Robert Stumpf is a happy man. Mini’s driving dynamics guru has been getting the same response from just about everyone that drives his new baby, the JCW GP.
This review was first published in MOTOR magazine's January 2013 issue.
That is, breathless smiles and universal praise for a car that lifts Mini’s hottest hatch to an impressively high level. A limited production run of 2000 GPs has just kicked off, and only 30 are ear-marked for Australia.
But far from a paint and graphics tart-up, it’s claimed to be the fastest Mini ever built (8min 23sec around the Nurburgring Nordschleife), and is the result of intensive engineering and development work across the engine, suspension and chassis.
The GP’s 1.6-litre, DI, twin-scroll turbo four boasts an aluminium block and bearing mounts, high-spec pistons, revised cylinder head, lightened crank, and sodium-filled exhaust valves. The result is 160kW (up from 151) and 0-100km/h in a claimed 6.3 sec (down from 6.5), the latter number also assisted by a slightly lower diff ratio (3.71 v 3.65).
But it’s when the road starts to curve that this go-kart for grown-ups really comes into its own. Herr Stumpf and his team of go-fast boffins have slipped in an individually adjustable coil-over suspension, that allows ride height to be lowered by up to 20mm.
In an exotic touch, the front shock absorbers are mounted upside down in their tubes, with piston rods pointing down, to increase longitudinal and lateral stiffness. As well, the front wheels cop extra neg camber and reduced toe-in, while track is increased by 20mm at the front and 5mm at the rear.
At the same time, 17-inch alloys, derived from those on the MINI Challenge race car, and carefully shaped to accommodate bigger brakes and shod with Kumho Ecsta semi-slick rubber (slightly narrower, full tread tyres are a no-cost option). The front brake rotors are bumped up to 330mm (from 316mm), clamped by six-piston calipers.
Inside it’s all familiar territory until you notice the rear seats are MIA, with a meaty strut bar spanning the now empty rear section. The chance to steer this feisty little rarity comes at the ‘Circuito Mallorca RennArena’; a surprisingly serious 3.2km track on Spain’s famous resort island (and Christopher Skase’s hide-out of choice).
To keep the engine on the boil at ten-tenths, the GP’s race mode disconnects DSC from the traction control system; the main assistance to limit wheelspin in tight corners coming from the electronic LSD. And there’s no doubt this screamer has huge dynamic ability. The GP’s rorty exhaust note bounces around the stripped down interior, and the car remains stable and composed under pressure.
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Grip from the R-spec rubber is predictably mega, and body control is superb. Steering is sharp, the Recaro seats are grippy, and there’s barely a squeak of protest as the GP gets its power down and rockets out of tight corners fairly rapidly. Aero additions (rear diffuser, underside panelling, roof-edge spoiler) make a genuine difference.
In fact Mini claims lift forces at the rear axle are reduced by 90 percent. Equally at home on long sweepers and high frequency transitions this is a performance car of the highest quality. At $56,900 it ain’t cheap, but hot hatches this good don’t come along every day.
2013 Mini JCW GP Specs:
Engine: 1598cc 4cyl, DOHC, 16v turbo
Power: 160kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 280Nm @ 2000-5100rpm
Weight: 1160kg 0-100km/h 6.3 seconds
Top Speed: 242km/h