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MotoringFile First Drive: 2013 MINI JCW GP

Six years ago a legend was born. MINI released the GP to a market that wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it. The stickers, the lack of rear seats, a big wing received more than a few sideways looks from critics (us included). Despite the skepticism, the GP performed better than any MINI ever had, and crucially for MINI, it sold. Along the way, the car changed opinions across the automotive world (us included). Driving was believing as this “parts bin” car seemed to transcend the status quo and take MINI driving back to it’s simplistic roots.

Fast forward six years and we have a new GP. One that looks the part but, like the original, has garnered mixed opinions among the motoring press and enthusiasts alike. The critics point at 211 hp, down three from the original, and a set of graphics that some call garish. Yet there are signs that MINI did this second generation JCW GP even more right this time. With a coil-over suspension and six-pot brakes up front, for example. So what kind of GP is this? We flew to Mallorca in Spain, to Circuito Mallorca RennArena, to answer that question and get the story behind it all.

“Bonkers.”

That was our consensus with the first GP. If the standard R53 Cooper S was visceral, the GP was twice that in terms of driving experience. Small, nimble and quick, it proved itself the second you took a corner at speed. Yet, it was flawed. It was a “parts bin” car that, while successful, didn’t feel like it had BMW’s typical Germanic stamp of perfection on it. At the time, we thought maybe that’s a good thing. Yet now that we’ve seen what MINI can really do (with more time and money), we’re left reevaluating the first GP a bit.

We’re going to tip our hat here. It may come as no surprise that the 2013 R56 JCW GP is the fastest MINI of all time. Yet what may be surprising is that it’s the most involving and engaging MINI we’ve ever driven. At the heart of this are four crucial additions to the standard JCW Hardtop: suspension, aero, electronics and brakes.

The GP’s fully adjustable coil-over suspension is the single biggest addition over the standard JCW. As much as the tires allow for maximum lateral G forces, they’d be worthless without this suspension. The proper negative camber allows them to grip at an almost impossible level. Much like an M car of the 80’s, the GP isn’t dominated by the engine or any one single aspect of the drivetrain. Instead, it feels like a cohesive performance statement. Not really something MINIs are known for, frankly.

Turn-in is immediate thanks to the quick ratio of the stock MINI steering. However, the bite is tenacious and there’s a fluidity in the new GP that’s missing in JCW. Thanks to the completely reworked suspension, the weight transfer is incredibly precise and the driver is given a level of information and control I’ve never experienced in a factory-stock MINI.

Even the JCW Coupe feels ham-fisted in comparison. There’s much less of the plow into corners as the front-end grips almost endlessly. When it does give-way (and make no mistake it eventually does understeer) it does so gradually allowing the driver plenty of opportunities to re-evaluate and make corrections as needed.

MINI first started testing the GP (at the ‘Ring naturally) during the summer of 2011. While the components were all there, it took another year to complete the fine-tuning of the car. Additionally, much of MINI’s race car development factored into the suspension and braking setup on the GP.

To this point, MINI Boss Dr Kay Segler stressed to me that the GP is 100% about the driving experience, not the horsepower rating. Sure, it sounds like marketing talk, but behind the wheel it makes sense. The E30 M3 had less than 200 hp in the US, and it weighed more than the GP does. And yet, it’s revered by purists as the pinnacle of the M brand. The R56 GP does one better by adding more power, more torque, immensely better brakes and modern electronics.

Dr. Selger went on to say that the same can be said of the most recent M5 (a car he oversaw while he ran BMW M). They could have easily tuned the engine up to 600+ hp. Instead, they purposefully kept the power around 560 hp (tough life right?) so that the engine wouldn’t dominate the experience. It sounds a little insane with power at that level, but having recently reviewed the M5 on BimmerFile I can attest to it being true. The car is more than the sum of its parts rather than simply a 5 Series with a huge engine. The same principle applies to the new GP.

