The 2020 Mini Cooper JCW GP Is One Silly Way To Shred Back Roads
On paper, this hot hatch should rip up any fun road, but there are some question marks.
High-priced hot hatches are getting faster and maybe a bit over-styled these past couple years, but drivers are delighted to have several fun options from a handful of manufacturers. Mini has introduced its third iteration of the John Cooper Works GP with loads more power, less weight, and some boy racer looks.
Mini announced it will only build 3,000 GPs, so you won't be seeing them everywhere. Competing with Honda's exceptional Civic Type-R--that I tested last year--and VW's Golf R, this quick Cooper has its work cut out for it. Lucky for me, the Texas Hill Country has a bunch of back roads that perfectly suit a quick compact car, and I decided to give the GP a solid test.
The Key Numbers
Mini's hottest hatch gets a boosted 2.0-liter four-banger that cranks out 301 horsepower between 5,000 and 6,250 RPM and 331 lb-ft (448 Nm) of torque that peaks from 1,750 - 4,500 RPM, a bump of 73 horsepower and 95 lb-ft of torque over the "normal" JCW hardtop. No longer offering a manual transmission, the Mini Cooper GP gets an eight-speed automatic with a Torsen limited-slip differential and front-wheel-drive. This power helps the GP scoot from 0-60 MPH in 5.1 seconds and hit a top speed of 165 MPH.
Focused on shedding weight and increasing performance, this Mini ditches the back seat in favor of a massive strut tower brace that stretches across the cabin, and loses a bunch of interior insulation to achieve a curb weight of just 2,625 pounds (1190 kg). Other unique features for the GP include model-specific oil supply and cooling units, a center exit sports exhaust system, 10mm lower suspension with plenty of chassis tweaks, massive brakes, and several exterior components aimed to improve aerodynamic grip while catching a few (some not so pleasant) glances.
The extra performance and styling comes at a price. Loaded without needing options, and only painted Racing Gray Metallic, the Mini Cooper JCW GP's MSRP is $45,750 after destination, which is about $5,000 more than the standard JCW hardtop.
Back seat? LOL
Can It Be A Daily Driver?
The GP isn't great around the city, with a suspension focused more on being great on nicely paved fun roads and tracks, rather than your typical concrete city streets. Feedback is choppy, and because of the reduced insulation, you're going to hear every thunk and creak from the chassis. Fortunately the 300-horsepower engine is punchy at any RPM, and makes buzzing through your town fun. The steering at city speeds is sharp and decently-weighted, even if it could use a hint more electric assist when pulling into a parking space. Thankfully the Mini's tiny package makes it easy to sneak into parallel parking spots downtown.
While sporty in appearance, the Mini's alcantara and leather seats are nicely grippy, and give you good support on longer drives. If you're commuting back and forth to the office, you'll be hitting the petrol station often, as the GP has an 11-gallon tank. I easily got 26 MPG during my test, even with loads of spirited driving, meeting the EPA's 24/30/26 (city/highway/combined) estimates. The cargo spot in the back is sunk into the boot space, so your groceries won't be scattered as you zip home. Mini models get wireless Apple CarPlay, which came in handy due to not having any where to conveniently stick my phone if you had to plug it in, but thankfully there's a wireless charging pad made into the center armrest.
Ripping Up Twisty Roads
Sneak off to your favorite route of winding farm-to-market roads, and let the hottest Mini go to work. The added power under the hood comes in handy for blasting down straights, and helps put a smile on your face as it's great power-to-weight ratio allows the GP to accelerate exceptionally from 35 to 90 MPH. Compact size and super light weight help the Mini Cooper JCW GP buzz around like a go kart. The firmer damping that made things feel unsettled in the city makes it more capable on fun roads, but I wish that Mini gave the GP either an adaptive suspension or drive modes to accommodate different conditions.
