Prices start at about $45,000 for this crazy limited edition model That’s more than double the base price of the cheapest Mini Coopers and it’s about $12,000 more than the “regular” John Cooper Works high-performance Mini.
The Mini Cooper JCW GP’s little four-cylinder engine puts out 301 horsepower, compared to 228 in the non-GP John Cooper Works car. Then things get really weird. To save weight, there are no back seats. That also makes room for a metal bar that goes side-to-side behind the front seats. There’s also a huge wing on the back. It’s really two wings stacked, biplane style, right on top of each other. They help pin the back wheels to the ground at high speeds.
Then there are the wheels themselves. They’re extra wide so, to keep them from sticking out, designers added fairings that stick out over each wheel. Just for fun, they turned those fairings into big carbon fiber-infused billboards. (They’re made from material left over from the manufacture of electric cars by BMW, Mini’s parent company.) The front ones are embossed with the unique number of each limited edition car — only 3,000 will be produced. These exterior accoutrements make the Mini Cooper JCW GP look even wilder than it already is. Mini’s design department held nothing back.
To introduce the car to journalists, Mini hosted an event at Monticello Motor Club, a private club northwest of New York City in September. It has its own track where owners of fast cars can drive to their limits in relative safety and without fear of prosecution.
This is where I discovered that the Mini Cooper JCW GP has limits. I’m no great driver. I’m certainly no John Cooper, the British racing driver and race car designer who created rally winning versions of Mini cars in the 1960s. I was surprised that I actually managed to reach this car’s limits before I reached my own.
The GP is quick. Test drivers at Edmunds.com got it from zero to 60 miles an hour in 5.1 seconds which is impressive for a small front-wheel-drive car. It has a top speed of 165 miles an hour. On a twisty track, I got nowhere near that although I did manage triple digits.
The GP is available only with an automatic transmission, something that’s becoming increasingly common in high performance cars. These days, few humans can shift gears faster and smarter than a good automatic anyway. And this one is quite good. It handled the chore as well as I could have wanted. I selected gears a few times myself using paddles mounted behind the steering wheel but, really, that was just for fun.
The GP cornered nicely, too, although it leans outward in turns as you would expect from a fairly boxy car. The steering didn’t feel as sharp as I might have expected, though. The strong brakes had a nice feel to them and slowed the car quickly but predictably going into turns.
The real problem was coming out of turns. As my right foot moved to the gas pedal and pressed down I immediately discovered something: family-sized servings of torque steer. If you’re not familiar with it, torque steer is the tendency of front wheel drive cars to pull to one side under hard acceleration.
The GP was yanked to the side as if someone had taken hold of the steering wheel and pulled it. I corrected by pulling the steering wheel back, which set up a wriggling movement down the track. I learned to mitigate it by taking it a little easy on the gas on the way out of turns and, since I now knew it was coming, correcting more gently. It certainly took out a lot of the fun, though.
Some high performance front wheel drive cars have managed to overcome this inherent issue. I recently drove the Honda Civic Type R, for instance, and didn’t really notice the problem. The Civic Type R is another big-winged limited edition performance model so it’s a close competitor to the Mini GP. (The main differences are that the Honda has four doors and back seats and it costs thousands of dollars less than the Mini.) Clearly, something could be done to fix the Mini’s violent torque problem and it should have been.