If you read between the lines of what MINI is telling us, it would seem that dramatic power increases in the JCW power plant were simply off the table. The GP is equipped with the same 1.6L engine found in the standard JCW cars save for the Countryman. MINI massaged the engine electronically to increase power from 208 to 218 in most markets. However in the US, thanks to potential homologation costs for such short production run, the output is only bumped to 211. This gives the GP 0-60 times of around six seconds. The fastest MINI yet but clearly not at the upper echelon of mid-priced performance cars. So without a significant power increase, what is the measure of performance? Simple. The ‘Ring. The benchmark became to create a new GP that was dramatically faster around the Nurburgring Nordschleif, but with only a modest power bump.

With faster ‘Ring lap times as the goal, MINI looked at a number of solutions, including even all wheel drive. Yet as Dr. Kay Segler himself told me, once they looked at the options, they were convinced that more power and more wheels moving only added complexity. It also took away from the purity of the driving experience. While there are specific instances where power helps, on a twisty, technical track like the ‘Ring, it only disturbs the weight distribution on a car as small as the MINI. AWD also disrupts balance and adds unnecessary weight to the car. To further prove this out, they talked to the leading MINI team in the German VLN series — one that has a number of larger and faster cars competing. Their MINIs consistently leading on tracks such as the ‘Ring and Hockenheim with a tuned JCW engine and front wheel drive. All wheel drive simply didn’t interest them.

As much as the suspension defines this car and reduces lap times, the braking performance is also a key part of both its ‘Ring time and its character. The six-pot Brembo front brakes don’t blow me away with their stopping power initially. Yet lap after lap, I realized that I could go deeper and deeper into corners. After my ten laps (and countless other laps by a few other journalists) there was basically no brake fade to speak of. This braking setup is very close to that on the BMW 135i, with these huge brakes up front and standard JCW hardware on the rear wheels.

MINI also sweated the details when it came to the aerodynamics. Remember that wing on the original GP? MINI knew they could do better. Now that BMW has one of the best wind tunnels complexes in the world, MINIs are getting a lot smarter at cheating the wind. The subtle differences between the first GP and the new one demonstrate that. The GP’s redesigned, smaller rear wing is dramatically better at reducing lift. How much? An astonishing 90%. Drag is also down 6% thanks to the use of underbody trays around the engine compartment and some subtle panel additions near the front bumper.

Electronics also play a big role in the new GP. As anyone who’s driven a high powered M car from the past year can attest to, power management has advanced dramatically since 2006. The GP’s new system allows for much more slip and aggression before intervening. Yet when it does intervene, it does so with a light and almost invisible touch. It’s the sort of thing that makes a driver look even better at the limit than they actually are.

MINI didn’t shy away from the weight topic when I brought it up. Because the R56 is a much more weight-optimized car than the R53, it’s much harder to strip out the 60-odd lbs pulled from the R53 GP. Thing is, the R56 GP did lose weight. It just gained it back in better seats, brakes, etc.

There will be no mass-marketing for the GP. There won’t be a Superbowl commercial. There won’t be one of MINI’s famous outdoor stunts. MINI’s marketing strategy for the GP is to simply allow MotoringFile and other media outlets to tell the story of this car. Simple and straightforward. Go where the enthusiasts are. I could see the look of excitement on the face of the GP’s product manager when he asked me what I thought of the GP. Keep in mind, within the past week I’ve driven a JCW Roadster, a BMW 1M and a BMW M5. Yet after all of them, the GP was an astonishing amount of fun. Maybe not as immediately visceral and grin-inducing as the original (supercharger whine tends to do that), but this car is genuinely, intensely fun around the track. As everyone knows, grins get bigger the faster you go around corners. At that metric, the new GP is unrivaled in the MINI world. Past and present.

MINI USA will be allotting one of the 500 US bound $39,950 GPs to each dealer in the US for March delivery. The rest however will go to customers on a first come first serve basis. MINI USA will open a toll-free reservations number in mid-November that will allow anyone to plunk down a deposits (likely around $1,000) and name their dealer where they want to take delivery.

Allocations outside the US will be roughly similar to the original 2006 GP.

