It's quick, feels planted and grips well
"Keep the throttle pinned and the yelp becomes and glorious wail"
All plush up front, but there are no seats behind you
Extrovert and fun, with true muscle under the bonnet
But it's not quite as involving or usable as the best
If ever there was a car that had a preposterously skewed moniker-to-size ratio, this is it.
You may know it as the first-generation Mini Cooper Works GP, which is somewhat less of a mouthful than its official title: the Mini Cooper S with John Cooper Works GP Tuning Kit.
That vast nameplate comes about because the Works GP of the time was not actually a factory model, as was its successor. In fact, all of the John Cooper Works versions of this first, R53-generation ‘new’ Mini were sold as upgrade packages, which were fitted to your new Mini at dealers – and the GP was no exception. It wasn’t cheap, either. All in, the whole car cost around £22,000 back in 2006. Works GPs aren’t quite that pricey today, but neither are they cheap. You’ll be lucky to find a half-decent example for less than £10,000 while the best are around the £15,000 mark. When we looked, one ambitious chancer even had a delivery-mileage car up for £50,000.
So what do you get? For starters, a pretty lairy bodykit. You also lose the rear seats, which, combined with certain other weight-saving measures, makes the GP about 50kg lighter than the ‘standard’ Works. Tweaks to the intercooler and engine management bring power up to 215bhp, from the Works’ 208bhp, making this one of the most powerful small hot hatches of its time.
That’s more than enough to make the Works GP feel properly rorty. The shove from the supercharger is instant and useful even when you’re bimbling around town. The instant you flex your right ankle further, it yelps in anticipation of what’s to come. Keep it pinned and the yelp becomes a glorious wail, coupled with ever-increasing thrust that turns the Mini into a properly fast car. The bulky gearlever isn’t the finest thing and the change is a little obstructive, but the ratios mean you drop sweetly into the powerband for the next charge, and all too soon you’re having to ease off lest you cross the border into antisociality.
What about the corners? Well, the traction control is far too restrictive and you wonder why, because without it, the car feels fabulously grippy. The steering is sharp and fast, although the front end lacks the pointiness of a quick Renault Sport Clio. But once it has turned, the diff puts the power down beautifully, and although there’s always a slight sense of nose-heaviness, the Mini doesn’t actually slip into understeer – at least, in the dry, as we tested it. Sure, that also means it doesn’t quite have the colourful tail-happiness of something set up a little more fruitily, but the trade-off is that it feels stocky and planted at all times, giving you the confidence to press on and properly use that manic powerplant
This is a very enjoyable weekend toy, in other words. But the lack of rear seats is restricting and combines with the minimal sound-deadening to turn the interior into an echo chamber, making high-speed cruising a chore. Shame, because the cabin feels plush and well appointed.
The first Works GP, then, really is a car best served up in small doses. With its cute interior, balls-out styling and devilish supercharged grunt, it cuts its own path. Even if you find yourself wanting for that final degree of deftness, you’ll still come away charmed.
MINI COOPER S JCW GP
Price £9000-£15,000 Engine 4 cyls, 1598cc, supercharged, petrol Power 215bhp at 6250rpm Torque 184lb ft at 4600rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual Kerb weight 1195kg 0-62mph 6.5sec Top speed 150mph Economy 32.8mpg (combined) RIVALS Renault Clio 197 RS, Seat Ibiza Cupra, Vauxhall Corsa VXR