MINI John Cooper Works GP 2013 Road Test
Considering the current MINI is due for replacement in 2014, the number of new variants rolling out of Oxford plant in its final months shows that the brand is keen to maintain buyers' attention. For its latest version, MINI is reviving the limited edition two-seat 2006 Works GP, creating the fastest production version of them all.
The original Works GP was a bit of a collector's car. Produced with the help of Bertone, and stripped of its rear seats in a ruthless wight-saving programme, the limited-run supercharged GP was a ripsnorting, hardcore hot-hatch that sold out within weeks of its launch.
MINI is hoping that the 2013 incarnation will prove to be a case of history repeating itself. It's made sure that the latest GP follows that car's formula pretty much to the letter, right down to its limited run of 2000 cars across all markets. To create the Works GP, MINI uses a John Cooper Works as a starting point. The 1.6-litre turbocharged engine receives a new map, ekeing out another 7PS, as well as changing the throttle response, and adding a 'GP' mode to the Sports DSC programme.
There are new 17-inch four-spoke alloy wheels with Kumho tyres that have been developed specifically for the GP - and holding it all together are new bespoke dampers plus front and rear strut braces. MINI claims the GP is 18 seconds quicker around the Nurburgring than the 2006 car - but frankly, that's hardly relevant to UK buyers suffering post-winter pot-holes.
In truth, the biggest changes to the GP are cosmetic. The wheels are unique to this model, as is the carbonfibre rear spoiler and bodykit. Inside you're treated to new leather and Alcantara-trimmed Recaro seats, which are supportive and comfortable plus red stitching on the seatbelts and gearknob, as well as piano-black trim.
It's purposeful to look at more appealing bereft of the flashiness you get in other expensive MINIs. The exterior paint and graphics also unique to this model. As before, you're limited on the options front to nothing. When you buy your £28,790 Works GP, it comes as it is...
MINI hopes that you'll really feel the difference on the road. And actually, they're right. We drove the 'standard' John Cooper Works alongside the Works GP, and it's clear that the limited edition car is a sharper driver's car. You might not think so straight away - driving through town and heading for the country, you'll be surprised to learn that the ride quality is improved, thanks to more compliant damping (the dampers were on their highest setting, some 20mm above the ultimate track height).
Get onto the challenging country roads and the Works GP comes to life. The steering remains unchanged over the standard car and that means a nice sharp turn-in with super-responsiveness - if a lack of ultimate feel.
But with that low ride height and those super-sticky tyres, grip levels and confidence go up, making it a more satisfying car in which to drive quickly. Selecting 'Sport' adds weight to the steering and stiffness to the ride (as well as less intervention from the ESP), and going to 'GP' mode overrides the ESP's ability to cut power when traction is lost, meaning you find the steering wheel trying to squirm in your hands more often, just as a fast hot-hatch should.
Straight line performance is okay with a 0-62mph time of 6.3 seconds and a maximum speed of 150mph, although for the money you can buy a lot faster cars. The six-speed gearbox has well-judged close ratios and the change quality is excellent, with clearly defined slots and lovely weighting. But the engine note is gravelly and unpleasant - if not excessively loud - and for fans of the original Works GP and its charismatic supercharger, that's a disappointment.
But does any of that matter? This is a limited-edition model built for MINI enthusiasts who want the ultimate incarnation of their chosen car. The last Works GP became a collector's car the moment it rolled out of the showroom and there's no doubting that this one will too. The question is whether it is special enough - after all, MINI UK isn't individually numbering these ones.
Undoubtedly, the 2013 MINI John Cooper Works GP turns heads like few other cars at this price, but for those not full indoctrinated into the MINI universe, the asking price (of a car you can't option up) of £28,790 is on the high side and quite a premium for exclusivity. Given that the Renault Megane Renaultsport is as much as £6000 cheaper, will run to 160mph, and has 265PS, that's food for thought. And that's before we consider the BMW M135i's starting price of £29,995.
But let's not forget that the John Cooper Works GP is brilliant fun to drive and easily the best of all the fast MINIs currently on sale. Existing customers, loyal to the brand, will be queueing up to buy it, and for its maker, that must surely mark it as a success.