Sure, the new GP is noticeably different than the original. I think one can look at it two ways. The new GP isn’t as raucous and visceral as the 2006 version. Yet, it’s much more well-sorted. It’s simply better at going fast. There’s less bark but there’s a hell of a lot more bite this time around.

No one at MINI will ever brag about it directly, but they nailed it with this car and they know it. It’s a statement left unsaid, but I couldn’t agree with it more. I wasn’t alone. Even the most jaded journalist in our press group (who is far more jaded than even the harshest critic of the GP here on MF) was clearly impressed with the car.

With the 2013 GP, MINI did it right. Suspension, brakes, electronics, aero and yes, weight. In doing so they’ve raised the bar dramatically from the first GP. It’s something the numbers and the photos just couldn’t tell us. There really is no substitute for good old fashioned seat time The power figures may be less than we expected on paper, but the fun factor and outright speed is way up. What MINI, and more specifically JCW, have finally created is a car that feels M-worthy.

The JCW GP at the Track

MINI JCW GP Gallery

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Written By: Gabe

  • skithund

    Any word on whether “GP2″ parts (coil-over, rear wing) ordering will be restricted to chassis number, like the original GP was?

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      Yes they will be restricted.

      • Edge

        If past history proves to repeat itself (from the R53 GP), the restriction will only be enforced by MINIUSA, not MINI International. In other words, find an international parts supplier and you can ignore MINIUSA’s decision to limit GP-unique parts to only GP owners.

        • walk0080

          Cool because the GP coil-overs sound like a great upgrade for my 2012 JCW some day (along with better tires) should I decide not to go for after-market.

          I notice that the GP has 215/40R17 which is the size I am considering next too.

      • Dr Obnxs

        And there’s always the technique of getting a VIN from an eBay add or something. Takes a while, but this channel works too.

    • Dr Obnxs

      Here’s the not very well kept secret. Wait a bit… When the cars come up for sale, lots of the adds list VIN numbers……

  • Bob Hayhurst

    Thanks for getting this out so quick Gabe. BTW, great pictures of Majorca and the GP’s.

    I’ve been waiting (patiently) for this article/review to see if GP II was at least what I was told it would be. It would seem that your experience here confirmed that expectation. I am curious about the ride quality; how would you describe it? My ’03 S w/ sport suspension was basically punishing while my ’12 S w/sport suspension seems almost tame. Was ride quality something you could live with or something you would just have to except particularly from a car w/ a coilover suspension.

    • walk0080

      I think I read the GP suspension is relatively quite harsh and that is perhaps why they stuck with 17″ wheels and non-run-flat tires. I am curious though if the GP (without run-flats) harshness is similar to a JCW suspension car w/ run-flats?

      • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

        Sorry I missed this question initially. The track was quite rough and the GP felt generally softer and more comfortable than a run flat shod JCW.

  • HH

    Thanks for the review Gabe. after pulling out my deposit from GP, I pretty much test drove every car in the $25k – $35k range and I ended up ordering a JCW hardtop. Pepper white w/Red top. I didn’t get to test drive the JCW but Cooper S was definitely enough for me to order the JCW.

    Abarth was fun to drive but I think they used glue to put the car together….

    After driving the Abarth, I don’t understand people that drive it… I don’t think they test drove any other cars.

    Focus ST was actually surprisingly amazing… drove better than the GTI.

    I can’t wait til my JCW gets here… GP was little too expensive for me and I configured my JCW to be a “driver’s car” with just recaro seats and some luxuries… ending up at 33600 with dealer discounts and other discounts.

    does the 2013 JCW differ alot from 2012 JCW?

    • John

      New more efficient engine in 2013 JCWs.

      • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

        And better mid-range.

