Can the Mini GP deliver the sparkle that befits the fastest Mini in production?

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As it ever was with BMW’s Mini, we’ve been here before. In 2006, just before the final run of first-generation cars shuffled down the Oxford production line, the manufacturer built 2000 Mini GP models.

On paper, it smacked a little of run-out frivolity – especially given the dramatic price rise that accompanied the car’s plunging ride height – but this was no range death rattle. 

The first GP was launched in 2006 and sold out before UK deliveries even started.

Thanks to a proper mechanical diff deployed (at last) to better harness an uprated 212bhp of supercharged shunt, the stripped-out GP turned out to be arguably the best Mini yet produced on BMW’s watch. Just 459 examples came to the UK, and those that remain roadworthy after seven years have settled into the rock-solid values indicative of cult status.

That makes the second album both inevitable and inevitably difficult. Nevertheless, BMW appears to have set about its task with at least as much enthusiasm as last time. The latest GP – also likely to be among the last of its kind – gets properly trick suspension to go with a number of other bespoke modifications.

The second-generation model is no less a specialist machine, and one that's built for the Mini enthusiast. Inside you'll see bracing where the rear seats aren't, a deluge of GP stickers and badges, quirky wheel designs - derived from those fitted to Mini Challenge race cars - and an aero kit that actually makes a difference at speed.

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It looks like a refugee from Oulton Park - and goes like one too. The standard-fit Kumho tyres and adjustable coil-over suspension work extremely well on track, and are on the acceptable side of firm on the road. And its near-£30k price tag buys you performance that's there-or-there-abouts in terms of straight-line performance with its closest rivals.

With its pricing placing it at the top of the Mini tree, does it provide the sparkling thrills of the old limited-run special, or feel like a tricked-up Cooper S. Read on to find out.


17in Mini GP alloy wheels

For BMW, the Mini GP breed is at the end of a 50-year thread that can be traced all the way back to the BMC Minis that John Cooper fettled for circuit racing and Group 2 rally use. And although buyers might find victory at Monte Carlo a rather tricky act to follow, there’s no denying that the car’s modifications have been implemented with potential track use in mind.

For the first time on a Mini, individually adjustable coil-over suspension has been fitted, which means that the ride height can be lowered by up to 20mm in the pitlane. To increase lateral stiffness, the dampers are installed with the piston rods pointing down, and wheel camber front and back has been dramatically increased. 

Big-bore exhausts look the part and give the GP the aural character that it deserves.

Those wheels – unique to the GP – are shod with road-legal track-day tyres, serious enough in intent that Mini will put a conventional alternative back on if you’d prefer something that works in the wet. Clearly visible through the 17-inch rims are an even brawnier set of brakes.

At the front, six-piston calipers clench 330mm ventilated discs. As well as providing colossal stopping power, these are entrusted with the job of replicating a limited-slip differential via a sub-function of the Dynamic Stability Control.

Rather than reacting to a loss of traction in a bend by reducing power, the GP’s Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC) brakes the inside wheel while allowing full drive to reach the outer. 

That energy is sourced from the turbocharged 1.6-litre motor shared with the rest of the John Cooper Works range. It has been updated for 2013, but a different engine map and a very marginal increase in turbocharger pressure give the GP a unique delivery. 

BMW has also improved the performance of the Mini’s intercooler by installing an aerodynamic shield underneath which, as well as reducing drag, uses slits to such hot air out of the engine bay.


Mini GP dashboard

Thanks to the recent Coupé, a Mini cabin with its back seats deleted seems less like a limitation than it did when BMW first introduced its vision of a stripped-out Mini.

Like the Mk1 GP of 2006, the latest model’s rear bench is replaced by a scaffold-pole-thick strut brace, which at least reassures you that large, heavy items aren’t going to end up on the dashboard under braking. It’s not much use in protecting you from a spilt shopping bag, though, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself fishing oranges from under the seats at some point.

Mini insists you downloading an app on your iPhone to get it to interact with the car

Architecturally, it’s standard Mini hatch fare up front, meaning oversized dials and plastic toggle switches in the usual ‘love it or hate it’ configuration. The car’s GP-ness is represented by red stitching (very fetching) and a stuck-on ‘1 of 2000’ badge (not so much).

Handsome Recaro seats are also included, but these, too, are blighted with the kind of fabric name tags that your mum might have sewn on an expensive coat as an afterthought.

Then there’s the standard kit. Despite representing the zenith of the Mini hatchback line-up, the GP doesn’t get the recycled version of BMW’s iDrive available to other Minis and has to make do with the itsy-bitsy buttons and dot-matrix readout of the basic stereo system. D

oubtless the manufacturer would argue that this reflects the raw nature of the GP and that adding the proper infotainment screen – along with luxuries such as sat-nav – would only have increased the price further. Okay, but why, then, does it come with heated seats, the lardy antithesis of such an ethos?

Equally, how does removing the rear wiper blade contribute to anything other than a lack of rear visibility? Trifling matters, perhaps, given the car’s purposefulness, but the more time you spend in the GP, the more irksome these questions become.


