The 2013 Mini Cooper provides such a great blank canvas for customization and sport upgrades. Our John Cooper Works Grand Prix test car looks great in dark gray paint with red accents, a substantial front apron, chunky red brake calipers, and the "GP" graphics on the side. A friend was amused, however, when I pulled into his driveway and he saw the "0069" sticker on the roof above the driver's door. Apparently our tester is #69 of 500 JCW GP editions to be manufactured for the U.S. market. (Mini Cooper JCW GP production is limited to 2000 units worldwide.) Customers who own the first-generation GP have the first option to buy the new one with the same number, as long as it falls in the range of 0001-0500. I wonder who had #0069 last time?
The interior is also very snappy, featuring superb black leather and faux-suede Recaro seats with red French stitching and red seatbelts. A red cross bar spanning the strut towers supplants the rear seats, effectively turning the JCW GP into a very stiff two-seater. Nothing wrong with that. I took advantage of the stiffened body and the tuned suspension this morning. There were no other cars entering the freeway with me, and my circular entrance ramp was dry and all mine. Good way to start the day. Back on two-lanes, however, the JCW's torque steer reminded me that there's only so much you can do with a front-wheel-drive chassis. On the one hand, the challenge of working the pedals and steering wheel to overcome the torque steer can be fun. On the other hand, with the arrival of the rear-wheel-drive Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S twins, which are substantially cheaper than the Mini Cooper JCW GP, you might conclude that a hotted-up Mini isn't really what you want for your weekend track escapades. Look at the competitors to the JCW GP that we've listed in the spec panel, and you'll realize that potential buyers of every single one of them have to think carefully about the BRZ/FR-S.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
By now we're well aware of the ups and downs of the current-generation Minis. The ride is firm, but the steering is accurate. Bump steer and torque steer are plentiful, but so is grip. The manual transmission's throws are short, and the clutch is sometimes vague to operate. The car is quite fun, if not always the most efficient or most livable vehicle in its class. They're truths that generally apply to every Mini, from the Coupe all the way up to the Countryman.
With that in mind, I wondered what driving a GP -- the most hardcore of the Mini range -- would feel like. The answer is simple: everything that's good about the Mini is better on the GP. Everything that's bad is worse.
The ride is harsher than ever, thanks to stiff-sidewall tires, big wheels, and a firm suspension setup; the steering is tuned with even more precision and communication. Instead of having a lazy engagement, the hydraulic clutch is much quicker and more aggressive. The bump steer is…well, I nearly performed an unscheduled lane change when the car hit a bump mid-corner on a two-lane off-ramp.
But despite all this, the GP is so, so fun. The 1.6-liter turbo four's torque is ample, and the sports exhaust crackles and pops when you rev-match your downshifts. You'll drive the GP everywhere at a rate well above the posted speed limit, darting through traffic, hoping that you won't herniate any discs. As a send-off to the current-generation Mini -- and a tribute to both its flaws and its fun -- the GP is excellent.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor
Even more so than the rest of the Mini lineup, this GP wears its heart on its sleeve. The exaggerated body kit, sizable rear spoiler, and racing graphics definitely make the GP's sporting intentions clear and they also make it stand out in a crowd. As I discovered, this is especially true at a rural greenhouse in southeastern Michigan on one of the busiest days of the spring. From the aforementioned mods to the simple fact that it was a Mini in a sea of full-size SUVs and heavy-duty pickups, the GP couldn't have turned more heads if it were the new LaFerrari.
I could see expressions of confusion on the faces of the people I passed in the parking lot, wondering, what could possibly fit in such a small car? What they didn't know is that the GP loses the fairly useless back seat that's found on the regular Cooper and gains a rear body brace -- bright red, to match the rest of the interior and exterior accents -- that stretches from one side of the car to the other to stiffen up the Mini's body. The brace somewhat restricts the type of cargo that can be loaded into the Mini's hatch but for my purposes the relatively large and fairly level, two-tiered cargo floor -- it extends as far forward as the rear seat does in the standard Mini, and retains the 'footwells' behind the front seats -- was ideal for transporting flats, baskets, and pots of flowers and plants.
The super-stiff suspension turned out to be less than ideal, however. After hitting some rough patches of road and seeing my flowers become airborne, I slowed down and doubled my efforts to steer clear of potholes and heaves. Once I got on the interstate and the road smoothed out, I was able to pick up the pace. The 1.6-liter turbo is spunky and although I was hoping for a slightly heavier clutch and more substantial shift action, the manual is entertaining to use. The GP is quick enough on the straights to get you in trouble fast but the most fun to be had in the racy Mini is tackling high-speed corners. It stays remarkably flat -- unless it encounters a mid-corner bump -- and is reluctant to give up its line. As Joe mentioned, the Mini's front-wheel-drive layout has its limits but, especially in this GP, it's extraordinarily fun to find those limits, over and over again.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms