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2006 Mini Cooper S GP

Adria, Italy As a send-off for the current Mini Cooper, Mini is offering the Cooper S with the John Cooper Works GP kit, a stripped-down, pumped-up version for 415 of the hard-core faithful. The GP dumps its rear seats and rear wiper and forgoes options such as xenon headlights, climate control, and a sunroof. Added items include lightweight eighteen-inch wheels, a carbon-fiber rear wing, aluminum rear suspension arms, and a rear body brace. U.S. cars get regular sport seats instead of our European test car's Recaros. We also miss out on tinted rear windows but gain standard stability control, air-conditioning, and side curtain air bags. The weight saved versus a regular Cooper S is 100 pounds.

The slightly tweaked engine spins with an addictive and more pronounced supercharger whine to an increased 7150-rpm redline. The GP rides slightly lower than a Cooper S and has shorter, retuned dampers. Overall, the changes give the GP excellent handling but highlight the need for more suspension travel. Also, the standard limited-slip differential improves traction out of slow corners, but it brings along torque steer that flaws the otherwise excellent steering.

With its cartoonish looks, undiluted spec, and extra margin of performance, the Works GP kit is a fitting way to fire up Mini geeks in the U.S. before the next-generation car arrives early next year.