2021 Mini John Cooper Works GP review

It might look light-hearted, but the Mini John Cooper Works GP is a serious machine in the right setting

2021 mini jcw gp
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Hot hatches have long aimed for real-world usability alongside heart-pumping performance... but the Mini Cooper JCW GP laughs in the face of such nonsense.

Practicality, comfort and convenience? Hah! They’re just distractions on the path to going really fast in Mini’s view.

Just as well, then, that the latest iteration of the Mini GP is the most powerful, fastest Mini ever made.

What is the Mini JCW GP?

The $63,900 GP is the third time Mini has created a hardcore, track-ready hero based upon the Mini John Cooper Works, not deviating too far from the formula set by its 2006 GP1 and 2013 GP2 forebears.

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That GP recipe is simple on the face of it; add power, subtract weight and big-up the aero, in much the same way that the Porsche 911 GT3 goes above and beyond the regular 911.

But there’s a lot of nuance underneath the wild bodywork and eye-catching paint scheme.

Price and specs

It raises the bar through a laundry-list full of special additions, starting with the 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder motor that's borrowed from its M135i step-sibling.

Over the standard JCW’s powerplant, upgrades include a reinforced crankshaft, a larger oil sump, a redesigned intake and exhaust and numerous new cooling measures which add up to a substantial 55kW boost in power.

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All-in, the Mini GP sends 225kW/450Nm to the front wheels. A notable change for the GP, though, is the use of an eight-speed automatic rather than the manual-only affair we’ve come to expect.

It's a symptom of parts-bin raiding - the engine is mated with that particular transmission in BMW's world, and a late-life refresh of a Mini wasn't going to warrant the expense of engineering a manual gearbox into the mix. 

Its ease of use aids its 5.2-second run to 100km/h and it goes on to a physics-limited 265km/h top speed - but it's a polarising addition to such a focused car.

Elsewhere, the changes continue. The rear seats are thrown out, a Torsen mechanical locking differential is added, and bracing is installed in the engine bay and boot (though the latter is to simply hold luggage in place).

It gets a bespoke fixed suspension tune, too, with lighter single-joint MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link axle at the rear, track widths are increased and it’s 10 millimetres lower compared to the standard JCW.

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Those stand-out carbon-fibre reinforced plastic wheel arch flares were fished out of the BMW i3 and i8 parts bin and hide a set of four-spoke 18-inch lightweight wheels wrapped in a specially-developed 225mm wide Hankook Ventus S1 Evo tyre.

To set the Mini GP’s looks apart from its siblings it scores a large rear wing, a GP-specific bodykit with red accenting, 3D-printed trim inscribed with the car’s build number and GP badging throughout.

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It all makes the GP feel very racey, though the omission of a set of dedicated fixed-back bucket seats is an oddity in an otherwise focused cabin.

It even bins daily practicalities like the reverse camera, parking sensors, radar cruise control and rear window wiper on its way to a 75-kilogram weight saving over the JCW.

A manual gearbox, though, could have saved another 30kg...

Driving the Mini JCW GP

Fire the GP up for the first time and the coarse exhaust note fills the sparse cabin with noise, hinting at rowdy times ahead.

The real character comes when on the move, though, with a raunchy roar under high load emanating from the twin 90mm wide stainless steel exhaust outlets. 

While the engine might sound like a carry-over affair from parent company BMW on paper, there’s no denying it fits the character of the GP remarkably well - and it's devastatingly effective when employed in a car with such a small stature. 

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Sending 225kW/450Nm through the front wheels seems like a tall order for a small hatch – and it is.

In fact, it’s the perfect recipe for an unhealthy serving of torque steer, which is pronounced and darts the GP3's front end off line under hard acceleration.

Yet while you might not immediately go in a straight line, the mightiest of all Minis is impressively adept at putting its power down on the road, with the locking mechanical diff and grippy rubber going a long way in that department. 

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The grip continues into the corners too, the Mini devouring bends at an incredible clip without so much as a peep from its tyres.

The hefty steering weight makes for a satisfying and sharp turn-in, while delivering enough communication about what’s underfoot.

A loosened GP traction control setting is the sole switchable driving mode; otherwise, the GP is solely designed for maximum attack.

That means an unrelenting suspension tune that, while keeping the GP’s tall body impressively flat through bends and bashes obediently through mid-corner bumps, is a chore on anything but a twisty road.

That's the price of admission when buying into a track-honed hot hatch.

Same too, the Steptronic eight-speed gearbox is deftly intuitive and rapid when driving hard, but could do with a relaxed mode for the drive home.

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VERDICT

While it might have a one-track mind for an isolated back road or a circuit, there’s no arguing the GP means business when in such a predicament.

Savage acceleration, unyielding levels of grip and an unwavering determination to go fast are hallmarks of the latest Mini GP.

Whether other hatches like the Honda Civic Type R or Renault Megane RS Trophy can encapsulate that ability and also cater to your everyday needs is a question for another time.

4/5

Pros Grip; explosive performance; race car looks

Cons Laughable ride quality; underdone seats; auto only

Specifications
Model Mini JCW GP
Engine 1998cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbocharger
Max power 225kW @ 5000-6250rpm
Max torque 450Nm @ 1750-4500rpm
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Weight 1255kg
0-100km/h 5.2sec (claim)
Economy 10.2L/100km (tested)
Price $63,900

 

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