MINI John Cooper Works GP: Here’s why we’re none too impressed with MINI’s hottest model

When the second-generation MINI John Cooper Works GP was announced in May, most observers guessed its 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine would produce around 230bhp. After all, the standard JCW MINI already offered 208bhp and its predecessor, the 2006 MINI Cooper S with John Cooper Works GP Tuning Kit was good for 214bhp.

Besides, in the six years since the original GP, hot hatchbacks have become.. hotter. Citroën’s DS4 Racing Concept, using the same 1.6-litre engine was announced earlier this year with 256bhp and the Renaultsport Megane 265 Cup packs 261bhp, yet is priced some £4,000 less than the MINI JCW GP.

The Megane 265 Cup is essentially the same car as the Megane RS Trophy, which smashed the Nürburgring front-wheel drive lap record last year with a time of 8:06 minutes.

So we can’t help wondering what on earth MINI is doing releasing its ‘stunning new sporting machine’ (their words), with such a clear and obvious disadvantage.

The JCW GP’s 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine delivers the same peak torque as the standard JCW MINI, although slightly lower in the rev range – 1,750 rpm versus 1,850 rpm). For extra punch when accelerating, peak torque can be increased for short periods to 207lb-ft (280 Nm) from 2,000 rpm, thanks to the overboost function.

According to MINI’s head honcho, Dr. Kay Segler, it’s a deliberate choice to keep the power boost fairly moderate and to concentrate instead on chassis dynamics and weight loss.

“We did not want to enter the horsepower race with the GP,” said Segler. “The Mini is designed to be a car that can be enjoyed, and driven fast by an amateur. It must be a confident car, not a difficult one.”

Let’s take a quick look at the first of those points. The MINI GP’s power boost is indeed ‘fairly moderate’ – just 7bhp and 15lb-ft more than the standard JCW MINI hatch – which would be fine if the GP’s weight loss was significant.

But according to MINI’s figures, both cars have the same kerb weight – 1,235 kg, although MINI’s press release also states a DIN unladen weight of 1,160 kilograms, which if true would make the JCW GP some 20kg ‘heavier’ than the standard car (which is a full four seater compared to the two-seat only GP).

If the MINI JCW GP weighs the same as a standard JCW MINI and offers negligibly more power, then the average MINI enthusiast will see the GP as little more than a glammed-up super model, with little to offer buyers apart from its sporty decals and faux-racer aero kit.

At £28,790, the MINI JCW GP will cost £6,500 more than the standard JCW MINI, which would leave plenty of room for a set of aftermarket upgrades and the kind of performance available with 260bhp+.

Of course, we’re comparing apples with pears, anyone can take a standard car and tune it up, but that’s without the reassurance of a factory warranty. Nevertheless, the MINI JCW GP is designed to act as a halo model for the range and that’s something of a challenge when its most obvious virtues can be so easily replicated (or exceeded) for considerably less money.

Performance Data

Fuel type Petrol
Cylinders/layout/valves per cylinder 4/in-line/4
Displacement 1,598 cm3
Max. output/max. revs hp/kW/rpm 218/160/6000
Max. torque/revs Nm/rpm 260/1750 – 5750 (280/2000 – 5100) 2
Stroke/bore 85.8/77 mm
Compression ratio/recommended fuel 10.5/91 – 98 RON
Max. speed 150/242 mph/km/h
Acceleration 0 – 62 mph (0 – 100 km/h) 6.3 sec
Unladen weight EU3 1235 kg
Fuel Consumption (Urban) 29.7/9.5 mpg/l/100 km
Fuel Consumption (extra urban) 49.6/5.7 mpg/l/100 km
Fuel Consumption (combined) 39.8/7.1 mpg/l/100 km
Tank capacity approx. 50 ltrs
CO2 emissions (combined cycle) 165 g/km

Suspension and handling

Let’s move on to its suspension, for this is where the real meat of the MINI JCW GP’s transformation seems to have occurred.

For the first time on a MINI, the JCW GP features an individually adjustable coil-over suspension, which allows its ride height to be lowered by up to 20 millimetres. Among other things, this means the suspension set-up can be fine-tuned to different circuit conditions whenever the MINI goes out onto the track.

But an adjustable ride height is not the only change to the MINI JCW’s suspension. The front shock absorbers are mounted upside down in the tube, with the piston rod pointing down, in order to increase longitudinal and lateral stiffness. In addition the suspension alignment has been set up to maximise the performance of its sports tyres.

The front camber has now been increased compared with the regular JCW MINI, to reduce the effects of early understeer. Front-wheel toe-in has been reduced and rear camber increased, which alters the forward weight transfer so as to give more speed and more neutral steering when driving close to the limit. Reduced toe-in also improves agility and cornering confidence, which is one of the key aims of the project as described by Dr Segler.

The JCW GP’s braking performance has been improved by the fitment of a racing-derived sports brake system, featuring six-piston fixed-calliper disc brakes matched to 330mm x 25mm discs the front. 280mm x 10 mm discs are in use at the rear running the standard car’s sliding callipers.

Once again the MINI JCW GP features uniquely designed light-weight 17-inch alloy wheels and sticky 215/40 R17 Kumho Ecsta sports tyres. As an option, customers can opt for 205/45 R17 tyres on the same wheels, which are better suited to wet or low-temperature conditions.

The 7.5 x 17 H2 ET45 wheels, which were specially developed for the MINI JCW GP, are derived from the MINI Challenge race car, and feature lightweight contours on flow-formed rims.

The electronic stability and traction systems are reprogrammed for the JCW GP – the DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) is no longer combined with DTC (traction control), as would normally be the case, but with a special GP racing mode.

Under hard driving, the driver may often not want ASC engine power reduction cutting in, so instead this system offers just ASC braking, based on the EDLC (Electronic Differential Lock Control) sub-function. The EDLC software brakes the wheel on the inside of the turn, and the drive power that would otherwise be lost at this wheel is redirected to the outer wheel, where the contact forces are greater.

All this chassis trickery would be pointless if the JCW GP weren’t able to cover ground more quickly and with less effort than the standard JCW MINI and that’s where the accolade of being “the fastest MINI ever built” starts to make some sense. With a best lap time of 8:23 minutes around the Nürburgring Nordschliefe it is 18 seconds faster around the famed North Loop than its 2006 predecessor.

But there’s the rub. As we said at the beginning of this article, a lot has changed since 2006 and the £4,000 cheaper Renault Megane 265 Trophy now holds the front-wheel drive record around the Nürburgring at a time some 17 seconds quicker.

MINI make the rather feeble claim that the JCW GP’s lap time is “..streets ahead of many big-name sports cars from higher segments”, which rather ignores the aforementioned ‘Elephant in the Room’ from Renault.

Conclusion

We really wanted to like the MINI JCW GP, but can’t help feeling MINI has missed a golden opportunity to produce a genuine giant-killer. With just 200 cars (out of a total of 2,000 worldwide) being supplied to UK customers, surely it would have made more sense to make it really special.

As it is, despite some very clever chassis tuning, we’re left with a car which feels overpriced, underpowered and which adds little in the way of a shine to the rest of the MINI range.