MINI Cooper 2020 john cooper works
launch-review

2020 Mini John Cooper Works GP review

International first drive

Rating: 7.7
$63,900 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
    6.9L
  • Engine Power
    170kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    157g
  • ANCAP Rating
    4Stars
The monstrous new Mini John Cooper Works GP is upon us. Well, nearly: it's out in Europe and will be here in mid-2020. Is it one to look forward to?
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So, here it is. Two-and-a-half years after it was first revealed in concept guise at the 2017 Frankfurt motor show, the definitive production version of the Mini John Cooper Works GP has finally arrived.

Yes, it’s been a rather drawn-out development cycle for the fastest road-going Mini yet. Indeed, there were times when it appeared plans for a new GP had been abandoned for lack of any official confirmation on its progress. Still, you know what they say about good things coming to those who wait.

Like its distinguished predecessors, the new GP will be produced in a limited run of just 3000, some 74 of which are reserved for Australia. At $63,900, it’s a $12,500 step up from the standard John Cooper Works and $22,200 more than the Mini Cooper S. Two versions are on offer: a so-called full specification model and a more track focussed naked model – the latter of which goes without air conditioning and infotainment system.

MORE: 2020 Mini JCW GP priced from $63,900

The good news is Mini has stuck to its guns and delivered a car not too far removed from what it originally promised for its 60th birthday – one that incorporates all the gregarious spirit and driving enjoyment delivered by its various competition models down through the years.

Performance-wise, the new GP raises the bar by a not insignificant 55kW and 130Nm over the standard John Cooper Works hatchback upon which it is heavily based and assembled alongside at Mini’s factory in Oxford, England.

The third-generation model runs the same specification turbocharged petrol engine as the larger and heavier Clubman John Cooper Works All4 and Countryman John Cooper Works All4 – the B48 as it is known internally at parent company, BMW.

The 2.0-litre unit delivers 225kW between 5000 and 6250rpm, endowing the most powerful of Mini’s modern-day hatchback models with a weight-to-power ratio that significantly betters its direct predecessor at 5.6kg per kW. No less influential to the overall driving experience is the torque, which peaks at 450Nm between 1700 and 4500rpm.

Changes over the engine used by the standard JCW include a new twin-scroll turbocharger running greater boost pressure, a reinforced crankshaft with a larger main bearing, lighter pistons, new connecting rods, a redesigned vibration damper, larger sump and greater cooling potential.

Although it retains front-wheel drive, the new GP is sold exclusively with an automatic gearbox. It’s an odd move given its positioning as a dual road and track car. However, Mini says the eight-speed Aisin-produced unit, with its own unique centre console shift lever and steering wheel-mounted shift paddles, is key to providing it with the sort of performance to challenge rivals such as the Renault Megane RS Trophy and Honda Civic Type R, even though it retains the same individual gear ratios and 2.96:1 final drive ratio as the standard John Cooper Works.

Like its predecessor, the new GP is a pure two-seater. While the front end of the cabin is little changed from the John Cooper Works apart from the inclusion of digital instruments and new trims, the rear seat has been removed in the interest of weight saving. A transverse brace is added behind the front seats, though it is simply to stop luggage sliding forward and plays no part in adding rigidity.

Hitting the starter button unleashes a rich blare of exhaust that’s eminently appealing and fully befitting of the GP’s track-bred character. On the move, where it emits the odd crackle on a lifted throttle and during downshifts, the acoustic qualities are clearly more expressive and immediate than other Mini models, thanks in part to the adoption of a new stainless steel exhaust system featuring unique ducting and purposeful looking 90mm diameter tailpipes.

There’s no arguing the effectiveness of the new engine in motivating the GP’s relatively low 1225kg kerb weight. There is a hint of low-end lag, but keep it percolating above 2000rpm and it remains engagingly responsive and nicely linear in terms of delivery with plenty of torque driven urge and tempting smoothness through the mid-range.

There’s too much torque for the GP’s mechanical differential lock and dynamic stability control (DSC) system to properly cope with on occasion, in fact. The result, when accelerating hard out of slower corners, is some moderate corruption of the steering as the GP struggles to fully place its reserves to the road in lower gears.

This aside, the performance feels every bit as strong, if not stronger, as that indicated by Mini’s official 0-100km/h time of 5.2 seconds; the engine remains willing with a fittingly muscular character to the 6800rpm ignition cut-out, while the gearbox performs wonderfully crisp and rapid shifts on a loaded throttle in manual mode.

There’s no need to bother scrolling through different driving modes to tickle the best out of it, either: the new uber Mini is programmed for Sport only.

It doesn’t take too long to discover the 2020-model-year GP operates on an altogether higher performance plane than any previous production-based Mini. At all points, it feels faster, more urgent and generally a good deal more fervent than even the John Cooper Works.

