only but driving it was a worthwhile reminder of why so many people adore this car. The GP is a proper racing mini in the vein of the original. I suspect John Cooper would be proud.
MINI COOPER WORKS GP
0-62MPH: 6.3 SECS
TOP SPEED: 150MPH
CO2 G/KM: 165G/KM
MPG COMBINED: 39.8MPG
VALUE FOR MONEY ***