Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 15, 2020
This is the MINI we’ve been waiting for. The GP is the most hardcore, the most exclusive with only 3,000 being made (just 59 units for Canada), and the most powerful MINI ever produced. Referred to as the GP3, the third generation of MINI GP, all of its upgrades are centered around lightweighting and performance. Think of what Porsche does to their GT3 cars, or what McLaren does with their Longtails. While the MINI doesn’t live in that rarified air, the ethos remains the same: strip the excess weight, add power, and stiffen everything up to the limits of road legality.
The GP takes the standard MINI turbo-four engine and with the help of reinforced pistons, a beefier crankshaft, a new torsional vibration damper, higher boost pressure and uprated fuel injectors, it’s able to produce 301 hp and 331 lb-ft, a 73 hp and 73 lb-ft increase over the standard JCW 3-Door. This is the same engine tune used in MINI’s all-wheel drive models, like the JCW Clubman and JCW Countryman. Nevertheless, that figure allows the GP to propel itself from 0-100 km/h in a belligerent 5.2 seconds, almost a full second quicker than the JCW 3-Door, and slightly faster than the Civic Type R and Golf R. The GP is not as quick as the four-wheel driven Subaru WRX STI though, or even MINI’s own JCW Countryman.
A dedicated mindset to being as light as possible means the rear seats have been thrown out the window and replaced with a horizontal bar to increase structural rigidity. They tossed out the rear windscreen wiper too. But that massive rear wing more than makes up for it, and the overall shape is dreamy enough for wallpaper status. The GP treatment further adds forged 225/35 18-inch wheels wrapped in track-ready Hankook Ventus S1 evo Z rubber, and to fit those bigger wheels under the bodywork, massively flared carbon fibre wheel arches are added for a widebody stance. Of note - that carbon fibre material is actually left over from the BMW i3 and i8. In all, the GP weighs 35 kg less than the standard MINI JCW 3-Door with an automatic gearbox.
The GP only comes in one spec: Racing Grey Metallic body with a Melting Silver roof, red accents under the front grill, bumper, rear spoiler, and side aprons, and a black interior. There are no options available. Our GP is #2870, out of 3000, and it’s neat how MINI displays that model number not just on the dashboard panel or a hidden plaque inside the car, but also on the carbon fibre fenders, visually identifiable by everyone on the road. I love that. It makes every GP feel even more special on its own.
The rest of the standard track garnish applies: a heavily revised suspension with stiffer bushings, bigger anti-roll bars, a 10mm lower ride height, increased track width, larger brakes, better cooling and a racing-spec oil supply with high-capacity oil sump, a louder exhaust, a locking front differential, and a selectable GP driving mode that eases the stability control.
The MINI JCW GP is by far one of the most focused and interactive hot hatches you can buy. The turbo-four is strong and spritely, a refreshing change from other anodyne mills that lack charisma and character. It reacts like there’s two levels of boost. The low-end has a decent pick up but the GP doesn't really come alive until you’re hitting 3,500 rpm, feeling like a VTEC once maximum boost kicks in. It runs out of breath rather quickly just past 5,000 rpm, and it doesn’t ping or bounce off the limiter. It just hangs there. Overall, this turbo-four feels like a heavy engine, with a great deal of rotational mass. It’s not very eager to rev unlike the CLA 35 and 45 AMG engines. The 6,250 rpm redline feels shorthanded and limited. The one silver lining is that the GP is not too shabby on fuel consumption. We averaged 9.5 L/100km with an equal mix of both city and highway driving - impressive considering the number of hard pulls and high rev shifts we put the GP through.
You would also expect three pedals and a manual shifter in such a track-focused hatchback but you’d be wrong. The GP is only available with an 8-speed automatic transmission, and it’s the Aisin unit, not the ZF from BMWs. MINI said due to the exclusive number of units being produced, it would be too costly to devise a manual to fit the GP. While my brain disagrees, money talks. You lose some engagement without a manual but the paddle shifters are convenient and we won’t deny cold hard facts: it’s faster and shifts with more polish than we could ever dexterously manage with three pedals. It also makes the GP beginner-friendly and easy to drive.
The steering isn’t that chattery as the front wheels are literally working overtime, managing both rotation and acceleration, but it remains direct. It’s packed with lively energy but still manages to mute the world underneath the tires. The heavy weighting and rotational resistance makes it feel eager in a way that few other cars manage to, and it dances in a fluid and natural motion. But behold the torque steer. The differential does a decent job silencing it out but it still enjoys fighting your fingers when clawing for grip under wide open throttle.
