2013 Mini Cooper JCW GP Quick Drive

A fond farewell party with quite an expensive cover charge

I don't know Spanish; I can barely utter a few words of it. I've only been off the mainland U.S. one other time. And yet, here I was in Puerto Rico where English as common as you'd think it would be for a U.S. territory, dive-bombing corners, rev-matching downshifts, and generally driving the 2013 Mini Cooper JCW GP like there was no tomorrow--because there wasn't. I had but a few short hours to drive the car.

Deep in the heart of the island, where tourists rarely travel, I found myself nipping apexes on some of the most harrowing, narrow, overgrown roads I'd ever driven. Braking for dogs and roosters in the middle of the road was commonplace, as was the local who'd be standing in the road, yelling at us in Spanish. I felt guilty for about 30 seconds, until I realized that I hadn't seen a speed limit sign for hours—and I had no idea what he was saying.

The 2013 Mini Cooper JCW GP is this Mini model's parting shot, as the current generation ends its go in the U.S. after seven years to be replaced with an all-new, perhaps bigger and more refined, Mini at the end of the year. Driving it like a madman on bombed out roads in Puerto Rico was, somehow, exactly right.

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Model and Price

While the Mini Cooper hardtop starts at around $21,000, the $39,950 Mini Cooper JCW GP is a whole 'nother animal. In the Mini hatchback hierarchy, the 121-horsepower Cooper is at the bottom of the ladder. The 181-horsepower Cooper S comes next. The John Cooper Works edition with a stiffer suspension and 208 horsepower starts around $31,000.

The 2013 Mini Cooper JCW GP is a 211-horsepower, bare essentials club racer version of the JCW, with a more aggressive suspension, a rear seat supplanted by chassis stiffening parts, a louder and freer-flowing exhaust, Recaro sport seats, a bespoke Thunder Grey and red paint job, carbon fiber spoiler, and numbered plaque inside the car. World production is set for just 2,000 units; the U.S. and its territories are getting 500. Mini reps say the brand has already sold 130 destined for the States before the car reaches dealerships in March.

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Safety and Key Features

The 2013 Mini Cooper JCW GP benefits from all the same safety systems as the standard-issue Mini--airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control, etc. However, the JCW GP's driving dynamics were developed on Germany's Nurburgring Nordschleife racetrack--famous in many commercials as a test facility for automakers. With an adjustable suspension, our tester was dialed in to maximize its grip on the cobbled roads and still provide a modicum of comfort. That same responsiveness that makes the GP more fun to drive also make it more responsive in avoiding accidents. In other words, you can drive around problems instead of just crashing into them.

Family Friendliness and Utility

With no rear seat, you're going to have plenty of room to haul a weekend's worth of luggage, but your sole passenger may grow to hate you, suffering from carsickness as you intentionally avoid highways at all costs. If you're OK with that, then get the Cooper JCW GP. But you've been warned: it's about as family friendly as anything starring Jenna Jameson. If you don't know who she is, turn your Google Safe Search on first before you conduct any research.

Along with the rear seat delete, Mini has added a small brim to keep your luggage from making its way to the passenger space in hard cornering, helping it score some brownie points for practicality. And look on the bright side, at least Mini didn't weld the hatch shut for further structural bracing.

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Comfort and Quality

The Mini Cooper GP's stitched, soft-touch dashboard, chrome toggle switches, and Recaro seats adorned in buttery soft leather, all deliver on the car's "premium compact" mission, as it should for the price Mini is asking. But our favorite was the fat, leather-wrapped steering wheel; it falls into grip as though your hands were designed for it, and not the other way around. As the end of an era for the Mini Cooper, it's exactly the sort of craftsmanship you should savor, with a minimal amount of hard plastics present.

If you're a Mini enthusiast, you're going to giggle with delight at the look and feel. If not, you may think it's an ergonomic mess, with a speedometer centered in the dashboard instead of behind the steering wheel, seats that, allow for too much lateral motion for some, too-shallow cupholders, and buttons and knobs that forego convention for an ambience unlike anything else sold today. There's no in between "Adore" and "Loathe."

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How it Drives

Stick the little disk Mini calls a key into the dash, press the start button, and the car rumbles to life with a throaty exhaust note that's somewhere between a standard-issue Cooper S and the raucous flamboyant voice of the Fiat 500 Abarth.

Everything in the Mini Cooper JCW GP is designed to feel lightweight: the steering; the clutch; and the long, light throws the six-speed manual goes through, clicking from gear to gear. You sit upright, with the expansive windshield giving you uninhibited visibility. Once you start ripping through the gears, the car whistles near the top of its 7,000 rpm engine redline. It pulls forward without the tug on the steering wheel known as torque steer, which powerful front-wheel-drive cars often exhibit. Mini says the car hits 60 mph from standstill in 5.9 seconds; we think that's modest.

The GP easily corners without the nose-heavy feel of front-wheel drive cars. In fact, it rewards good drivers in aggressive cornering with a rear end that provides the same easily controllable, tail-happy fun that you'd get from a Volkswagen GTI. But what was more impressive was how effortless it was to control the car on such bad roads. When it came time to slow the car to avoid blind corners, rogue Suzuki 4x4s, or the odd rooster in the street, the Cooper's upfitted Brembo brakes handled the task with such force that the loose road would spit up stones.

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It handles well. It drives well. It looks stylish--even with the ADHD paint job--and it feels like a quality product. So is there anything wrong with the Cooper GP? Sure. The Recaros could use more side support; the shifter tends to go into reverse when downshifting from third to second gear, and could use a reverse-lockout for the manual—but every Mini stick-shift Mini has that problem.

Then there's the price. At $39,950 all in, it's not cheap, but Mini points out that the desirability for these vehicles will keep their value high. Indeed, the 2006 GP is fetching just $8,000 less than its $33,000 brand-new price today after being on the market for eight years. Keeping U.S. numbers to 500 total will preserve value.

If you're cross shopping, a loaded up Subaru BRZ comes in $10,000 less expensive, but minus the interior quality and refinement. And battling it out at $40,000 are the 400-plus-horsepower, track-ready Ford Mustang Boss 302 and Chevrolet Camaro 1LE. They'd lay waste to the Cooper nearly every track in the world. A more fair comparison is probably the Volkswagen Golf R, a vehicle which costs thousands less but doesn't have quite the character of this Anglo-Teutonic hatch from Oxford. Any way you look at it, the 2013 Mini Cooper JCW GP is an irrational buy -- a great car, but horribly irrational.

Then again, if we let rationality dictate all of our decisions, we'd be driving Toyota Camrys. And I would have taken Spanish in school instead of German.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $39,950
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 26 mpg
EPA Highway: 35 mpg
EPA Combined: 29 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 382.8 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Above Average

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Terry Rotton
Terry Rotton

I have a 2008 Mini Clubman S and have NEVER had one issue. Im about to hit 100,000 miles. Mini Service and my Local Mini Technician have always been the best and fair. Unlike any other brand (car) ive owned. Great car! Great overall company!