Martyn Collins compares the latest MINI Cooper Works GP with a 2006 original – his own car. Which would end up living in his garage, money no object?
Words and photography: Martyn Collins
A tale of two GPs
I love my MINI Cooper S with John Cooper Works GP Kit – it was a dream purchase – and can safely say that I’ve enjoyed every mile I’ve covered in the three-years I’ve owned it. Now there’s a new contender to the ultimate fast MINI crown – the John Cooper Works GP. I was lucky enough to drive the second generation GP at the launch in Lisbon at the end of January, but MINI UK was kind enough to loan me a car for a week in May and so I thought it would be interesting to compare the two cars back to back to see which is best.
Seeing the two GPs together in the metal, they are both very different expressions of the ultimate fast MINI. Yes, the new car immediately ages the original but, to my eyes, it looks less special. Firstly, the red highlights and extra graphics such as the side stripes are far from subtle and, in my view, look a bit cheap.
Then there’s the body kit; the GP1 has a unique, one-off body kit, yet this time round apart from the rear diffuser and spoiler, if you take away the exterior colour, decals, red highlights and one-off 18in alloys, it could be just be a standard JCW hatch. Finally, the GP2 is finished in clear Thunder Grey, which looks very different in certain lights although it’s generally very dark and dull. On the other hand, the Thunder Blue metallic finish of the original looks brighter and positively sings when the sun comes out.
Move to the interior and it’s more obvious why this car costs £28,790; items such as the red-stitched leather dash top are more luxurious than the last model and then there’s also the latest set of Recaro seats, although they didn’t feel as supportive as the originals. There’s no doubt the GP2 is well-equipped but there are some surprising and notable omissions between the two generations. A multi-function three-spoke steering wheel and cruise control are welcome on the original and sorely missed on the GP2. Maybe MINI were trying to go all hardcore with the new one but, in that case, shouldn’t they have also deleted the climate control and CD player?
It’s still a two-seater to save weight and you can’t miss what looks like a rear strut brace over the back suspension in both GPs, painted red in the new car – in reality it adds nothing to the bodyshell’s stiffness. The interior of the original GP might lack the luxury of the new car, but the dark roof lining, grey dials and dashboard-mounted badge with its unique number mark it out as being something a bit special.
Hit the road and the driving characteristics of both cars make it very difficult to compare them. Let,s start with the engines; the GP2 is turbocharged rather than the original’s supercharger. There’s no doubting the GP2’s performance. I like the broad range of power and the massive mid-range torque, which echoes the original’s giant-killing feel. What I really miss is the charismatic supercharger soundtrack and the more electric, immediate feel to the acceleration.
With 0-62mph acceleration in 6.3 seconds and a top speed of 150mph, it’s only just quicker than the original – in fact, considering the poor conditions of most of the roads I drove, the GP1 felt faster. Part of this I think can be put down to the track-developed Kumho rubber; these are super sticky in the dry when warmed up, however during the week I had this MINI it rained and that resulted in more tramlining and wandering. While the Sport button increases the smiles with the pops and bangs on the overrun from the exhaust, it also makes the throttle more sensitive inducing extra wheelspin.
Then there’s the suspension. It’s fine when the going is smooth, but on some of my favourite country twisties driven back to back with the old car it feels too stiff. This, along with the lack of GP1’s proper limited slip differential, can make the car a bit of a handful – holding the steering wheel is definitely a two-hand job.
To help keep things under control there’s three-stage traction control, although the back end of this fast MINI gets a bit too lively in special GP mode. I’ve always felt that the steering of the R56 MINI lacked the accuracy of the first-generation car. However, changes to the suspension and camber for the GP2 resolve many of these issues. Although still lacking in feel, the steering is now super quick and only needs the smallest of inputs to change direction with precision.
Where, then, does the GP2 score over GP1? Well, whilst the turbocharged 1.6-litre lacks character, compared to the 207g/km emissions of the supercharged lump, the 165g/km emissions of the new car mean it will be cheaper to run. The GP1 costs an eye-watering £270 for a year’s tax and is capable of 32.8mpg on the Combined cycle. However, with similar performance, the £170 tax and 39.8mpg are more palatable in these cost-conscious times.
The GP2 is also a much easier car to use on a day by day basis. The clutch is lighter and more forgiving and the gearchange smoother if less precise.
Okay, then, is the second volume in the GP MINI story better than the first and, if I had the cash, would I be running to my local MINI dealer? I think the proof is in the sales figures – admittedly, the market has changed since 2006, but the original GP sold out so quickly and MINI was lucky enough to get extra cars from abroad. GP2 has been on sale since the end of last year, yet my local dealer reckoned he could easily get hold of an unregistered one for me.
The answer to my question? Well, the GP2’s not better, but there’s no doubt it is the best current fast MINI. More refined and easier to live with, it’s still a great drive and if I could afford it, I’d love one to go alongside my original.