2013 Mini John Cooper Works GP First Test
All Hail King Cooper
Absurd. Downright absurd. You see, as I saw back and forth on this nicely padded steering wheel, weaving along a paved path among the trees clinging to the dangerous slopes of Palomar Mountain, I find it necessary to remind myself that I'm strapped into a MINI Cooper Hardtop, a mass-made city car assembled by Britons and loved by quirky, young-at-heart urbanites the world over. It is a front-wheel drive shrimp with four-wheels and cartoonish cues. It cannot be serious.
Oh, but this Mini is serious, because while its essential bits are all common Cooper, it is unique. Among the garden-variety citizenry, it is king.
Read about the new 2014 Mini Hardtop HERE.
Read about the new 2014 Mini Hardtop HERE.
King Cooper hails from the John Cooper Works Kingdom, a place populated by passionate tinkerers who every day further their namesake's ethos. It was John Cooper who decades prior famously put Minis on the high-protein, low-fat diets that enabled them to vanquish the opposition on circuits galore. On the street, the sinewy cars gained a cult following.
The mighty Mini growling in my hands wears no less than four "GP" badges -- indicating grand prix, of course -- on its plump body panels. And, as you can imagine with a title so grandiose, yet so uncreative as GP, it exists to provide driver and joyrider with the best performance imaginable, relatively speaking.
Such elite fitness is why there are no seats behind me, no fancy infotainment system, no army of amped speakers blasting tunes. The amenity list is as mini as the car: the biggest strut tower brace I've ever laid eyes on and more GP labels on the door sills, dash, and seats. Voila. That's it.
More significant, the pursuit of performance is why adjustable coilovers replace the usual shock and spring pairings found on regular Coopers' corners. At the nose, they're mounted upside-down to benefit lateral and longitudinal stiffness, says JCW.
The front Kumho Ecsta V700 tires are positioned with more camber and less toe-in in an effort to reduce understeer and improve steering feel. There's less camber and toe-in at the rear so the Mini's 2600 pounds transfers smoothly under the constant duress of hard driving.
The list goes on. Its steering system gets a revamped calibration for GP duty, specifically in Sport mode when it returns a heavier feel. There are more lenient traction and stability controls working together with the front's electronically activated limited-slip differential allowing for some sideways leeway and less electronic intrusion. They prevent any annoying power reductions -- the usual response aimed at righting the Mini's course.
It slips through the air better than its siblings. There's no disputing the fact that it's a rolling brick of British muscle, but after hundreds of hours of runs on the Nürburgring Nordschleife, the GP's chief proving ground, JCW's aerodynamicists cut lift by 90 percent at the rear axle -- yes, 90 -- and drag by 6 percent. The back end's sculpted diffuser is the reason for this massive reduction in toxic aero. Slits in the chassis' underside shield direct air into the twin-scroll turbocharger.
The little 1.6-liter four-cylinder squeezes out 211 horses and 192 lb-ft of torque (207 lb-ft with overboost), three horses more than a regular JCW Hardtop. All that pull can be tapped at just 1750 rpm, or in real world terms, almost immediately. When launching from a stop, the GP annihilates its Kumhos through first and second gears, which our test team happily did at the Streets of Willow.
We made it to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, making the GP the second quickest Cooper to park in our garage (our long-term 2009 Mini Clubman JCW did it in 5.7 seconds). The GP saw a quarter-mile in 14.3 seconds at 99.9 mph and took 109 feet to stop from 60 mph both -- bests for a Mini.
Yet, it was the g-forces that had our test team, including our racer-on-retainer Randy Pobst, grinning.
It put down a 0.98 average lateral g on the skidpad and ran our telling figure-eight course in 25.1 seconds at an average of 0.73 g. No other Mini can claim those kinds of numbers. None. Nil. A 252-horse Ford Focus ST would nip at its heels in both speed (5.9 seconds/14.6 seconds at 95.7 mph/25.5 seconds at 0.73 g average) and stick (0.97 g).
