I am always intent upon finding the pinnacle of what a certain car promises me, and almost at any cost. Almost. When I think "steaming hatchback," I think of something exactly like this Mini GP, and the steep price doesn't squelch my pleasure. They're only building 2,000 of them anyway, and the units coming to the US will start arriving in owners' hands on March 16 of next year. These buyers will be extremely happy and remorse-free.
Five scorched laps at the very Mini-perfect Circuito Mallorca RennArena showed me all.
- To me, the previous Mini JCW GP edition (the one I'm driving here is referred to by the development team as the "Mk II") came off as one of those well-meant but less-than-satisfying brand exercises – too soft and not separated enough from the stock JCW hatch.
- The 211 horsepower from the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder are just three horses better than the $30,800 standard Mini John Cooper Works, and the 207 pound-feet of overboost torque between 2,000 and 5,100 rpm remains the same.
- The claimed 165 pounds shaved off, adjustable coil-over competition-grade dampers, 17-inch high performance (and not run-flat) Kumho Ecsta tires on lighter dedicated alloys, sturdy cross-brace where the rear seats used to be, sport brake system and GP aero pieces all have their desired effect on the hottest Mini two-door.
- Acceleration is now estimated at 6.3 seconds to 62 mph (i.e. 100 kmh) and top speed is let out to 150 mph.
- I talked in the pit area prior to my laps with Mini GP head of development Jörg Weidinger and asked him point blank if this GP was a soft porker like the first one. He assured me that, no, this one was the real deal. He says the adjustable suspension is extraordinary on this edition and both wheel camber and toe-in front and rear have been radically adjusted to improve turn-in response and straight-line thrust.
- Latched in to the GP's cabin, I felt right at home and eagerly awaited my laps. Mini chose to have the laps policed by one of their champion Mini Challenge drivers from Germany in his own Challenge car, and it was just me and Racer Boy out there.
- I obediently performed Lap One at about eight-tenths and did the responsible display to one and all that safety comes first and I was not out there to race. I was already reminded again why I love this six-speed Getrag manual shifter so damned much.
- Laps Two through Four turned into a downright Mini Challenge race weekend. The boy in front of me was good and I was sure he wasn't giving it his absolute all, but we were certifiably rocketing along. In some ways, I can see that dynamically the GP street car is better than even the Challenge car. This setup is killer.
- Each time we passed the main straight and headed into two speed-shaving hairpins that fed us into a fantastic long and drawn-out descending right-hander at full throttle, nothing I felt made me think Mini could have done better than this.
- All of the chassis notes engineer Weidinger shared with me in the pits came true under pressure: There is a near total lack of understeer, and the hook-up and Velcro-like adherence of the Kumho tires is incredibly liberating. Losing the run-flats makes a huge difference.
- Heel-and-toeing is the order of the day and Mini knows about pedal placement. The coil-overs, too, are remarkable. I was cutting apexes immediately and with greater gusto on each successive lap. Coming down off the apex and back onto tarmac caused no jitter, no slide, and I didn't need to let up at all.
- The braking sections was where I got severe sphincter-pucker behind my German pal in the Challenge car, but the damned things kept on successfully reeling in all my straight-line enthusiasm.
- It's always difficult for me to tell whether or not all the aero dolling-up is actually helping me with downforce into curves or with neutral resistance on the straights. Some of the treatment seems a bit cosmetic.