  • brt356

    Thank you for sharing your driving impressions and insightful article of the 2013 GPII. You did a great job quantifying what, until now were mere speculations. Car enthusiast can rest easy knowing that both generations of GP cars can, in fact, share the same stage & be held in high esteem. Time changes things, cars improve, but when those improvements go towards advancing the driving experience, then that has to be a good thing. So, differences exists — but that doesn’t mean one car is “better” than the other. Both GP’s are great cars in their own way and those who own them will enjoy the heck out of driving them. I wasn’t able to get my hands on an original 2006 GP, but I am guaranteed for a 2013 GP, and I am most assuredly looking forward to my first drive! Gabe, thanks again for your expert analysis, great new pics, and for sharing YOUR first GP test drive with us!

  • John
    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      separates the the luggage area from the passenger area.

      • John

        On the hatch door I meant. There is a red rectangle on the hatch door that I can’t make out what it is.

        • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

          That’s the emergency triangle.

        • John

          Didn’t even think of that, lol! Thanks, Gabe.

      • Ike

        Is it removable?

  • IowaM1N1

    Great write up, Gabe!

    This forced me to go back and re-read the write up of GP1 here: http://www.motoringfile.com/2006/12/18/motoringfile-review-jcw-gp/ (By the way ….that GP0317 sure looks familiar for some reason… Hi Deb & Todd! Miss you guys!)

    Anyway, looking for patterns here…. Recalling that the aluminum rear suspension components were R56 pieces that MINI pulled forward to use in the R53 GP1, do we see any of the components as previews of things we’ll see on the F56? Maybe the coilover suspension? Six-piston calipers? Revised electronics?

    -Greg (IowaM1N1, aka Blue Leader)

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      The electronics will be a major story in the next JCW cars and you can bet that what MINI is showing with the new GP will foreshadow that.

  • JonPD

    Good article Gabe, however do have to say not surprised with your take on this. You bought the 1M which despite not having much under the bonnet has a well sorted suspension that helps give the car its personality (not calling the 1M motor bad just not special). I still think the evolution of six years should have seen this car a bit better sorted. While its true that the 1M gets away from the ///M way of doing things recently I still don’t believe this is a large enough step. It feels like a small tweak rather than a evolution of the GP moniker. I think it also puts a hard limit on ever seeing something quicker from MINI in the short run (until the end of the new models). I am sure its owners are going to be happy with the car but honestly would still pick a 06 GP over it in a heartbeat as it has a personality that punches well above its parts. The fact is its only 20 seconds faster around the Ring than the 06 version. The 06 was ran on those miserable run flats versus a performance tire. My belief is that is solid that if you were to put the same rubber on both cars the difference between them is miniscule.

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      It’s so far beyond an evolution. This is a reboot in an almost old-school M way of doing things with bespoke suspension and brakes. N54 in the 1M is certainly special in the grand scheme of things. Not entirely different from the Z435is but crucially altered in the right ways. And the GP feels cut from similar cloth. It doesn’t have the mechanical differences the 1M has but it has the emphasis on chassis and brakes. If you ever wished MINI would follow a more M-like path you can stop wishing. This is it.

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      Forgot to mention I very much disagree with that last sentence after driving the car. The difference is night and day between suspension and that, ultimately, is what allows the tires to generate the grip and acceleration needed for the ‘Ring time.

      • JonPD

        And still only 20 seconds, my bet is you would loose half that difference with the tire change. My biggest hope is to see a match up between GPs on the Ring once this is on the streets with similar tires, would love Evo to pursue this and see how it works out. Still not going to cause the owners from loving their cars, just for me personally still well short of where I think it should have been. Would have to say still think the money you put into the 1M was a much better plan. My money is on betting that your 1M will be nice and secure knowing a GP won’t take its place lol.

        • BimmerFile_Michael

          I completely agree and have been asking a friend at a German publication to compare the GP and JCW with the same tires… my bet is that there is less than 10 seconds difference as with that camber regular tires would become very greasy.

        • R.Burns

          You should know that thé 06 GP had in fact regular tyres when it realized 8’43” ! No runflat…

  • please reply assap

    Wondering if the rear bracing bar is just for decoration or is it actually beneficial to the performance???

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      Decoration.

      • Kurtster

        I thought that might be the case. I was going to have to remove it to put in rear speakers, but since I took my deposit back on this it won’t be an issue for me.

