Handling is where the MINI John Cooper Works GP absolutely shines.
MINI, a brand that has traditionally produced fun, engaging compact cars, has rewarded car enthusiasts with a special GP model based on each generation since BMW has taken over. It is a limited-edition model that embodies the best of MINI’s philosophy, and we are very fortunate to have picked up the key to the 2021 MINI John Cooper Works GP for a thorough evaluation.
The new MINI GP comes with an aggressive styling package that catches the attention of everyone, even those who do not normally pay attention to cars. It is unmistakable as a MINI, with styling turned up to the wildest level imaginable. The front end gets a dress up with additional air vents and red accents, with the side and rear getting the most obvious aerodynamic upgrades with the over-fender aerodynamic bits, rear apron, and a comically oversized rear spoiler.
Each MINI John Cooper Works GP is uniquely numbered, labeled on its front wheel arch as well as on the passenger side of the dashboard. Combined with the signature grey and red paint scheme, these unique aerodynamic parts establish the specialness of this limited edition MINI, and gives the Honda Civic Type R a serious run for its money in being the wildest hot hatch design in the market today.
Unlike the previous generations of the MINI GP model, the MINI GP is not offered with a manual transmission. Instead, an eight-speed automatic gearbox connects the 2.0-litre TwinPower turbocharged four-cylinder engine to the front wheels, with manual shifting available through the dedicated 3D-printed aluminum shift paddles.
With 301 rated horsepower and 332 lb-ft. of peak torque, the MINI GP’s performance output might not jump out at you right away. However, factor in the fact that the GP weighs less than 2,800 pounds, with its engine response dialed up at all times, it’s seriously quick on the city streets. Zero to 100 km/h is achieved in 5.2 seconds, similar to what we observed in the Honda Civic Type R and the Volkswagen Golf R, and the angry exhaust note gives off an impression that the GP is going faster than its speedometer reads.
Handling is where the front-drive MINI John Cooper Works GP absolutely shines. MINI has the suspension tuning dialed in, body roll is nearly nonexistent, and the GP goes exactly where it’s pointed. Steering is precise, albeit slower than we had expected, and there is real road feel felt due to the electric assist. MINI has fitted the GP with a mechanical limited-slip differential to help keep torque steer under control, and the amount of physical grip is greater than any hot hatches currently in the market.
The only adjustability on the GP is by engaging GP mode through the switch beside the start/stop toggle, which dials down or completely shuts off the vehicle’s stability control. In a day where most performance cars have adjustable steering, throttle, transmission, and suspension settings, it is refreshing to see the MINI GP’s focus on staying 100% engaged at all times.
The only downside to the overall driving experience with the MINI GP is in its automatic transmission, and we do not just mean the omission of a manual option. During city commuting and throughout our back road tests, the transmission always felt a step too slow in response, no matter if shifted through the paddles or letting the car pick its own gears. We are not suggesting that the eight-speed box in this MINI is slow; but in a car where everything feels hyper responsive, we could not help but to wish for a lightning quick gearbox like a dual-clutch to match.
We do not suppose many buyers of a MINI John Cooper Works GP plan on taking their limited-edition toy through the daily commute, but those who do would be not be too upset with our observed 11.7L/100km fuel consumption. MINI recommends 93-octane gasoline for the punchy powerplant, and a minimum of 89-octane to keep it running properly.
Ride comfort is, well, basically non-existent in this track-ready pocket rocket. Between the firm suspension setup and tight bucket seats, you cannot help but to wonder if you are sitting in a road or race car sometime. Then again, this is not intended to be an urban commuter so there is no disappointment there. The 59 lucky owners in Canada will likely only have this out for fun drives or for motorsport, so the need for plush ride is negated by the car’s remarkable ability to corner and deliver on its fun promises every trip.
Despite the barebones interior, there are good ergonomics. Visibility is excellent, like every MINI, and it was not difficult to find a suitable seating position. It is worth reminding that the MINI John Cooper Works GP is a strict two-seater, as the rear seats have been removed for weight saving purposes. MINI engineers have instead installed a thick rear strut bar for even better handling. Driver assist technologies are also kept to a minimal in the GP.
Infotainment is shared with all other MINI products, delivered through the touchscreen unit on the centre console. Commands are accepted though touch or the rotary dial below the shifter, and the unit is mainly derived from BMW’s iDrive system so it is intuitive to use. Apple CarPlay connectivity is supported, but Android users are left using their Bluetooth connection.
Priced at $51,990, the 2021 MINI John Cooper Works GP is about $5,000 more than a fully loaded MINI John Cooper Works 3-Door. It might seem like a large premium, but if you factor in the cost of modifying, and the exclusivity of belonging to a club with no more than 7,000 members worldwide, the GP suddenly does not seem overpriced. Performance wise, it would be a closest match to the Honda Civic Type R and the Volkswagen Golf R, but the GP has a significant weight advantage and offers a love it or hate it raw driving experience that the other two simply cannot replicate.