PONCE, Puerto Rico – Some automotive enthusiasts dream of one day owning a rare exotic car that goes 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 3 seconds, has a top speed of more than 200 mph (322 km/h) and costs six or seven figures. Good luck with that.

Mini fans have more modest aspirations. In fact, the auto maker has a tongue-in-cheek ad that advises consumers to “dream small.” For these moderate strivers, Mini proffers a limited-edition Cooper S hardtop called the John Cooper Works GP.

It’s an expensive step up from the already pricey JCW package, but it is exclusive. The auto maker will produce 2,000 copies worldwide, and just 500 will be sold in the U.S. Each car is numbered.

Priced at $39,950 including destination charges, the 211-hp GP is $9,000 more than the standard 208-hp JCW performance package and about $16,000 above the standard 181-hp Mini Cooper S Hardtop.

It is extravagant, but for the true Mini devotee who wants to be the big man or woman on campus at Mini owner gatherings, (there are a lot all over the world) it is a pint-sized exotic many people can afford.

The GP is similar in concept to Volkswagen’s Golf-based R32 that pops up every four or five years and is snapped up by VW aficionados.

Mini USA Product Manager Johnly Velazquez says first-generation GPs introduced in 2006 have held their value extraordinarily well, and he expects the new GP to do the same.   

Beefed-up suspension and brakes plus special tires and wheels give this distinctive Mini Cooper a triple-dose of the go-kart handling that Mini fans crave. Inside, Recaro seats and a leather-wrapped instrument panel with red-stitching sets it apart from the JCW package with a more luxurious look, finished off with eye-catching bright-red seatbelts.

The rear seats have been replaced by a cargo area spanned by a serious-looking chassis brace that tells you the car is built for the race track. Unfortunately, it’s fibbing when it says that. Mini officials admit the brace is cosmetic, designed mainly to prevent packages from sliding forward into the cockpit. Still, it looks cool.

There is a real strut brace under the hood. Combined with the adjustable coil-over suspension in front and bespoke tires and wheels, the chassis is exceptionally stiff. Mini Hardtops already are among the most agile vehicles. Imagine one with enough performance enhancements to impress Lance Amstrong. That’s what you get with the GP.

The front 6-piston Brembo brake calipers with 13-in. (33 cm) vented front discs are much stronger than those found on a typical Cooper S and really bite. And, despite the installation of the heavier Recaro seats and undercarriage panels and other bits to improve aerodynamics, the car is 67 lbs. (30 kg) lighter.

Mini bills the GP as “the fastest Mini ever” with a 150-mph (241-km/h) top speed and 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds.  On paper, that’s not remarkable for a low-volume sports car in the $40,000 price range.

The limited production, $41,000 Boss 302 Mustang, with 3,750 units sold in 2012, will do 0-60 mph in 4 seconds flat and has an electronically limited top end of 155 mph (250 km/h). 

The GP’s turbocharged 1.6L Prince engine does have an impressive specific output of 132 hp/L, far better than the 444-hp Boss’ 89 hp/L. But the GP’s engine still makes 211 hp, just 3 hp more than the less-expensive JCW version. On the plus side, the GP manages a thrifty 26/35 mpg (9-6.7 L/100 km) city/highway, the same as a standard Cooper S hardtop with 30 hp less and quite a bit better than the Boss.

We only drove the GP for about 30 minutes on some twisty, gravel-strewn roads in central Puerto Rico, so we are not able to render an opinion on the car’s aerodynamic improvements, including undercarriage panels, and a redesigned rear diffuser and spoiler that are designed to reduce air drag and prevent lift at both axles.

Nor have we tested the car’s special traction-control GP mode that reportedly will help you do a lap of the Nurburgring in 8 minutes 23 seconds.

However, we can say our time with the Mini GP has been some of the most enjoyable minutes we’ve ever spent behind the wheel. Steering and braking are incredibly responsive; the little engine sings an especially sweet note through the tuned sports exhaust system; and the car feels like you could just pick it up with your bare hands and literally toss it through a corner.

Our only quibble is the 6-speed manual feels a bit ordinary and does not operate with the same precision as most of the car’s other highly refined bits.

It may lose to many in dollar-per-horsepower evaluations, but the Mini GP’s dollar-per-fun ratio is unmatched. Sometimes small dreams are enough to find happiness.

dwinter@wardsauto.com

 

'14 Mini John Cooper Works GP
Pros Cons
2x go-kart handling 2x sticker price
Cool cross-car brace It’s just for looks
Incredibly responsive Except the shifter