      • thank you for replying

        Are you serious? that red strut bar in the cargo area doesn’t contribute anything to the car? Removing it wouldn’t make it go around the nurburing any slower???? (actually faster cuz saves weight??) woww MINI….mini…. WOW

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bradley-Sketchley/100000398251447 Bradley Sketchley

    Nice read, Gabe. Now let’s just tell MINI to spin those coilovers down a few threads. ;)

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      The coilovers were set to basically a road height to give us a honest assessment of a stock GP coming off of the dealer lot.

  • John McLauchlan

    Gabe,

    Great write-up, and thanks for the first review from behind the driver’s seat. Hope the trip went well.

    I do take exception with one item in the article – the notion that “There is to be no marketing for the GP”. MINI has been marketing this car consistently since last May. There was the world premier online, the unveiling at MINI United, multiple appearances at events throughout the summer in the US and UK, a special “the source” campaign on Facebook, glossy brochures for dealers, numerous production videos released, a direct mail marketing campaign in the US to current GP owners (hey MINIUSA, still waiting for mine to arrive!), the press event in Spain, and probably more to come. They will likely skip print and tv advertising which has no ROI here, but there is clearly a deliberate and ongoing marketing strategy for the GP2.

    Just saying’ ;)

  • piper

    What do you suppose the “average” dealer markup above MSRP will be? Can we expect this lollipop to approach at least 45k out-the-door? If that is the an accurate figure, as many are saying, it will cause many to seriously consider the alternatives in the under 50k range. And there are many.

    • Ike

      $0. Most will sell at regular sticker and maybe $500 for doc fees.

      Considering dealers get $ for you delivering your GP to them from the pre-order list, I would pin 2 local dealers against each other and work a bit of a discount.

      I have mine pre-ordered since September :)

  • that.guy

    “…the stock MINI steering…”

    Too bad about this. I thought the steering was the single biggest disappointment in the R56. Very vanilla. They should have gone back to something closer to the steering on the R53 for this car. Quicker ratio. Better feel.

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      They didn’t and i agree that would have been nice. Yet this car is more engaging then the R53 GP at the limit. As a side note one of the biggest issues with EPS is that suppliers aren’t even making the mechanical systems anymore. It’s literally the only choice for manufacturers like BMW.

      • that.guy

        “more engaging at the limit”

        That would be #14 on the list of Top 100 Meaningless Phrases Used by Auto Reviewers Who Don’t really Understand Chassis Dynamics. :) As a side note to the side note, the R53 had EPS and it’s steering was arguably brilliant.

        • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

          You must have missed the subsequent two paragraphs that break-down how that phrase relates to the GP.

        • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

          Oh missed that second part. The R56 GP (and all R56) are 100% EPS and are thusly all electric – no fluids. The R53/R53 is only an electric pump for the steering rack. Totally different set-up.

        • that.guy

          Ah, that explains it, thanks. Hydraulic steering is the new manual transmission!

        • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

          True.

    • R.Burns

      And more weight ! That is why steerings are electrical….

  • Dr Obnxs

    So, let’s see. The recipe for an improved car is:

    1) Better camber.

    2) Better struts.

    3) Better brakes.

    4) Improved software.

    Looks like the modding community knows what it was doing! This was pretty much my recipe for an improved car (but I added more power as well, I didn’t have to worry about homologazation).

    I’m just jelous that they had a full factory team to tune the bits together, and I had to do it by the seat of my pants!

    Really, this car will do just fine, will sell out, and will do well when used in anger. And like most performance people know, it’s about the balance and complimentarity of parts, not the just the numbers on paper. This is the key to cars like the Miata, and will be the key here.

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      Add:

      • bespoke tires
      • wind tunnel engineered aero
      • Dr Obnxs

        Personally, I hate the word “bespoke”, but that’s just me. There are other “DOT race” tires in about the size needed. The aero is nice, as us modders don’t have wind tunnels to go to. But there are several modders who have done aero, from simple Al sheet metal, to modded R56 panels. It will get you a lot of what the wind tunnel does, but not all.

