2020 Mini John Cooper Works GP First Drive | Rude, raucous fun

The Mini John Cooper Works GP has always represented the pinnacle of Mini performance. It’s the most-powerful, lightest and most uncompromising in its pursuit of going fast. And it has never hidden that purpose, wearing bold bodywork to convey its seriousness. Even with a reused powertrain and no manual transmission option, the new 2021 Mini John Cooper Works GP delivers the raw, entertaining driving experience you would expect. As such, it should be a treat for Mini fans, but for the brand agnostic, there are better hot hatch options.

From the outside, this Mini GP is the most radical of all. It pulls its design straight from a Frankfurt Motor Show concept complete with unique carbon fiber fender flares that stand proud from the actual fenders. The rear wing is bigger than ever and bisected in the middle. Contrasting the dark gray paint are bright red accents and stripes. It looks remarkably menacing, which is impressive for such a cute little car.

Matching the appearances is the GP’s output. It shares the same engine and transmission with the John Cooper Works Countryman and Clubman, and thus the same mantle of being most powerful Mini in history with 301 horsepower and 331 pound-feet of torque. The GP feels substantially more potent, though, since the engine has just 2,855 pounds to haul around ­– that’s nearly 800 pounds less than the next-lightest Clubman JCW with the same engine. For further comparison, the regular Cooper S Hardtop weighs about the same yet has only 189 horsepower.

2021 Mini John Cooper Works GP

Combined with a smooth, fast-spooling turbo, the GP rockets all over the place. And if you’re not keeping a firm grasp of the wheel, your steering could be all over the place, too. Plant your foot and the wheel starts wriggling as torque steer rears its head. It’s uncouth, uncivilized, but also kind of fun if you’re up for a ragged experience. Perhaps not so much if you were looking for a precision instrument to combat the Civic Type R and Veloster N.

Further differentiating the Mini from those hot hatches is the GP’s sole eight-speed automatic transmission option. No, it’s not as engaging as a six-speed manual would be, and yes, it’s a step behind the best DCTs and other automatics. However, it shifts smoothly and quickly with smart shift logic in normal or sport shift modes. Leaving it in automatic would be just fine, but then you’d miss out on tapping the 3D-printed aluminum shift paddles. Also welcome is the mechanical differential lock integrated within the transmission. Instead of roasting an inside tire in corners, both tires bite into the pavement to pull the Mini through corners.

Cornering is of course one of the Mini GP’s highlights. And that shouldn’t be a surprise, since Minis are already nimble little things, and the GP dials everything past 11. It sits lower than the JCW by 0.4 inch, has more negative camber, stiffer bushings and joints, and more chassis braces. The most prominent of which sits where the rear seats used to be. Lightweight wheels with model-specific tires and 14-inch brake rotors with four-piston fixed front calipers complete the chassis package.

2021 Mini John Cooper Works GP

The results are practically non-existent body roll is and incredible grip. Add in the quick, heavy steering and the traction up front, and you get a car that handles very much like a slot car. It has the ride quality of one, too. There’s no give whatsoever, so the driver is bounced and tossed over pebbles and hairline cracks. You can’t change the suspension settings, either, since there’s no drive mode switch besides the transmission’s sport mode. 

If the harsh ride wasn’t enough, the GP is also loud. Mini claims sound insulation was removed for weight savings and it’s obvious. The engine and exhaust aren’t much louder than in a stock JCW, but there’s so much wind, road and tire noise. It’s not far off from a 20-year-old convertible. I should know, I own one.

There were other sacrifices made in the quest to reduce weight. Obviously there are no rear seats, which isn’t a huge sacrifice as a Mini’s are fairly useless. And that opens up room for a big chassis brace and more luggage. You’ll notice there’s no luggage cover, though, so anything in the back will be visible to the world. There’s no spare tire, either, and no cover for the luggage well, which means whatever’s back there will flop over or slide down from the main floor.

2021 Mini John Cooper Works GP

Up front, you’ll find that you only get forward sun visors. The unique side visors Mini usually provides are missing and the forward ones don’t swing to compensate. And at the back, there’s no rear wiper, so you’ll have to put up with a dirty, wet rear window when inclement weather appears.

So, basically, you’re missing a lot of stuff. You’re also paying a lot of money, as the Mini Cooper GP starts at $45,750. That’s $10,000 more than an equivalently powerful Honda Civic Type R, and $15,000 more than the slightly less powerful Hyundai Veloster N. And both of those hot hatchbacks feature just as many basic amenities as their less intense brethren, are far more quiet and comfortable, don’t suffer torque steer, handle brilliantly and have much more space. The Civic Type R even boasts a faster Nurburgring time, and the Hyundai is getting a dual-clutch automatic transmission this year if that’s something you need. Put simply, the Mini is a bad value.

Then again, it’s also loud, visceral and unruly in the way an autocross Miata is, or your hopped-up Civic in college was. But unlike those cars, this comes with a warranty, power windows and CarPlay. You won’t find that special combination of raw driving and modern technology anywhere else in the segment. And since Mini only has to sell 3,000 of these, this weird niche should work just fine for the company.

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