Mini GP front quarter

The £29k asking price leaves no room for excuses here. If anything, you have a right to expect more straight-line speed than you’d get from larger but cheaper hot hatches such as the Ford Focus ST and Vauxhall Astra VXR.

What you actually get doesn’t quite meet that standard, but it’s nonetheless impressive for a 1.6-litre supermini. The GP’s throttle response is as sharp as any turbocharged front-driver we can think of, its powerband broad and its shift quality deliberate. 

Wheelspin is apparent, even in third gear on straight roads

It would obliterate a Toyota GT86 in a drag race. It would also outsprint a Focus ST and an Astra VXR to 100mph, thanks to its far shorter gearing. The Renault Mégane 265 offers a little more accelerative performance for less money; the BMW M135i offers a lot more for not much extra outlay, as does a Nissan 370Z.

Beyond those, you need to resort to Caterham Sevens and Lotus Elises – machines with far less everyday usability – to get more performance for the same cash.

So despite the high price, the GP just about pulls its weight on sheer pace; it’s not outstanding but it competes. It doesn’t do so without compromise, though. You’ll need to warm those Kumho tyres on a grippy track to access the last five per cent of the car’s traction, for example.

And the price you pay for that performance most of the time is with a slightly noisy motorway cruise. Our noise meter peaked at 71dB when recording the JCW GP’s 70mph cruising refinement. A Porsche 911 Turbo is only 1dB louder at that speed.


Mini GP rear cornering

Mini made a massive dynamic improvement to the previous GP simply by swapping the JCW’s runflat tyres for something grippier and more forgiving. This time around it has repeated that trick but gone a stage further.

This GP’s Kumho tyres and fully adjustable coil-over suspension give it a quieter and less trolleyjack-like secondary ride than the JCW Coupé or Cooper S Countryman. That ends up feeling like an enormous bonus when you consider the formidable grip and tautness of body control that Mini has also added.

JCW is grippy, responsive and well balanced

The GP came to us with its suspension configured as it will be from the factory, with room for both compliance and firmness to be dialled in. The good news is that, whether you’ve fast road driving or track days in mind, you can leave well enough alone if you want to.

Out of the box, the ride is entirely free from harshness over all but the most severely broken surfaces. The springing and damping is progressive – sensible over the first couple of inches of wheel travel, uncompromising thereafter. Lean on the car on a circuit, though, and you’ll find it poised and proportionate. 

There is no extra directness to the GP’s steering but, at 2.4 turns between locks, there didn’t need to be. The track-bred running gear simply adds the adhesion, feedback and instant directional response that often seems too transient in the rest of the range. 

In the GP, the dynamic package is much more coherent. Bumps are dealt with that bit easier, directional precision is cleaner and your sense of control feels vivid and direct – but real, rather than synthesised.

We’re disappointed that an LSD has been axed from the GP’s mechanical specification. The previous car was a better one for that inclusion and, in our book, this one would have been, too: more adjustable, more involving, better distinguished in a performance context. But with that caveat, we’d change very little.


Mini GP

The Mini GP’s 165g/km CO2 rating allows it to dodge the ignominy of a £250 tax disc.

That’s little comfort, though, given that private buyers will be expected to find £29k to buy the car in the first place – a price that looks like brazen profiteering, frankly. Outstanding residuals are all well and good and, even at £29k, those residuals will ensure that demand for JCW GPs outstrips supply.

Retaining 50 percent of the car’s value over three years is excellent

But would the ownership prospects have been any worse if Mini had priced this car 10 or 15 percent more keenly – where it really belongs? We very much doubt it.

So what kind of standard equipment does nearly 30 grand buy on a Mini? Nothing too lavish – that wouldn’t be in the spirit of the car – but, strangely, there is the odd non-necessity.

Automatic air-con rather than dual-zone climate control, a DAB radio, bi-xenon headlamps and basic Bluetooth preparation are all in keeping. There’s no factory sat-nav or high-end audio – again, fair enough. 

There’s only one body colour, though, and it’s grey – which is not the most wanted hue for a go-faster hatch, we’d venture.


4 star Mini GP

For anyone other than the staunchest Mini fan, a fair-minded appraisal of the GP’s talents is likely to swing back and forth on unaligned hinges: first, is it worthy of the reputation already established by the badge, and second, does it live up to its ominously large price?

Measured against much of our standard criteria – not least a stopwatch – this GP is undeniably an improvement over the last. Where the manufacturer has fleshed out the blueprint – namely, with an even more sophisticated suspension set-up and track tyres – it has reaped the inevitable benefits.

For my money, Mini ought to do more to contain the contents of the GP’s boot.

Nevertheless, there’s a nagging suspicion that BMW has honed this Mini right up to the point where a tape measure can be held to it and then declared the project a success. Some of the raucous impishness of the first car, that pointy diff-inspired dazzle, has gone.

The result is a more sophisticated prospect, but not necessarily a more entertaining one. 

That distinction doesn’t prevent the car from earning its spurs as a proper GP edition, but in the hallowed company in which it finds itself courtesy of cost, it is an also-ran. 

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Mini GP 2013-2014 First drives