With superlight 18-inch wheels and 14.2-inch front rotors with mega calipers, the Mini GP has a tiny amount of unsprung weight and fantastic braking capabilities with great pedal feel. At quicker speeds, steering feel through the thick wheel is good, although there's a good bit of torque steer when you apply a healthy dose of the go pedal. This gets amplified by the Mini's turbocharger if you happen to be mid-corner and want to throttle your way out of the bend. At that moment, things pucker up, and you're quickly finding the GP wanting to point the front wheels in unintended directions. I constantly found myself holding back the amount of speed and input I'd give the Civic Type-R, due to the Mini's unpredictable nature that should be better managed by the limited-slip diff.
I give the Hankook Ventus S1 Evo Z tires a lot of credit for keeping the GP planted. The 8-speed slush box is probably the worst part of the Mini Cooper JCW GP, as it's not a twin-clutch setup, the downshifts are horribly slow, and the upshifts aren't too quick either. In manual mode, there's this strange behavior that indicates a throttle blip on on the dynamic digital display's tach when you flick the 3D-printed metal paddle for a downshift, but in reality the gear hasn't changed yet and has a big delay. The claim that any available manual gearbox not being able to handle the GP's added torque doesn't settle things with me.
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
The overall performance of the Mini Cooper JCW GP is good, but it's not exceptional. Having a lightweight pocket rocket is fun when you're zipping around town, but the suspension stiffness gets tiring whether you're in town or on the highway. I dig the look of the dual 90mm exhaust tips in the center of the bumper, that look like a little 911 GT3 setup, but the sound isn't too inspiring and seems a bit tame.
Inside the central circular cluster really wastes space to incorporate a small infotainment display with an outdated iDrive experience. Because of the cabin structure, the cowl and windscreen are far ahead, so when you need to use the sun visor, it doesn't reach very far, and doesn't slide when it's pulled to the side window. The gap is so bad that the majority of the side window length isn't covered. Rather than a little hatchback that can tote a couple friends and make good runs to the shops, you've now got a two-seater with a decent boot that gave up a bit of storage space and practicality. This makes me want an RF model of the popular Mazda MX-5 I reviewed last summer if I'm only going to get a two-seat sports car for this much money.
Then we get to the exterior attachments. Mini went overboard giving the GP some trim that makes the Civic Type-R's packaging look tidy. At a profile glance, things look sporty, but then you look up close and lose your mind. Fender flares aren't molded on smoothly, and stick out as if they're some poorly applied parts from Pep Boys. The double-element rear wing spoiler accommodates the arial antenna in the center, but seems like a strange afterthought. Up front, the vents and fascia are mostly cosmetic. The main grill is blocked out, save a tiny bit of the top of it, the hood scoop is fake, and the side vents of the (red-painted) lower central portion of the bumper completely expose cooling hardware without any sort of grille or mesh treatment.
This Hot Hatch Could Have Been Better
On paper, the Mini Cooper JCW GP should have been fantastic. Big figures, a bunch of handling upgrades, and some slightly questionable styling choices in the name of grip could have added up to a wonderful hot hatch. Sadly, in execution, the GP falls short. I truly wanted this car to be better sorted when I got word I'd be testing it. This Mini is far too stiff to drive comfortably in any non-track condition, the torque steer is unpleasant, the gearbox is slow, the practicality of a hatchback is tossed out the window, and the body cladding is way too much for me.
At over $45,000, the Mini Cooper JCW GP is $5,000 more expensive than the simpler-looking and still fun standard Mini JCW hardtop, which I'd suggest if you really want a Mini. If you're considering your options and want an automatic transmission, the outgoing Mk 7 Golf R is great (packs a DCT or stick, and the $40,000 sticker price will bump up slightly in the upcoming Mk 8). For my money, I'm going with the Civic Type-R that is $8,000 less, has four doors, a usable back seat, a big boot, a six-speed manual, and a much more pleasant driving experience on any road.
Don't judge me, food.