You have to really dig deep to find any form of understeer but despite taking the task of lightweighting pretty seriously, the GP doesn’t exactly feel magnitudes lighter or more athletic than the JCW it sits on top of. The limit of tire adhesion on these Hankooks is high but there’s only so much you can fight physics on cold, wet November roads. They emit a great deal of tire noise too, intruding into the cabin at highway speeds, and when compounded with the stiff suspension setup, makes for one rough commute.
This sort of adds to the sense of occasion, though. Specialized vehicles like this GP aren’t meant to be daily drivers anyways. We’ve previously said the regular JCW, if you can even call it regular, was already a stiff riding companion. This GP is even stiffer, hitting potholes and expansion joints with little care, taxing occupants with a jittery, bone-shattering ride that deserves a warning to all passengers about to jump in for a joyride. It’s even a few levels stiffer than a Civic Type R in its hardest R+ setting. There’s no bumpy road mode in the GP either. No comfort setting to relax passengers. Just one setting out the box. Just the way it should be.
I honestly expected the exhaust to be louder. The GP’s vocal chords are a bit muffled, and are lacking some mid-range bass and top-end sharpness. Be that as it may, ripping the GP at wide open throttle is like having a dozen angry wasps buzzing behind your ear. It’s sharper in tone than an Alfa Romeo 4C, but not as sonically piercing and rewarding as a CLA 45 AMG. Miles better than a comparatively subdued Civic Type R and Golf R, though. Unlike the standard JCW, there are none of those excessive pops and gurgles on overrun, and it doesn’t drone that much at highway speeds, but it definitely sounds constrained, and I suspect that’s due to Euro-spec emission regulations and particulate filters now added onto European made vehicles. The GP could be a victim of that, though I couldn’t verify with MINI whether or not our Canadian-spec vehicles have them installed. It’s still not a bad noise, and you can have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video of the GP to hear it for yourself.
The innards of the GP are stripped out in a more reserved way than other track-focused vehicles. With heavily bolstered manually-adjustable seats, no back seats, a red cage bar, metal paddle shifters with the GP logo, and a metal stripe on the top of the steering wheel, the interior upgrades for the GP remain minor. Oddly enough, losing the rear cabin makes the cramped interior of the MINI actually feel more spacious, though you will have to find alternative ways of bolting down your luggage and loose items in the back. Of note, the MINI GP keeps its manual handbrake. It also chimes with the same beeping noise as a BMW when locked and unlocked.
Contrary to its track-oriented attitude, there is no shortage of tech or creature comforts in the GP, with heated seats, push-button ignition, dynamic cruise control, and navigation. The new digital instrument cluster makes its way into all 2021 MINI models, replacing the analog dials which I sorely miss, and a decently sized screen remains embedded in the center, controlled via touch or the rotary dial situated below the shifter. Yet, despite omitting keyless entry, which I assume was for weight saving purposes, they didn’t bother replacing the door handles with lighter pull straps. No hard bucket seats either.
You would expect the MINI GP to cross hairs with other four-cylinder pocket rockets like the Volkswagen Golf R, Hyundai Veloster N, and the Honda Civic Type R, but the upgrades and exclusivity of MINI’s hottest hatch punts the price up to $51,995. Considering there are no options, that’s not a bad price for a limited-run track toy. The GP should retain its value and compared to its rivals, the MINI undoubtedly feels more special, energetic, and entertaining. I strongly believe a manual gearbox and a louder exhaust would have pushed the envelope even further, and the punishing ride, lack of rear seats, and compromised daily driver potential will make the indecisive want to take a closer look at the standard JCW instead. But if none of that bothers you, strap into the GP’s red seat belts. It’s one hell of a ride.
Model: 2021 MINI John Cooper Works GP
Paint Type: Racing Grey Metallic
Base Price: $51,990
Price as Tested: $51,990
Length/Width/Height (mm): 3,879 / 1,762 / 1,420
Curb weight (kg): 1,295
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 301 hp @ 5,000 - 6,250 rpm
Torque: 331 lb-ft @ 1,750 - 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 9.5
Tires: 225/35R18; Hankook Ventus S1 evo Z