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First drive: MINI John Cooper Works GP. Image by MINI.

First drive: MINI John Cooper Works GP
Treat yourself to short bursts in this hilarious, madcap MINI and you’ll get on just fine with it.

   



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MINI John Cooper Works GP

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

We've had the MINI GP1 in 2006. We've had the MINI GP2 in 2013. And now, here's the MINI GP3 for 2020: a stone-cold crazy, stripped-out three-door with 306hp flowing through its front axle alone. Strap in for a wild ride with this extreme hot hatchback, which is absolutely sure to become an appreciating collector's piece in the years to come.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: MINI John Cooper Works GP with Touring Pack
Pricing: MINI GP from £35,345, Touring Pack as tested £37,345
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive with limited-slip differential, eight-speed Steptronic Sport automatic
Body style: three-door hot hatchback
CO2 emissions: 189g/km (VED Band 171-190: £870 first 12 months, then £150 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 34mpg
Top speed: 164mph
0-62mph: 5.2 seconds
Power: 306hp at 5,000-6,250rpm
Torque: 450Nm at 1,750-4,500rpm
Boot space: 612-816 litres

What's this?

It is the MINI John Cooper Works GP, which its maker is claiming is the 'most powerful and fastest production MINI yet'. Although we'd insert a couple of qualifiers in there: it's the joint-most powerful production MINI yet, as the same 306hp/450Nm engine has already been installed in the facelifted JCW versions of both the Countryman SUV and the Clubman estate; and therefore, while the GP3 (in the MINI fan club's preferred shorthand vernacular) is the fastest for top speed, it's not the quickest for acceleration, as both those aforementioned JCWs ran the 0-62mph sprint in 4.9 seconds, compared to this car's 5.2-second effort.

There's a reason for this apparent tardiness off the line from the MINI GP3 in relation to its 'lesser' JCW siblings, though, and it ought to be a good one: this is the first time this BMW-derived TwinPower Turbo 2.0-litre engine has been allowed to push all of its prodigious power and torque through one axle and one axle alone. On those two other 306hp MINIs, they were equipped with four-wheel drive in order to cope with this four-cylinder brute, while in all of the BMW-badged stuff the same powerplant has yet seen service in - such as the X2 M35i hot crossover, the M135i hot hatch and the *shudder* M235i xDrive Gran Coupe four-door... thing - there has been the attendant fitment of xDrive to ensure the driving experience didn't become too unruly.

Not the GP3, mind. It sends the full 306hp and 450Nm to the front wheels alone, through an eight-speed Steptronic Sport torque-converter automatic (no, it's not a DCT twin-clutcher) and a limited-slip differential. The GP is also a 'life signpost' in the production cycle of a particular cohort of MINI. The GP1 arrived at the end of the R50-series MINI's life cycle, the GP2 landed just as the Mk2 was shuffling off the mortal coil and so, given we drove the midlife update of the third-generation BMW-era MINI in 2018, this GP3 signals the impending end of this variant of the British-built fashion icon. Think of it as a valedictory hurrah for the MINI and you're on the right track.

Aside from the use of a slushbox transmission and also the decision to go beyond the 300hp barrier for the first time (both the GPs 1 and 2 had 218hp to play with), this GP3 follows the pattern of its two highly prized, desirable predecessors. It features lurid bodywork complete with a large rear spoiler perched atop the bootlid and a Hobson's choice paint scheme of Racing Grey metallic bodywork teamed to a Melting Silver contrast roof and mirror caps, black carbon-fibre trim addenda and a set of 18-inch JCW GP forged lightweight alloy wheels in a two-tone finish. Inside, there are no back seats, a red strut brace which apparently does nothing structural for the car whatsoever (it merely stops shopping sliding into the backs of the front seats) and a 3D-printed dashboard with the GP's build number out of a total run of 3,000 units on the passenger side (there were just 2,000 examples of each of the GP1 and GP2, by the way). There are some nice, textured metallic shift paddles to click about with and the ovoid digital cluster pod from a MINI Electric sits atop the steering column, where it displays GP-specific sporty information, so the ambience is suitably upmarket and racy in the GP's cabin. Even if its seats are the same as those found in a 'regular' John Cooper Works.

Perhaps the big stumbling block is the price, because the MINI GP starts from £35,345 for the most stripped, 1,255kg model - that does without air-conditioning, an infotainment system of any note and heated seats. You can bundle all of that stuff in for a £2,000 premium as part of the Touring Pack, as fitted to our test car, but that adds more weight to the package and rather detracts from the minimalistic point of the MINI GP in the first place. In total, just 575 of the 3,000-strong production run will be sold in the UK, so the GP3 should remain as rare a sight on the roads as either of its two predecessors. And it should safely protect any purchaser's significant outlay of investment into the years ahead.

How does it drive?