"This is the only car -- for a long while -- that I've driven here at Streets of Willow for Motor Trend that made me laugh out loud and that was extremely enjoyable," noted Pobst. "It's really, really firm; really, really, well-balanced for a front-wheel drive car. I have found that other Mini Coopers of all sorts to be too dicey on entry, and then push real bad under power and have big wheelspin. But this car does not have the wheelspin issue because it has a limited slip…The car feels so light and agile, and it's just an excellent tool for track work. It's a car I would actually like to own."
So, I'm certifiably LOL-ing like Pobst on pavement nearly 6000 feet above sea level, lunging posthaste into my next apex. Again, the King was absurd in all the right ways. The gravitational forces pulling and pushing me to and fro were as intriguing to my conscience as they were trying on my body. The increased heart rate, the puckered you-know-what, the tense muscles instantly turned to Jell-O – they were reactions I don't usually get inside of a Mini Cooper.
The center exhaust shoots roiled crackles and pops as I come off throttle from high revs. The GP is one of those cars that feels quicker than the numbers indicate. The Getrag transmission's throws are snappy, mechanical, tight; thrust arrives copiously, in a panic almost, once past 4000 rpm. The brake pedal lacks feel at initial toe-in, then, bam! The six-piston, 13-inch front Brembos bite, and they bite hard.
Turn-in is authentically kart-esque -- fast, reflexive, controllable -- more so than in any other road-going Cooper. Smooth oversteer initializes soon thereafter, not too abruptly or for too long. A hint of plowing creeps in midcorner, then, finally, if said corner has enough gradualness to it, a catchable tail wag crystallizes the entire venture as full throttle engages. Yes, a tail wag. Its compact body keeps flat, its gummy tires remain stuck, and forget the grin -- my mouth is hanging wide open.
Ten minutes later, traffic thickens. I expected as much. Today has so far been beautiful. San Diego's rural north country is where enormous trees and burnt brown rocky mountains live below cloudless skies. I grew up here. People love taking pictures of this stuff, and I can't blame them.
For all of its grace in the esses, the GP, like any truly athletic vehicle, pays little attention to preserving passenger comfort at school zone speeds. The keen steering and firm coilovers, for instance, articulate seemingly every nuance passing under the specially developed rubber. It's noisy inside, and the four teeny speakers in the doors are lackluster at best. It simultaneously tires you out and to some extent, energizes you.
Crawling into Mother's Kitchen at the summit, next to the quaint general store and post office, is tricky given the assemblage of sport bikes and rental Dodge Chargers, even for a king. That fact alone is telling: The GP looks and sounds almost like any other JCW Hardtop. People don't notice it, and if they do, it's because they saw the big red bar in the back, or observed it dancing on their tailpipe in the canyon.
This is a car that decimates the notion that 3-second zero-to-60 sprints and 500 horsepower are the key to driving bliss. Of course, for its $40,000 asking price, you could get one and a half Scion FR-Ss and a little less Subaru BRZ. You'll end up with a similar driving sensation and more comfort and practicality. Rear-wheel drive does have its advantages, but said 40-grand price tag is also because of this Mini's unique nature.
Only 499 other GPs are on American soil. Another 1500 are in driveways around the globe. So if you see one, know that you're in the presence of royalty. Smile, take an Instagram, look inside to check if it's our Randy Pobst, and bid a kind farewell to King Cooper, the most captivating Mini of all.
|2013 Mini John Cooper Works GP|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$40,045|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 2-pass, 2-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||1.6L/211-hp/192-lb-ft* turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||2604 lb (64/36%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||148.6 x 66.3 x 54.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.9 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.3 sec @ 99.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||109 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.98 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.1 sec @ 0.73 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||26/35/29 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY/COMB||130/96/115 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.66 lb/mile|
|*207 lb-ft with temporary overboost|