Review: 2013 Mini GP is rough and ready

Review: 2013 Mini GP is rough and ready
The Mini GP is probably the hottest, best-handling, front-wheel-drive, two-seat sports car you can buy.
Jim Kenzie
By Jim Kenzie
Posted on August 21st, 2013
0 Comments

If you’re considering a Mini because you think it’s a cute, fun little car to drive to work, go out with friends, and whatever else you need a small car to do, well, fill yer boots. It’s all of that, and a lot more.

But the new Mini GP is probably not the one you want. It might be a tad extreme.

You do have lots of options: who’d have thunk when the new Mini was launched a dozen years ago that it would evolve into such a diverse product range.

In addition to the original two-door, four-seat coupé, the Mini lineup now includes a convertible, wagon/crossover, two-seat coupé and roadster. I’ve probably forgotten a few.

Like chicken wings, most of these body styles also come in a wide variety of heats.

The mildest one we get (not counting the Mini electric, which hardly anybody does) is the Cooper (121 hp). I say “we get” because there are base and diesel versions available elsewhere.

Next up is the Cooper S (181 hp), then the John Cooper Works Edition (208 hp).

And now, the GP — not that a Mini has ever competed in a Grand Prix race.

This is a limited-production model — just 2,000 worldwide, and only 50 for Canada, each numbered on a decal on the roof over the driver’s door.

Mine was 1 of 50. A badge on the dash read “1 of 2000.” Wow, did I get the very first one? Then I realized, no, it just means this is one of 2,000. Rats.

In any event, line up at your Mini store now with a $44,900 cheque in hand.

The GP begins where the JCW leaves off.

The most evident of the upgrades are the visual ones. You can have any colour you want, as long as it’s Thunder Grey Metallic with a silver roof and red side-view mirror caps.

In fact there are no options at all on this car.

A distinctive hood scoop, front air dam, radiator grille treatment, a decal package and a rear diffuser looking very much like the one on the Mini Challenge race car ensure no-one will mistake your Mini for any other variant.

Inside, you’ll probably first notice the big Recaro sport seats, and the black leather dash covering with red accent stitching.

But the main difference is when you look into the back seat and find — there isn’t one.

Instead, there’s a bright red bar connecting the body sides. Mini is calling this a protective beam — not sure what it’s protecting, or from what. Its main function would seem to be to add stiffness to the body shell.

Under the hood, you’ll find a polished aluminum bar doing the same thing to the front strut towers.

More stiffness equals a more rigid body, which equals better handling under extreme duress.

The suspension is fully adjustable, using what racers call coil-overs — coil springs with the dampers fitted concentrically inside.

These are considerably stiffer than even the JCW setup. Increased negative camber — the wheels tip inwards at the top — again improves handling, at the expense of increased sensitivity to longitudinal grooves in the pavement, and probably increased wear of the Korean-made Kumho tires.

They are specified as “track-spec,” but are road-legal. Mini does suggest that caution be exercised on wet roads, and does not recommend them for cold or wintry weather.

The point of the car is, obviously, to go faster, so let’s have more power please. That’d be a minor tweak, raising output from the 1.6 litre turbocharged four-cylinder to 211 horsepower, and nominal peak torque to 192 lb.-ft., with a temporary overboost to 207 lb.-ft. available for short bursts of acceleration.

To bring all this fun to a halt, six-piston Brembo brakes (up from four in the JCW) lifted straight from the BMW 1 Series M car squeeze 12.4-inch diameter rotors up front, 11.2-inch at the rear. Those are huge for a car this small.

Mini does suggest they may make more noise than most brakes.

The Electronic Stability Control system offers a Track mode, which allows a greater degree of slip angle to be achieved before the nanny settings kick in. Or, if you want to roll the dice, with $44,900 on the line, you can shut the system off altogether.

How does all this work? Exactly as advertised, right down to the various caveats.

All the turbo Minis are quick, but this one is very quick. Unlike most turbo cars, there’s very little lag, thanks to the so-called “twin-scroll” turbo design, which creates different pathways for the intake air at lower and higher r.p.m.

It’s a seemingly endless wave of torque, meaning you don’t really have to massage the shift lever as much as you might think.

Lady Leadfoot thought the shifter wasn’t as slick as previous Minis we have tried, but it is nominally the same unit, and I found it equally delightful.

The suspension though — well, it is hard, no way around that. If you want this level of cornering power and go-kart dart-like handling, it’s a price you’re going to have to pay.

The Recaro seats help a little — they are big, comfy and very supportive.

I did find the tongue of the seat belt tended to get caught up in the upper part of the seat back, making it awkward to get belted in. There are little plastic clips on the lap belt to keep the tongue from sliding down to the floor; another clip up on the shoulder belt wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The following of the longitudinal grooves in the pavement — tramlining in the vernacular — well, Truth In Advertising there, too.

The brakes work fabulously but, on light application, there’s a distinct squeal, in my car seemingly coming from the right rear.

One feature the JCW has that the GP does not is the multi-function steering wheel, so there’s no cruise control on the GP. I don’t think anyone attracted to a car like this would care.

All the other creature comforts — air-con, on-board computer, Bluetooth, etc. — are included.

One thing that is omitted is the rear window wiper — weight savings is the proffered reason. Now, you may not want to drive your GP in the rain, but you might very easily get caught in the rain. This is a safety issue, and I think they’ve made a mistake here.

In sum then, what you’re getting with the Mini GP is probably the hottest, best-handling, front-wheel-drive, two-seat sports car you can buy.

It isn’t cheap, and a lot of what it offers can be had at a lower price or, in the case of a JCW, at a similar price but with a back seat.

Frankly, not many drivers will be able to tell the difference the added stiffness makes to the handling, but everyone can count the seat belts.

But if that’s your priority, this is your car.

The other thing the GP offers is exclusivity. I only hope the other GP I saw the day after I took this one back was the same car in the hands of another journalist.

Wouldn’t that sting if you bought Number 02, and the guy parking next to you at the squash club bought Number 03.

The vehicle tested by freelance writer Jim Kenzie was provided by the manufacturer. Email: wheels@thestar.ca.

Mini John Cooper Works GP

Price: $44,900

Engine: 1.6 L four-cylinder twin-scroll turbocharger

Power/torque: 211 hp/192 lb.-ft. (temporary overboost to 207)

Fuel consumption L/100 km: 7.7 city, 5.6 hwy.

Competition: Front-wheel-drive two-seater with over 200 hp? Not much. But you might look at the Mini GP if you’re considering any of these: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Subaru WRX STi, Volkswagen GTI, Volkswagen Golf R.

What’s best: Fabulous performance, best-handling front-driver you can buy, one-in-50 exclusivity.

What’s worst: No back seat, stiff ride, that great handling extracts compromises in tramlining and tire wear, rear window wiper should not have been deleted.

What’s interesting: Wour friends will pretty much always know where you’ve been, because your GP will surely be the only one in your neighbourhood.

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