We would like to point out that our overall rating of this car and our individual rating of the 'Driving Dynamics' field below this review reflects the way we experienced the MINI GP3. We had about 45 minutes in it on a dry, warm(ish) day in early autumn, on some excellent back roads on the fringes of the Cotswolds and with a full tank of fuel at our disposal. So our caveat here is that the MINI GP is like a cup of strong espresso: best enjoyed in very small quantities at a time, and as one super-strong hit of, er, caffeine (performance).

It would be a terrible daily conveyance, you see, and we also suspect you'd get bored of its hyperactive demeanour after about 200 miles or so behind its wheel, maybe less. This is because the ride quality is, frankly, appalling. Over one speed bump leaving the test-drive facility where we picked up the car, it felt as if it was trying to forcibly remove our spine like some vehicular version of the Predator. And its comfort levels never, ever settle down to a level that's reasonably acceptable, even at higher speeds; crikey, the JCW Challenge rode better than this, as the GP is firm to the point of unyielding. Also, with its pared-back interior, lack of sound-deadening and vast 612-litre boot which doubles up as an echo chamber, the noise inside the car is tremendous. So if you're buying one of these £37,345 Touring Pack MINIs as a regular-use cruiser, you're clearly some sort of fringe lunatic with a sadomasochism fetish who needs sectioning for the protection of wider society, if we're honest.

That said, you want a comfortable MINI, you can always go out and buy yourself a Cooper SD for the daily grind. The GP has been built by extreme MINI enthusiasts for extreme MINI enthusiasts, who will presumably purchase these things and then semi-squirrel them away for pampered storage in heated garages, only bringing them out for the occasional leg-stretching thrash on high days and holidays, trying instead to preserve their intrinsic second-hand value as a collector's item. Thus, the way MINI has set this up is near-perfect.

It's a bonkers, bonkers drive, the GP. It tramlines brazenly with every imperfection its diff-equipped nose snuffles out on the tarmac, while the suspension just thumps and crashes and bangs over all manner of surfaces. The whole experience is intense, but when you string it all together it's also wildly exhilarating. Half the challenge with the GP is simply keeping it on the straight and narrow on a rucked-up Cotswold back lane, as it'll veer this way and that with both bumps in the asphalt and injudicious use of the throttle pedal.

Yet MINI has given you the necessary tools to try and tame this beast in hatchback form. The steering is strongly weighted, precise and full of feel. The brakes are strong and fade-free, with excellent pedal progression. And if you can learn to pre-empt the MINI's more vicious movements across anything less than pristine tarmac, which in and of itself is a feat which offers up no little reward, then you can start to form a (somewhat sweaty-palmed) rapport with the GP. Whereupon you'll have a riot in the thing.

Honestly, some critics reckon this 2.0-litre BMW engine isn't that great, but we're not among their number. It has muscle and it has reach, belying its turbocharged nature with a strong, insistent pull of dramatic acceleration right around the rev counter. It also sounds decent; maybe not the best blown four in history, of course, but there's no significant augmentation from the stereo system (if there's one fitted) and the exhaust does the crackling, popping and thudding thing that we've come to expect of 21st century high-performance vehicles. We're not even bothered that the GP has two pedals in the footwell and not three, because the Steptronic gearbox is exceptional in its responses and, truthfully, you'll be concentrating far too much on wrestling the MINI into shape to be worried about shifting across an H-gate yourself.

And speed? Oh, there's lots of it. Thankfully, the MINI manages to quell understeer to a significant degree and even the torque-steer is relatively limited, considering there's 450Nm of the stuff coursing through the front set of 18-inch Hankooks, but it can deploy its grunt quite remarkably in favourable conditions and there's no doubting the veracity of the marque's performance claims for the thing. This is a 164mph MINI, and the GP feels every inch like a 164mph MINI.

Anyway, suffice it to say that while the MINI GP's driving experience is far from perfect, if all you're doing with it is taking it out for a demented thrash, it ought to put a massive great smile on your face while it goes through its outlandish motions. We certainly enjoyed it. But then, we did hand it back after 30 miles or so...

Verdict

The MINI GP's credibility lies largely in its notably enviable reputation. The two predecessors became instant critical hits that were craved by the MINI cognoscenti, and there's little reason to doubt the GP3 will go the same way - despite the fact that it has a production run 50 per cent greater in numbers than either the GP1 or the GP2. Yes, the GP3 is pricey and yes, it wouldn't be the greatest thing to use as a daily driver, but if you're just after an incredibly exciting MINI with the added benefit of almost cast-iron residual values, then the lurid-looking 2020 GP is not going to disappoint you in the slightest.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

2 2 2 2 2 Passenger Space

5 5 5 5 5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 23 Oct 2020



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2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP UK test. Image by MINI.2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP UK test. Image by MINI.2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP UK test. Image by MINI.2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP UK test. Image by MINI.2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP UK test. Image by MINI.

2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP UK test. Image by MINI.2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP UK test. Image by MINI.2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP UK test. Image by MINI.2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP UK test. Image by MINI.2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP UK test. Image by MINI.








 

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