The next generation MINI might be with us now, but that didn’t stop them launching the ultimate version, and selling out before it even hits the streets.
Work it, baby!
REMEMBER the old cliché about saving the best ‘til last – well, we reckon MINI may well have been thinking along these lines when it came to producing the ultimate special edition of the car that reinvigorated the marque when it was launched back in 2001. Almost five years to the day after its introduction, certain versions of the current MINI (we’ll call it v2.0), are nearing the end of their life, and to keep interest to an absolute maximum, a limited edition hits the market and goes straight to the head of the class.
The rather laboriously named Mini Cooper S with John Cooper Works GP Kit, is without doubt, the ultimate MINI v2.0 you’ll ever buy from your local dealer.
The Works GP is not only the most extreme looking ‘factory’ MINI ever to emerge from the Oxford factory, but it’s the fastest too, boasting a maximum power and torque of 218bhp and 184lb/ft – impressive given it’s being developed by a 1.6-litre engine. The former range-topping JCW Cooper isn’t exactly shy in the horsepower count with 210bhp on tap, and one has to wonder whether the extra 8bhp is worth all the fuss.
But what the Works GP has in spade loads is desirability. MINI has been clever to strictly limit production to 2000 – and ensure that it looks like no other Cooper to come before it. Besides the tweaked engine, your extra cash buys you a beautifully crafted carbon fibre tailgate spoiler, lightweight 18-inch alloys, front and rear bumpers tweaked for improved aero performance, and a unique paint scheme.
Best not question the £22,000 list price: remember that the Works GPs are actually finished by design house, Bertone, in Italy, and that special paint job runs to an extra coat. All these details add up, and obviously MINI fans have noticed – the UK’s consignment of 450 cars has already long since sold.
Performance and Economy
Before we move on to how the Works GP drives, let’s not forget the ultimate ‘less weight, more speed’ modification fitted to the car. Or should we say removed. There’s no back seat, and in its place is an aluminium strut brace, which also doubles as a load bay protector. Dumping the back seat is a brave move, and a hell of a talking point on trackdays, but we reckon it’s one that rivals might latch on to in their pursuit to produce the lairiest hot hatchback.
We might have been slightly more impressed had they’d remembered to remove the rear seat grab-handles of course…
Losing the back seat as well as some of the soundproofing has a distinct benefit. It means the car has slimmed down by 50kg – or in real terms, the equivalent of losing your petite girlfriend on every trip. The net result is improved performance – 0-60mph takes 6.2secs, and the top speed is lifted slightly to 146mph. Not bad.
On the road, that translates into considerably more perkiness. Gun it from rest, and the Works GP hurls forward in a flurry of gearchanges and supercharger whine – charisma is a no-cost option, here. At £22,000 it should be, too – and although there are faster, cheaper, alternatives to be had, there’s no denying the Works GP is a laugh a minute on the road. In terms of straight line speed, it’ll just about say with a VW Golf GTI, Focus ST or Astra VXR, but it leaves them all behind on the twistier stuff.
Handling and Ride
Throw the Works GP into any tight bend you care to mention, and it turns-in with remarkable speed, and manages to avoid understeer even with plenty of provocation. The steering is beautifully weighted and delivers bags of feel, and a flick of the wrist is more than enough to have the Works GP flinging into bends with pin-sharp accuracy. Exiting corners reveals great swathes of traction and grip – and the limited slip differential significantly reduces wheel scrabble.
Torque steer is still evident, and if you’re particularly heavy footed exiting a bend, the intrusive traction control system will kill power for what seems an eternity in its vain attempt to lessen the fun.
You’ll notice we’ve yet to mention the ride quality. ‘Unsettled’ is the first word that comes to mind. If the road is smooth, then you’ve nothing to worry about – traction and damping are more than enough to keep all that power in check, but introduce the typical mix of broken surfaces you encounter on English back roads, and things get a whole lot more boisterous.
Slow and bumpy corners are especially entertaining as the wheels fight to stay in contact with the ground, and the traction control system struggles to make sense of it all. In short, the MINI’s short wheelbase doesn’t conspire too well with the stiff springing, and you’ll be bouncing up and down like a toddler in a fun fair.
It’s fun and will bring a smile to your face, but if you’re a committed driver, you might find your pace limited. Turn down the wick a couple of clicks, or limit your fun to the race track, and you’ll be in Seventh Heaven.
Make no mistake though, the Works GP feels pretty special – and even more alive than any other production MINI. You’re constantly reminded the car is special – the sheer intensity of the driving experience, the raspy buzz from the exhaust system – which cackles provocatively on the overrun – and the hip-hugging leather-clad Recaro seats will keep you amused for years to come.
The main question of whether it’s worth 22 big ones, is largely irrelevant, as they sold every single one with ease – and there’s no doubt the world is a richer place for its existence, but is the Works GP the killer MINI we have been eagerly waiting for?
In a nutshell, yes. Not because it’s the most accomplished MINI you can buy, or even because it’s the fastest – but what we love about the Works GP is that it makes every journey feel that bit special, and positively oozes charm from every pore – and on that score, they really did save the best ‘til last.
Living with it day in day out might see the shine wear off, but we’d love the opportunity to find out for ourselves.
|At a glance…
|Price as tested
|1598 cc 16V four-cylinder supercharged
|218 bhp at 7100rpm
|184 lb/ft at 4600rpm
|That special feeling, the way it drives, and the fact it exists
|We don’t like
|Unsettled ride, and the fact they’ve all been sold.
|146 mph (claimed)
|Faster, sharper, bespoke and desirable.
|Scores out of ten
|Ford Focus ST
The class leader, with a superbly accomplished chassis and charismatic turbocharged five-pot. The benchmark hot hatch – and the perfect compromise between the lairy Vauxhall Astra VXR and relaxed VW Golf GTI
|Vauxhall Astra VXR
Continuing the tradition of torquesteering Vauxhall hot hatches, the Astra VXR is fantastic fun and vivdly quick – offering huge amounts of turbocharged grunt when you want to play. The bad boy of the class
|Volkswagen Golf GTI
By far the most mature of all the hot hatches, and despite its subtle sober suited looks compared with the more flamboyant MINI, the GTI is massive fun on open roads. Almost up there with the Works GP in terms of street smart kudos.
|MINI Cooper S John Cooper Works
£3000 less than the Works GP and readily available, there’s an almost compelling argument for choosing this one instead of the illustrious Works GP. Cheaper, nearly as quick, but with just a smidgeon less X factor…
Thanks to MINI (UK) for the loan of the press car.