It’s immediately evident that this is no ordinary MINI Cooper.
There’s something about the MINI – it’s not only a pioneer of the small footprint, but the name is synonymous with smiles and genuine motoring fun. For more than half a century the MINI has graced our roads, bringing laughs and enjoyment to everyone around them. In 2002 the BMW Group brought back the MINI name, and while vastly different from the original car, it maintained a lot of the same appeal. We were invited to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park to sample the 2021 MINI John Cooper Works GP and see if it is indeed the hottest hatchback around.
And is it ever – one stab of the throttle in this thing and it’s immediately evident that this is no ordinary MINI Cooper (reviewed here). The 2.0-liter turbocharged four under the hood outputs 301 horsepower and 332 lb-ft. of torque, substantial for a car that weighs under 2,800 pounds. A 5.2-second sprint to 100km/h makes it seriously quick and on par with the likes of the Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf R. It’s no slouch, and the performance exhaust system on the GP makes it sound the part too.
Putting the car into GP mode sharpens up the throttle response, minimizes intervention of the stability control system, and tweaks the transmission. It also makes the exhaust slightly louder, but north of 5,000RPM, the MINI seems to be missing power and emotion. It’s quick, but a higher power peak would contribute further to this Cooper’s personality.
The track-focused GP models of the past got a six-speed manual transmission that added to the MINI personality. Unfortunately that’s not an option, and an eight-speed automatic is the only option. This omission marks the departure of a classic trait that defined the car, but in reality, the application is far from having a piece missing. The automatic shifts faster than any driver could, and makes great noises while doing it. If left on its own in GP mode, gears are held longer, and should drivers decide to change gears on their own, paddles are present on the wheel.
Unique features on the GP over the regular, plebian John Cooper Works include a locking differential, heavily modified bodywork maximizing aero, and a trick suspension setup. MINI has also improved the cooling to make sure it doesn’t overheat when being pushed on the track. The interior removes the rear seat in favour of a big brace for added stiffening. Of course, this also means some extra practicality if you need to haul things around – as the former owner of a MINI, I left the rear seats folded down almost exclusively.
Flinging the MINI John Cooper Works GP into a corner at ten-tenths is one of the most rewarding experiences we’ve ever experienced in a front-wheel-drive vehicle. It may have lost some of the visceral feel of MINIs, but the response is just insane. The GP has exceptionally sharp turn in and body roll is next to zero. The locking diff corrects most of the torque steer, but it never stops being obvious that the front wheels are pulling the car along. It’s worth mentioning that while it’s sharp, there isn’t any real feel there – a base Cooper S from fifteen years ago was better in this regard.
The interior of the new GP is fairly typical issue for MINI. The infotainment is a slightly de-tuned version of the previous generation of iDrive, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s easy to get used to and has fun graphics and colours which will be appreciated by the typical MINI clientele. The instrument gauge cluster is now digital, and somehow manages to be quite nice to look at even in direct sunlight. The driving position is quite good and thanks to the large windows, visibility is great as well.
BMW says that 3,000 examples of the 2021 MINI John Cooper Works GP will be made, with each one marked with its respective production number on the front wheel arch. Ours, number 2,870, will eventually end up in the hands of a lucky customer. As a manual transmission advocate and evangelist, it was a tough pill to swallow in accepting that the hottest MINI is automatic-only. After spending some time pushing the new GP to its limits though, it’s evident that this thing isn’t just slightly faster – it’s rambunctious and just hilarious amounts of fun.
*Photos by Lucas Scarfone*