JCW GP doesn’t photograph well. I know you’ve probably heard and read it before, but you can’t get the full impression of what this car looks like from the photos. In person, the Thunder Blue body color reflects back its surroundings, and the red mirror caps and other accents are simply stunning.

Inside the GP it’s obvious MINI really sweated the details. Red stitching runs along the leather/cloth combo seats, and is also found on the shift boot and e-brake boot. Special GP carpet floor mats, included in all of the cars, are all black with red piping around the outside and a good-sized GP logo stitched into the carpet. The anthracite headliner is a nice touch. While not unique to the GP, the darker headliner and visors ground the interior color palette nicely. The seats, while not the Recaros that are standard on the Euro-GPs, are very nice and have lumbar support, something the cloth seats in my ’03 MCS don’t have.

Other interior features unique to the GP are the rear storage compartments, located about where the rear seats would have been. The foam compartments are nice and roomy — they easily accommodate three bottles of wine and a spray bottle of Meguiar’s detail spray — but the round latch for the cover of the compartments is cheap and difficult to turn. Not a big deal at all because the weight of the cover is plenty to keep it closed. It doesn’t lock so there’s really no point because there’s little likelihood of the cover flying open even with the most spirited of driving and stopping.

Alright, now on to the driving. It’s difficult to not simply type “Wow!” but I’ll try. According to one of the techs who was on hand to help with the GP delivery, the power band of this car is not unlike that of his E46 M3. Having never driven an M3, I will have to take his word for it, but the power band in the GP is extremely wide. There’s power and torque available in all gears at all speeds. Even in fifth and sixth gear the car wants to “go” with the slightest touch of the accelerator. This is a pleasant improvement over my 2003, which doesn’t really feel powerful until it hits 3,000-3,500 RPMs. There’s a feel of sophistication in the GP that’s not present in my 2003 MCS. The GP is solid and extremely responsive in every aspect from acceleration to handling to braking. The handling is rock solid. The GP is like a well trained dog waiting attentively for the next command from its master. And when the command comes, the GP responds with joy. I can’t emphasize enough how refined this car feels, a fitting swan song of this generation of MINI.

Finally, one of the first let-downs of the GP for some has been the audio system. The lack of rear speakers may be annoying, but MINI did everything they could to drop weight from this car. In removing the rear seats and adding the “luggage bar,” MINI eliminated a place for rear speakers. I don’t find this annoying at all because the GP sings its own tune that I like better than anything on the radio. The exhaust note and back popping when lifting the throttle and shifting is music to this MINI enthusiast’s ears. So far I’m not missing the back speakers, but audiophiles who want surround-sound quality out of their car audio systems will be disappointed. The head unit is totally different than any other US-spec 2006 MINI I’ve encountered. It seems that it is the same as the standard CD head-unit as found on most European MINIs. The functions and buttons are different from other US MINIs, but work adequately.

All in all, the 2006 MINI Cooper S with John Cooper Works GP kit is a phenomenal car. MINI’s come a long way from 2002 to 2006, and if the GP is any indication of where MINI is going, I will be a fan for a long, long time.