Just 50 of these $45,000, high-strung hatchbacks are coming to Canada - and they're the brand's fastest cars yet.
Disclosure: Travel to Mallorca, Spain, accommodations, meals, drinks, test vehicles and a pre-determined driving route were provided to the writer by the automaker.
A day before jetting off for Mallorca, Spain and my first taste of Mini's new Paceman - plus a fleeting fling with this raucous new John Cooper Works GP - the automaker's PR man e-mailed with last-minute details: Hotel is this, be sure to pack that and, "remember, dress code casual."
"Casual?" I replied, and with tongue firmly in cheek, "Track pants time!"
His reply? "Just because you will be driving on a “track” doesn’t mean you can wear “'track pants.'”
Droll that man from Mini is, but he was also hinting at the locale where I'd ever-so-briefly experience the new GP after a day with the Paceman: over just a half-dozen laps on the Circuito Mallorca RennArena.
This is the fastest Mini ever turned out by the factory, built to show what it's learned from 50 years in racing. It's a car limited to just 2,000 units worldwide with only 50 coming to Canada at $44,900 a pop. That we got any wheel time at all in this pint-sized powerhouse is lucky. I'm glad I packed my nicest pants…
Mini probably only let us thrash the GP for a few brief laps because they were afraid an overeager jounro may reduce the number of cars being released to the public to 1,999 - or less. As it stands, when we arrived at the circuit one of the cars already showed signs that it had a brief tryst with something immovable trackside…
Obviously, my at-the-wheel time was ephemeral. I did learn that Mini's engineers have taken the regular John Cooper Works Mini hatchback and cranked it up considerably, adding more muscle and more ability to hustle hard down twisty asphalt.
The engine remains a 1.6-litre, direct-injection, turbocharged four-cylinder, but it's been prodded to produce more horsepower - 211 versus 208, with max torque still at 207 lb-ft. A lovely six-speed manual's the only gearbox you can get. The GP's 0-100 km/h time is 6.3 seconds.
Admittedly, that 0-100 run is not oh-my-god quick (only 0.2 sec. faster than the standard JCW, in fact), but this Mini is about more athletics than more straight-line speed. The back seat's been chucked out to save weight (the car's down 30 kg/66 lbs. total) and to make room for a structural brace. There's another strut bar under-hood. The bigger brakes come from parent company BMW's 1 Series M Coupe. Track-spec, but street-legal, Kumho tires have been fitted, while the wheels are all tilted in just a little more for better cornering.
Perhaps the largest mechanical change is the adjustable coilover suspension. It's motorsport tech. You use a special wrench to lower the car 20 mm for maximum track-minded handling.
On the computerization front, a new GP Mode for the stability control system will brake the car if you're getting a little too friendly with its limits, but otherwise won't cut engine power if you're getting extra wheel spin hustling (very) hard through a corner.
Put all this together and the end result is a hatchback I'd probably bill as the best handling front-wheel drive car on sale right now - and the most fun.
Being Germans, the Mini engineers had of course, to quantify this increased quickness: in testing around the famous Nürburgring racetrack in Germany, the 2013 GP bested the lap time of its like-named predecessor from a few years back by 18 seconds. In racing terms, that's a big deal.
The GP's full name is a nod to John Cooper, the British chap who built the most famous go-fast version of the classic Mini. It was a car that went on to win the Monte Carlo Rally three times.
Aside from tossing its rear seat in the dumpster, the JCW GP bolts in lovely heated Recaro leather sport seats, a thick JCW steering wheel and red highlights on everything from the gear knob to the seatbelts. It's all a bit garish, but well, so is this car.
At least the changes serve mostly to make this Mini's cabin feel that much more intimate and well-made. Too bad some of the toggles, dials and switches feel small and finicky in operation.
Mini GP's will come only in Thunder Grey metallic paint with Chili red highlights and unique graphics, plus body mods like a rear diffuser, underside paneling and that roof-edge spoiler to reduce lift on the rear axle by 90 percent.
If I'm being honest, the loss of the rear seats here is no great cause for heartache. In the standard Mini hatchback they're really for occasional use by shorter people. With the back bench deleted, the fringe benefit is increased stowage space, although you do have to work around that structural brace running through the cargo cave.
There are no options on the GP. Though premium kit like bi-xenon headlights, auto climate control and Bluetooth connectively are still included, some people may find the car a little tough to live with as a daily driver. Extra-firm ride aside, there are no rear speakers or rear window wiper to save weight, plus the tires are for fair weather only and there's no cruise control.
Even at a pricey $44,900, the John Cooper Works GP does not hold the record as the most expensive model from Mini in Canada now. That honour goes to the Inspired by Goodwood, Rolls-Royce-themed model with (gasp!) $54,900 worth of lambswool carpets.
The GP then, is the ultimate cranked-up and concentrated example of Mini's vaunted "go-kart" handing and fun-to-drive factor. Its wild looks, price (an Audi TT is just $3,700 more...), angry bumblebee exhaust note and firm ride mean it's certainly only for a select few drivers, but apparently of the 50 coming to Canada, most are already sold. There's no word if they come with Mini-branded track pants…