"Just head up the road to the right," the MINI representative tells us, proffering the key to a 2013 Mini Cooper John Cooper Works GP. "Go for five miles. Then turn around and come back."
We cock an eyebrow. "Any speed limits up there?"
The MINI guy smiles. "We're on a mountain in Puerto Rico. Good pavement, lots of turns, not many people. Use your judgment."
A hot 30 seconds later, we're buckled into the GP's Recaro racing seat, grinning stupidly as the 211-horsepower turbo four hums an impatient tune through its center-mounted exhaust pipes.
This is shaping up to be a rather entertaining afternoon.
A Very Special MINI
If you keep up with car news, you'll know that special-edition MINIs are a dime a dozen. Case in point: The BMW-owned brand recently announced a Clubman Bond Street wagon that's named after a random shopping district in London. It's the automotive equivalent of a designer handbag.
But the 2013 MINI Cooper John Cooper Works GP is a different beast.
There's only been one other JCW GP, and that was back in 2006. The formula was simple: Take the already potent John Cooper Works MINI hatchback and make it a truly epic performance car. There's no debate as to whether MINI succeeded; just check the classifieds, where you'll find that even a high-mileage 2006 JCW GP can command well over $20,000 -- this for a car that originally cost $31,150. Among die-hard MINI enthusiasts, it's considered the best modern MINI of them all.
Until now, that is, because the 2013 JCW GP picks up right where the 2006 model left off. Like the original, the new GP lacks a backseat; MINI ripped that out to save weight and the GP has indeed shed about 100 pounds. Also, the standard JCW's already sporty suspension has been thoroughly revised for GP duty, including manually adjustable coil-over springs and an even lower ride height.
The brakes, too, have been spruced up, employing larger 13-inch discs in front for track-ready stopping power. And the familiar turbocharged 1.6-liter motor was significantly revised as well, even if its 211-hp output -- just three more than the regular JCW -- suggests otherwise.
Plus, there are those standard, GP-exclusive Recaro seats up front, which are massively more supportive than the other chairs in MINI's stable.
But we knew all that before we grabbed the key, and the $39,950 question still wouldn't go away. That's right -- MINI wants almost forty large for each of the 2,000 GPs slated for production, including 500 for U.S. customers. Could any MINI be worth that much, especially when the regular JCW is readily available for a mere $30,800?
That's why we made the trek to rural Puerto Rico: MINI had arranged a driving event with multiple GPs on hand, and we needed a proper introduction.
MINI Be Nimble, MINI Be Quick
Buckled into our form-fitting Recaro, we're honestly not expecting the GP to be that great. Oh, the drive itself should be a blast, because any turbocharged MINI will show you a good time -- but come on, $40,000? That's BMW 135i money. No way this thing's going to win us over at that price.
But then we punch the gas. Hello. There's a throatiness that we're not used to hearing from this motor, and a uniquely free-revving character as well. With its estimated 6.0-second sprint to 60 miles per hour, the JCW GP is only moderately fast by current standards, but it feels fantastic at full throttle. These are 211 highly trained horses, and the way they work together evokes the elegant aggression of a BMW M3, never mind the 135i.
Then there's the handling, which is likewise a revelation. As confidence builds, we push the GP progressively harder through uphill S-curves, probing for weakness at the limit. What we find instead is a perfectly neutral cornering attitude, with even a touch of oversteer available if you reach for it. That's exceedingly rare in a front-wheel-drive car, and we're told later that it's down to the GP's tweaked camber and toe-in settings. As for the aforementioned coilover suspension, it's simply amazing, as it yields barely more body roll than a go-kart yet takes mid-corner bumps in stride.
In short, MINI wanted the GP to be a race car for the street, and by the time we reach the 5-mile mark and reverse course, we're thinking they've hit the bull's-eye.
Drive the GP like we're driving it and you'll know exactly where all that extra money went.
Catch One If You Can
Given the 500-unit limit for American customers, it's going to be hard to get your hands on one of these. But now that we've experienced the GP firsthand, we have to admit that $39,950 doesn't seem so unreasonable anymore. In fact, when we take the expected high resale value into account, it starts to seem downright appealing. As expensive toys go, you could do a lot worse than a 2013 John Cooper Works GP.