MINI John Cooper Works. JCW vs GP. Dubai, UAE. Two of a Kind

Mini JCW & Mini GP

When we finally break free of the traffic, we make a beeline for a plot of land we’ve had our eye on for a while just on the outskirts of Dubai’s Motor City. As well as an assortment of backdrops for us to choose from, there’s also a stretch of winding tarmac that doubles back on itself and circles back round to the beginning: we essentially have our own race course.

After James and I swap key fobs, I settle myself in the JCW before nailing the loud pedal. Our test model today – which has already made its crankandpiston bow – has clearly taken some swift media-related beatings since its arrival on the BMW press fleet, as the near-20k on the clock attest. But there’s no denying that the JCW is a feisty little tyke, especially in Sport mode. Peak power comes in at 6000rpm, a bull’s eye the JCW is clearly in a hurry to hit. Lunging away from the line, the front tyres (after a bit of scrabbling admittedly) start to grip, and the charge up the odometer is as linear as it is determined as all 218 horses are spurned on in unison.

Mini JCW & Mini GP

The steering is hefty, the MINI making sure you’re putting your fair share of effort in, but connection to the front wheels is accordingly strong. Only under hard braking do the rears start to twitch, a momentary lapse since they tend to behave themselves. Before too long though a couple of issues do rear their heads. The front wheels, though gamely pulling their weight, will understeer in the tighter turns if power is fed in too aggressively. But that’s not the main issue. No, that would be the gearbox.

I’m still not a fan of the wheel mounted rocker system instead of a traditional paddle shift configuration, and though I eventually get used to forward = downshift, backwards = upshift, I never warm to it. That’s mainly because, as we approach the redline and even when the manual transmission is selected, the system automatically shifts up to protect the engine and gearbox from over-revving. Certainly very clever, but it does tend to ruin your momentum. Several times I find myself going through a sweeping left or right-hander, trying desperately to coerce the gearbox to change down, but to no avail. Accordingly, the balance will disappear as the car tries to wash wide, and I have no choice but to back out. It’s incredibly frustrating, for in the JCW there seems to be more potential that lies agonisingly out of reach.

Mini JCW & Mini GP

After a couple of circuits we swap cars, with me now sliding behind the wheel of the GP and gunning the accelerator. The ferocity under acceleration is still there, and so too – interestingly – are hints of torque steer, the wheel doing its best to squeal away from my grip before second gear is slotted home. A trifling issue though, since we are quickly at the 3000rpm mark, where a lurch from the turbocharger gives me a kick in the back as acceleration picks up apace.

The gearbox issues which had been tormenting me just a few minutes earlier in the JCW are now gone, the red-topped manual gear-lever immediately making me feel more in control, the odd stuffed-gear change aside. What is really apparent is the balance of the car. The torsion bar across the rear of the cabin is designed to keep the chassis stiff and thus offer greater stability. Since the GP (which weighs in at 1160kg) is nearly 50kg lighter than the JCW, flicking the performance model into tight turns can now be accomplished at higher speeds.

Mini JCW & Mini GP

Steering, much as it is in the JCW, is hefty but responsive. And in the GP, it’s all about the front end, where grip is served up by the bucketful. Interestingly, this does rather push focus towards the rear tyres which, by comparison, can feel a little twitchy/playful. But coupled with a clutch pedal and a six-speed manual gear-lever, it’s difficult not to get swept up by the drama of the occasion. With less gadgets and trinkets to shift around and adjustable coilover suspension (excusive to the model) that brings with it superb balance through the bends, the GP feels much more nimble: the much larger Brembo callipers sluice braking distances in half, the front wheels are able to hang on with gusto through the bends, and the kick from the turbocharger punches the hatchback out of every apex. I barely notice that I’ve left James behind.

Categories: Road


Comments are closed