        The factory tuning is really key though. Really, this is what the price premium over the cost of mods gets you. “dialing in” the car yields great benefits, and many modders never really get it right.

        I hope I get to drive on on a track, but MINI seems to stop at the JCW varients at the events I get to go to.

        But as with the last GP, the paper debates will continue, and the car will punch above it’s weight when out. I hope a lot get driven as intended, as opposed to saved and babied.

      • walk0080

        IMO I think the GP wheels are ugly and sounds like the rear wing is the the single biggest improvement for aero based on your review – which presumably could be ordered/installed at some point on a JCW (?).

        • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

          The defuser shouldn’t he overlooked.

        • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

          Nor the underbody panels.

  • mb

    Great writeup, and I enjoyed the video you posted, too. Followed this car closely as I was just in the market to purchase something new. I’m a bit odd in that I narrowed down leaving my ZHP behind for one of four cars: E46 M, GP2, original GP, E82 135is. I get that 2 of these cars are not in the same price range as the other two. I’m not a car magazine; I shop for what I want within my price range, plain and simple. Prices for the R53 GP were 20-25k, E46M were the same, GP2 we all know is 40k, and the 135is MSRP is higher but can be had just over 40k.

    Well, I wouldn’t have been okay with daily driving the original GP, which to me is an absolute classic. I didn’t want to chase the gremlins of getting a used S54 in the E46 M. That left the GP2 and the 135is. Wasn’t loving the early press on the GP2, but I hadn’t driven the 135is, either. Once I test drove one then found out I could have it for $1,200 more than a GP2, I no longer had any desire to wait for the newest GP. For $1,200 I get 320 HP! I know, I know, horsepower shmorsepower. I get it – I’m of the E30 and R53 ilk; I get the idea of a balanced chassis and am not a street racer needing to “kill” other drivers by accelerating faster than them. I couldn’t care less about that, but $1,200 for 100 HP and a pretty damn involving ride? Case closed considering the holy 1M still can’t be had for 40k on the used market.

    But that doesn’t mean I’m not impressed with this GP2. It’s clearly the best looking R56 they’ve made, and it has the most palatable interior. If history is any indication, I’d say this means good things for the next Cooper S.

  • VanMINI

    Gabe, photo #34 in the gallery shows toggle switches up behind the rear view mirror – with the lack of a sunroof on the GP, what if anything are these for? Ross

  • walk0080

    Great article – thanks for posting. I think this is obviously MINI doing what last “hurrah” for the R56 before it gets replaced and it is a polarizing car for sure. Obviously not marketed to me as I could not justify such an added expense over a JCW and I find the looks with the graphics, etc. not to my taste. (I also already have a JCW so why would I replace it?? ;-)

    I agree with some other posters… This looks promising for us JCW owners and proof that you can take a stock JCW and add coil-overs, better tires, adjust alignment (and if you really want to upgrade the front brakes) and you’ve got a superb track car… not that the stock JCW is anything to sneeze at. :-)

  • akng

    Hi Gab, correct me if I am wrong, but from what I read, it would seem that the GP Engine is the same as the regular 2013 JCW Engines and the output differences would be solely due to the ECU Tuning. In that case, from your test drives, can you even feel the differences between the 2 engines?

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      Yes that’s correct. However I can’t answer the second part as I have yet to drive the 2013 JCW. They’re being produced as we speak.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steveworks Stephen Warwick

    It’s Great for me to read about the JCW GP2, as I wait for my delivery of my GP2 on the 27th November 2012, I have been waiting for 9 months from when I put my £1,000 down, I first seen the GP being testing the year before at the ring in Germany, I new then that this is going to be the car for me, the dealer has been pulling her hair because I keep going up to see her for up dates, I just got the 15 glossy brochures of the GP from the Mini show room the week before the GP is being delivered, I can not wait now it’s only 6 days but it’s like a year to me, Keep up the good and great write-up


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