Good points: rarity, edginess, huge grip and ability, great sound
Not so good: very expensive, very stiff suspension
Test car details:
Model tested: MINI John Cooper Works GP Hatch
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: three-door, two-seat, hot hatch
Rivals: Ford Focus ST, Opel Astra OPC, Mégane Renaultsport 265 Cup
CO2emissions: 165g/km (Band D, €570 per annum)
Combined economy: 39.8mpg (7.1 litres/100km)
Top speed: 242km/h
0-100km/h: 6.3 seconds
Power: 218hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 280Nm at 2,000- to 5,100rpm (on overboost)
The way we see it there will be two different types of buyers of the MINI John Cooper Works GP (a.k.a. MINI GP2): the first is the devoted MINI enthusiast who must have the latest fast version; the second is the driver that will actually use this car's on-track talent to the full. Both of those buyers will have something in common though: a healthy bank balance. That nigh-on €50,000 price tag is no typo. To some, the fact that only 2,000 examples of this car will be produced for worldwide sale is justification enough, but we don't expect everyone to get it. Nonetheless, this car is an occasion and even the cynical among you would have to accept that following a drive.
We detailed the significant changes made to the (already quite fast) John Cooper Works hatch to create the GP model in our first drive at the international launch so no need to repeat ourselves here. At that time we only had the opportunity to drive the car on a warm track so a week at the wheel during winter time in cold and wet Ireland will be a completely different experience.
Ambling through town on the way to more interesting roads it's clear that this is a different beast to any other MINI in the line-up. The brakes are a little grabby at low speeds, the engine delivery 'lumpy' when cold and the suspension completely unyielding. In fairness, all four corners are adjustable and the powers that be reckoned the media would like to try the car in its firmest, lowest settings. This test car was fitted with trick tyres too, which are theoretically unsuited to cold and wet tarmac...
But up the speed and attack a quiet, twisty road and this car comes alive. Press the Sport button and the throttle response sharpens up even more and the power assistance to the steering reduces to bring you closer to the action. Turn-in is razor sharp and there's no slop in the controls. That much we expected, but what's astounding is that a combination of those tyres and the electronic equivalent of a limited slip differential manage to find grip even on cold and wet mountain roads. It really handles the conditions well. There's plenty of movement in terms of a bit of wheel slip here and there, but you soon learn to trust the car and it makes astounding progress. There's little need to use second gear on the move such is the torque on tap and the brakes are formidable.
Although this car has 'only' 218hp at its disposal it feels as quick as any of the current crop of super hot hatches and I wouldn't bet against it in a head-to-head with the likes of the 265hp Mégane Renaultsport. But given that the Mégane, Focus ST and forthcoming Golf GTI all play the (relatively) sensible hatchback role when required this is unlikely to be a comparison made by prospective buyers of the MINI.
Ford Focus ST: like chalk and cheese; the Focus is quite civil and can be used as a family car, though still brilliant to drive.
Opel Astra OPC: even faster and almost as hardcore as the MINI, but not as much of an occasion.
Mégane Renaultsport 265 Cup: fabulously quick, but also special to drive and adept in poor conditions - the one to have.