Happily, these traits also apply to the handling, which if anything is even more impressive than the sheer speed generated by the new engine. There’s a terrifically agile feel to the GP, which is never less than incisive across a winding back road.

The basis for this is a series of stiffening measures incorporated within the body structure, including a new engine mount, a beefed-up front suspension tower strut brace and, most notably, a sturdy rectangular support for the rear suspension that involves some major re-engineering to the Mini Cooper’s FAAR platform structure.

The GP also runs its own unique camber rates, beefed-up anti-roll bars and with unique 18-inch wheels featuring greater offset than those of the JCW's suitably wide tracks. The standard 225/35 profile Hankook tyres come with a choice of S1 Evo Z tread or, as worn by our test car, TD semi-slicks.

On top of this, Mini has lowered the ride height by 10mm over the JCW, bringing a lower centre of gravity and even greater visual aggression to the stance.

It is the immediacy of the steering that initially shines through. Turn the wheel and it delivers great on-centre response. The hefty weighting of the speed-sensitive electro-mechanical system can be a little disconcerting at first, but once you’re dialled in it becomes a welcome attribute, particularly at speed where it compensates for a lack of proper road feel. It really is nicely judged, giving the GP a keenness in directional changes that’s clearly beyond that of the standard John Cooper Works.

The new Mini’s cornering ability is characterised by superb body control and a steely resistance to understeer. The real strength, though, is the grip. With all the various changes to the suspension and the huge purchase provided by its grooved race tyres, the GP is capable of generating truly heady cornering speeds on smooth surfaces. However, it takes a lot of commitment to even begin scratching the surface of its lateral limits on public roads.

We’ll need a lot more time at the wheel and a circuit to properly explore the GP’s handling, but those in the know at Mini suggest it will see off the standard BMW M2 over a single lap of the Nurburgring.

What we can already vouch for is its outstanding high-speed stability. We briefly saw 260km/h on an extended autobahn run, at which the new range-topping Mini model felt superbly planted and full of intent. Mini says the top speed is limited to 265km/h, which makes the new GP its fastest model yet.

The compromise in achieving all this manifests itself in the quality of the ride, though not by as much as you might expect. There is a general firmness to the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension, but it is not totally devoid of compliance. Overall, it’s a touch more reactive to surface imperfections than the John Cooper Works. However, it was far from harsh on smooth-surfaced German roads.

The brakes are well up to the job, too. Once again, they’re the same specification as those used by the Clubman John Cooper Works All4 and Countryman John Cooper Works All4, with 360mm by 30mm steel discs grabbed by four-piston calipers up front and 330mm by 20mm steel discs with single-piston floating calipers at the rear.

Of course, there’s more to the new GP than its sheer speed and sweet handling. The third-generation model unapologetically signals its track-bred intent with the most radical body kit and arguably toughest stance ever applied to a road-going Mini. The visual purpose apparent in the earlier Concept GP concept remains very much ingrained in the function led exterior.

The visual differentiation over the standard JCW is quite extreme and instantly signals the added performance potential. It starts at the front, with a deeper front bumper that houses larger cooling ducts and a more pronounced splitter element. Further back, there are blade-like front wheel arch extensions carrying the individual build number. Like those used for the rear wheel arches, they’re fashioned from the same carbon-fibre used within the body of the BMW i3 and are used to house the wider tracks and 8-inch wide 18-inch wheels.

The biggest visual difference, though, centres on the GP’s enormous rear wing. It looks as though it has been stolen straight off a TCR race car, and with subtle lip spoilers help contribute to providing added downforce at speed. There’s also a subtly altered rear valance within the rear bumper housing the new Mini’s twin centrally-mounted tailpipes.

The John Cooper Works GP is now even faster and ruthless in handling ability than ever before. It is wonderfully focused and manages to involve you to a high degree in the right conditions. But despite its obvious competency, the decision to make it available with an automatic gearbox only appears misguided. As hardcore as it is in many areas, it doesn’t quite feel like the full raging race-car-for-the-road that Mini would have us believe it is.

Footnote

The new 2020 John Cooper Works GP is the third in a series of highly focused race track bred, front-wheel drive Mini models – each of which has received its own uniquely tuned transversely mounted four-cylinder petrol engine.

The first-generation model launched in 2006 used a supercharged 1.6-litre powerplant developed in partnership with Chrysler delivering 160kW and 250Nm of torque.

It was followed in 2012 by a second-generation model running a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine engineered in partnership with Peugeot developing the same 160kW but an additional 30Nm over its predecessor at 280Nm.

The third-generation model driven here operates on an altogether higher performance plane with a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine from parent company BMW bringing a significant 65kW and 170Nm increase over the model it replaces at 225kW and 450Nm.