If the world hand’t taken a detour over the last few months we’d be bringing you our first road and track test of the all new 306 hp MINI JCW GP. However, there has been a detour and that European press launch was smartly scuttled along with other press events. In its place is a much smaller UK press introduction of the brand new 306 hp MINI JCW GP. And while we can’t give you our own review yet, we can bring you some insights from our friends across the pond.
There’s no arguing with the effectiveness of the engine in motivating the GP’s relatively low kerb weight of 1255kg. …There’s too much torque for the mechanical differential lock and dynamic stability control (DSC) system to properly cope with on occasion, in fact. The result, when accelerating hard, is some moderate corruption of the steering as the GP struggles to fully place its reserves to the road in lower gears.
This aside, the performance feels every bit as strong, if not stronger, as that indicated by Mini’s claimed 0-62mph time of 5.2sec. The engine remains willing, with a fittingly muscular character to the 6800rpm cut-out, while the gearbox performs wonderfully crisp and rapid shifts on a loaded throttle in manual mode.
It doesn’t take too long to discover that the GP operates on an altogether higher performance plane than any previous production Mini. At all points, it feels faster, more urgent and generally a good deal more fervent than even the JCW.
Happily, these traits also apply to the handling, which if anything is even more impressive than the sheer speed generated by the new engine. There’s a terrifically agile feel to the GP, and it’s never less than incisive across a winding back road.
The basis for this is a series of stiffening measures incorporated within the body structure, including a new engine mount, a beefed-up front tower strut brace and, most notably, a sturdy rectangular support for the rear suspension.
The GP also runs its own unique camber rates, beefed-up anti-roll bars and, with unique 18in wheels featuring greater offset than those of the JCW, suitably wide tracks. The standard 225/35-profile Hankook tyres come with S1 Evo Z tread or, as worn by our test car, TD semi-slicks.
On top of this, Mini has lowered the ride height by 10mm over the JCW, bringing a lower centre of gravity and even greater visual aggressiveness to the stance.
It’s the immediacy of the steering that initially shines through. Turn the wheel and it delivers great on-centre response. The hefty weighting of the speed-sensitive electromechanical system can be a little disconcerting at first, but it becomes a welcome attribute once you’re dialled in, particularly at speed, where it compensates for a lack of proper road feel. It really is nicely judged, giving the GP a keenness in directional changes that’s clearly beyond that of the JCW.
The cornering ability of the GP is characterised by superb body control and a steely resistance to understeer. The real strength, though, is the grip. With all the various changes to the suspension and the huge purchase provided by its grooved race tyres, the car is capable of generating truly heady cornering speeds on smooth surfaces. However, it takes a lot of commitment to even begin scratching the surface of its lateral limits on public roads.
We’ll need a lot more time at the wheel and a circuit to properly explore the GP’s handling, but those in the know at Mini suggest it will see off the standard BMW M2 coupé over a single lap of the Nürburgring.
What we can already vouch for is its outstanding high-speed stability. On an extended autobahn outside Munich, we briefly saw 160mph, at which the GP felt superbly planted and full of intent. Mini says it can hit 165mph when given more room to roam, making it the brand’s fastest model yet.
Interestingly despite all of this praise Autocar only saw fit to give the GP 4 out of 5 stars in its vaunted rating scale. The reason? Reading the review the only thing that seems to be a miss in their eyes in the choice of transmission. This despite the fact that it “performs wonderfully crisp and rapid shifts on a loaded throttle in manual mode.” Is that fair? We’re of two minds reading this review and having actually experience the car at the track as a passenger. Yes the automatic is excellent and extraordinary responsive. Yet there is no question you lose interaction and ultimately an extra level of connection without the manual.
Sources inside MINI have told us that there was an internal struggle between MINI and BMW about this issue with the former wanting a manual. However the cost associated with developing a manual transmission vs an automatic that was already developed for the engine (and used in various BMWs and MINIs) was one of the only reasons the GP was even approved for production.
With that background we can’t help but feel the right decision was made. By all accounts this is a spectacular MINI.