► Mini's latest hardcore GP
► 302bhp, FWD, auto 'box
► 575 are coming to the UK
The one thing they don’t teach a car at John Cooper Works is how to relax. This new Mini GP in particular is delivered ex-factory, pre-loaded and wound-up, with a burning desire to shock.
When the driver poises the metaphorical taser, it duly wriggles in anticipation like a toddler desperate for a pee. This car is a live wire that needs to be earthed by gripping hands, strong-armed by broad shoulders, controlled by a fearless and focused mind.
This thing sounds serious!
You could say that. Fitted with large eye-catching wheel arch flares made from recycled matte black carbon fibre shavings found in the i3 and i8 waste bin, forged four-spoke lightweight rims, and a rear wing inspired by the boxy turbojet housings of the supersonic Concorde aircraft, this gunmetal tarmac peeler is all muscle and zero body fat.
The cockpit is equally focused. Take for instance the near perfect driving position which makes you instantly feel in command. Relish the excellent seats, the generous adjustment range, the ideal distance to the pedals, the splendid visibility, the huge instruments, the unambiguous primary ergonomics. In contrast, the trademark central round display is primarily there for decoration, the wriggly control pod between the seats is best left alone and there is no air to be conditioned and no map to be displayed.
What happens when you hit the loud pedal?
The Mini GP loosely shares its powertrain with the BMW M135i/M235i twins. Special engine upgrades include multiple reinforcements, a bespoke intake and exhaust system, a larger sump and a bigger rear silencer which switches from tenor to bass in sync with revs, gear and throttle aperture.
Unchain the 299lb ft, and the front wheels immediately start scrambling for traction, grip, stability and, eventually, orientation. The standard mechanical diff lock does what it can to keep the car in a reasonably straight line but there’s a lot to handle here. The eight-speed Steptronic DCT is a swift and efficient shifter. Even though a manual gearbox would be a more emotional alternative, right now Mini has none that are strong enough to cope with the ballsy momentum of the turbocharged 2.0-litre four.
With the throttle stapled to the floor, first, second and third come and go in seconds as the car passes the 62mph mark after only 5.2 seconds. The urge does not ease much in fourth and fifth while sixth and seventh are slightly longer legged to give the engine a brief breather before top gear - a proper driving gear, not a CO2 disciple - takes over at 6250rpm. Since the torque curve plateaus from 1750 to 4500rpm, high revs are only of the essence when you're chasing top speed which is, on this particular late spring Tuesday afternoon, an indicated 175mph. So much for self-restraint in times of global climate change...
Must be hardcore to drive…
To prepare what began life as trendy urban runabout into a steroidal track weapon, the body structure, chassis and the driveline had to be practically reinvented for the GP. For a start, there are now four separate cooling circuits protecting the health of the engine, crankcase and transmission. A high-performance fan and a modular coolant storage-and-distribution system assist in coping with high loads and critical temperatures.
Why didn't they equip this 302bhp crackerjack with the ALL4 system? Because ALL4 is an afterthought hang-on concept, a simple traction enhancer available only for Clubman and Countryman. Adding about 80 kilos to the grand total, it relies on relatively slow-acting cogworks which can’t really do active variable torque splits.
There are only a handful of cars which can relay the precise difference between heads and tails as they run over a coin. The Mini GP does not only happily oblige, it even hammers through the exact denomination and the year that particular piece of money was minted.
But ride comfort means nothing to this sinewy animal which instinctively hits back at every pothole, kicks every ridge, snaps at every expansion joint, counts the holes of every drain cover and attempts to fray every hard shoulder it can hook up to. The only mental drive mode it knows is total attack, the only physical limit it accepts is defined by radius, speed and adhesion. Despite the Miniscule footprint and weight, exploring the GP's many talents and overpowering vices calls for a big portion of ability and respect.
Ever wondered what intermittent understeer feels like at 150mph? It’s not near as scary as a high-speed lift-off tail wriggle, but when it occurs you'd still wish for a bleeder valve to dispose of the sudden adrenaline outburst. The holding effort of the steering increases proportionally to the lateral forces, and while the rack-and-pinion device does what it can to plot the course with shark teeth implacability, the level of grip and directional stability varies with every visible and invisible vagary of the road.
Even if God had grown us vice jaws instead of fingers, the motion diagram of a high-speed autobahn corner addressed at the helm of the Mini GP would still resemble the seismic record of a minor earthquake. While backing off is always an option, adding the mildest dab of lock rarely helps - but it can alter the trajectory big-time, with the DSC chips applauding frantically from the grandstands. Whoever said that performance is nothing without control, and control is nothing without compliance, was dead right.
Mini GP: verdict
Just leaf through the bible of absolute automotive no-gos, and the vices are all there in abundance: steering fight, torque steer, waywardness at any speed, marginal ride comfort, man eventually succumbing to machine.
So, why not compromise and check out rivals like the GR Yaris (AWD included), the Megane RS Trophy or the Civic Type R? Because, starting with the number of doors, they don't really compare. It is simply impossible not get a kick out of this doped Mini in Voldemort livery. They may match the Mini GP in the street cred sweepstakes and against the stopwatch, but from behind the wheel, only the car that proudly bears John Cooper's name is pure high dose venom. It must be tamed, not teased.
Do so and the GP hits the bullseye by enabling the reincarnation of puberty and overt childishness regardless of birth date - and that's the number one thing we want in a hot hatch.
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