What is it?
The quickest Mini ever according to BMW. The previous GP was a stripped down, run-out model for the previous generation hatchback, but it was not as finely fettled as the 2012 edition, and the manufacturer has the Nürburgring North Loop lap times to prove it.
An 18-second betterment is all the more impressive when you consider that the standard 1.6-litre petrol unit’s output has only increased by 7bhp (thanks to an engine management overhaul) and 0-62mph has improved by just 0.2 seconds over the orthodox JCW.
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The difference, then, has come at the apexes; little wonder when you consider the seriousness of the chassis refit. The Mini’s regular components have been replaced with individually adjustable coilover suspension, permitting the ride height to descend by up to 20mm. Vastly more expensive motorsport-derived dampers have been installed all-round; at the front they’re fitted upside down to enhance longitudinal stiffness.
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Along with the increased camber and reduced toe-in, the 17-inch wheels have been shod in bespoke (mercifully non run-flat) rubber, developed especially for the GP by Korean manufacturer Kumho. To tie it all rigidly together, front and rear braces have been inserted, with the latter occupying the place once occupied by the Mini’s back seats.
If that all sounds expensive, it is. The car’s final cost is an eyeball-raking £28,790 - only marginally less expensive than the 315bhp M135i we road tested this week.
What is it like?
We were limited to five laps of a Majorca karting track with the car, but it barely requires the length of a pitlane to announce its idiosyncrasies. For a start, the GP seems like a more solemn place to be. The exterior may be emblazoned with extra badges, but inside the manufacturer has ignored its cutesy, trite trim inclination and stuck to the basics: the Recaro seats are excellent, and the piano black trim and anthracite roof liner make a decent backdrop for the occasional splash of red stitching.
Better still, the first half turn of the meaty wheel makes it clear that despite retaining the 2.4 turn lock-to-lock speed, the steering has traded its contrived hyperactivity for a more substantial linearity. The first seam in the concrete reveals that the JCW’s tarmac-butting ride control has also been cultured into a rich, ground-hugging thunk by its swankier components.
Toe down, the power comes on much as did before, which is to say in a hearty, lung-busting tirade. However, where the conventional JCW is tyre-spinning torque-spiller, the GP’s 20mm wider front track and putty-like tyre compound make a much fairer fist of tacking 206lb ft of overboost to its now scintillating turn in.
No amount of Germanic track time will render a Clio Cup level of feedback from the electric power steering unit, but the Mini’s already throttle-happy adjustability has graduated from duly provokable to downright elemental as the sharpened chassis better broadcasts weight transfer and lift-off slip.
Without a mechanical LSD up front, the GP’s 215bhp still has a natural tendency to dissipate into understeer or, alternatively, light up a desperately flickering ESP light under serious provocation. But a new GP race mode, which doesn’t permit the stability control to dull engine power, only brakes the inside wheel via an electronic diff control function and so keeps the Mini’s line sweeter than it has ever been.
Should I buy one?
It’s a savage investment to make, and an outgoing Clio Cup or even Vauxhall’s Corsa VXR Nürburgring would deliver much of the thrill for considerably less. But, realistically, this limited edition car - just 2,000 will be made - is for buyers already heavily devoted to the Mini way of doing things.
From that narrower viewpoint, the car, while admittedly not measured on the road yet, is by some distance the best yet to pilot aggressively. The contrived snap and over-egged scurry of the JCW has been superseded by the accuracy and wonderfully organic recompense of an expensive, track-bred solution. It also feels, in stark contrast to some of BMW’s other recent output, like a proper tribute to the bold, ballsy inventiveness of the brand’s original motorsport heritage.
Mini John Cooper Works GP
Price £28,790; 0-62mph 6.3sec; Top speed 150mph; Economy 40mpg; CO2 165g/km; Kerb weight 1235kg; Engine 4 cyls, 1598cc, turbocharged, petrol; Installation Front, transverse; Power 215bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 206lb ft (2000-5100rpm); Gearbox 6-spd manual