With the New MINI Mk3 apparently making its debut at the Paris Motor Show in September, rumours are rife that MINI are working on a hardcore John Cooper Works GP replacement.
If you've not heard of the GP, it was a more powerful and lightweight two-seater version of the Cooper S with John Cooper Works tuning kit. Produced by Bertone as a swansong to the first-generation MINI range, it was available in limited numbers and sold out very quickly in 2006 to 2000 lucky buyers.
Anyway, according to reports, the new GP will follow the same lightweight big power formula as the original. The 1.6-litre turbo is expected to be boosted to 220bhp, although it has been suggested that it will be based on the latest coupe.
With no confirmation of GP Mk2, we decided to get the first and fastest current MINI two-seaters together to see which is best.
The GP might be based on a standard first-generation Cooper S, but with the one-off body kit, lowered stance and unique alloys it couldn't be mistaken for a lesser MINI.
The biggest opinion divider apart from the body kit has to be the MINI Challenge-inspired carbon fibre rear wing. Some might call it a boy racer addition, I see it as a statement of the GP's intent.
The Coupe, even in quickest John Cooper Works form, is a different animal. Built on a 5mm longer, modified and more rigid convertible chassis, it has stayed remarkably true to the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show Concept.
The most striking change over the standard hatch has to be the more steeply raked windscreen and lower roof, especially in the red finish of the test car - with the contrasting stripes. Designed to look like a baseball cap that's being worn backwards, it has to be the most controversial part of the Coupe's styling.
The first modern MINI to adopt the traditional 'three-box' body structure, (splitting the car into distinct segments – the engine compartment, cabin and boot), the JCW Coupe is fitted with a GP rear wing-rivalling active rear spoiler. Rising at 50mph, it is not just for show as it adds up to 40kg of downforce to the rear axle.
Compared to the extrovert exterior, on first glance, the interior of the GP perhaps doesn't look so special. Look closer though and there are unique features that mark out this fast 2006 MINI.
Most obvious are the excellent leather-trimmed Recaro sport seats which make for a comfortable driving position. Then, there are the grey dials and the numbered plaque on the dashboard.
It might be a lightweight version of the Cooper S, but thankfully luxuries such as air-conditioning and a CD player were included as standard equipment.
I'm sure there's some GP influence on the JCW Coupe interior, as our test car had distinctive red dashboard and door trims (a £45.00 option). Plus, there are grey dials. With the optional leather and suede trimmed upper and lower dashboard trims (an £805 option) and the matching steering wheel, it feels much more luxurious than the GP.
Don't worry, if you're a tall MINI fan like me, you'll still fit in the Coupe, as oval recesses in the headlining give useful extra headroom.
Losing the rear seats on both MINIs has had a positive effect on the usually meagre load space. In fact, the GP has 670 liters versus the Coupe's 280 litres. Out of the two, I'd say that the Coupe has more useable, practical space as the GP's load area isn't flat and is compromised by the non-functioning brace bar.
So what was the GP and JCW Coupe like to drive and which is our favourite?
The GP is powered by a tweaked version of the supercharged, Chrysler-supplied 1.6 petrol engine. The addition of a blower certainly addresses many of the standard engines shortfalls, but an extra two rows of cooling fins and a software upgrade that includes a 200rpm higher rev limit only equals 8bhp more than a standard JCW converted S.
Still, when new the GP was good for 218bhp at 7,100rpm, with torque also up to 250Nm at 4,600rpm. The low mileage GP in the pictures certainly didn't feel short of go, dispatching the 0-60mph sprint in 6.2 seconds, with a top speed of 146mph.
The 208bhp JCW Coupe is powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder, twin-scroll turbocharged engine supplied by PSA PeugeotCitroen. Besides being the most powerful engine to be fitted in a MINI, it is torquey too with 198lb-ft.
Turbocharging means that the Coupe is the more relaxed driving companion, but it lacks the charisma and distinctive supercharged soundtrack of the GP. In the reality, there's not much difference in terms of performance. The Coupe covers the dash to 60mph in 6.4 seconds, with a top speed of 149mph and all with Co2 emissions of 165g/km.
The big difference between these two MINIs is the way they handle. MINI are making great claims for the Coupe's bespoke chassis set-up and the stiffer body shell, but initially we struggled to notice any differences over the current hatch. However, having driven the cars back to back, the contrasts became more obvious.
The Coupe's bespoke spring and damper settings, plus the thicker anti-rollbars equal the sharpest handling and turning modern MINI. However, I do wonder whether some of this sharpness has come at the expense of the ride comfort.
The JCW Coupe on 17-inch alloys jiggled violently over even the smallest road imperfections, not giving enough confidence to make the most of the performance.
The GP might be riding on bigger 18-inch alloys and JCW suspension, but it is a more comfortable satisfying drive than the Coupe. The secondary ride in particular is much more comfortable.
The other major issue I have with the MINI JCW Coupe is with the rear and three-quarter visibility. The Coupe's rear window is shallow and when the rear spoiler extends past 50mph the rear view is almost totally obscured.
The GP's hatchback bodywork has no such issues, despite the rear tints. Even the rear wing doesn't mess up rear vision.
So which is best, GP or JCW Coupe? For us, there isn't a significant difference between driving the hatch and the Coupe, but the GP still feels more special and is a more comfortable drive. With prices for the cheapest GPs starting at just over £10,000, it is the better value prospect compared to the £23,795 price (as tested) of the JCW Coupe.