MotoringFile Review: JCW GP

The MINI JCW GP is the ultimate expression of factory performance for the first generation MINI. It’s a car that eschews most of the typical compromises to focus on performance both at the road and track. But what’s it like to actually live with a GP for a week? Is it a car that can become part of daily life or does the lack of compromises make it less useful as regular transportation? With all the recent GP reviews over the last few months we thought it was more appropriate for our review to focus on these questions rather than simply the basics covered elsewhere. My week with the GP started with frigid temps and salt encrusted roads. Having driven in winter conditions since I had my license, I was generally prepared for the lack of grip. But it’s hard to be truly prepared for the power of the GP if you haven’t driven a seriously modded MINI or JCW MINI. And it was that power that made winter or cold weather driving so interesting and at times fun. But let’s start with the basics. The GP is fast. And the sensation is so exhilarating that, if you aren’t burying the tach needle, you feel you’re letting down the car. It’s almost as if it deserves to be driven like you stole it constantly. The sensation of speed, the sounds coming from the exhaust, there are very few cars that are as immediately fun as the GP. One of the additions (or subtractions depending on how you look at it) was the reduction of sound deadening material in an effort to reduce weight. The affect is more road, engine and exhaust noise in the cabin. This is also helped by the lack of rear seats. The net result is a car that isn’t quite as road-trip friendly as the stock MC or MCS. It’s not what I could call loud but you rarely forget that you’re driving a narrowly focused performance car. The GP is also quite a bit lower to the ground than the stock MCS. The front air-dam in particular is exceedingly low. In fact I bottomed out several times simply driving on Chicago roads. And the side skirts aren’t much higher. To jack up the GP, you first must open the small “trap doors” on the bottom of the side skirts to reach the jack points. Then you have to insert the supplied orange blocks which effectively lengthen the jack points to protect the side skirts. To make matters worse the GP doesn’t include a standard MINI jack that typically comes with the cars as it would be incompatible with the orange blocks that extend the jack points. Needless to say fixing a flat should only be undertaken by an experienced person (or BMW dealer) with a low profile jack or an actual lift. It also means getting rid of the run-flats on the GP brings some interesting potential problems should an owner ever need to change a tire on the side of the road. However there is good reason for the GP to be so low. For one it’s equipped with the JCW suspension that has been available as a dealer installed option for several years now. We’ve talked about the JCW suspension kit in the past so we won’t go into details here. However I will say that it is the best compromise between performance and comfort I’ve ever felt. On the performance side, the kit allows the MINI to be better planted in corners not only helping with handling but also significantly improving power delivery from the apex out. Or in other words it reigns in motion as the result of weight transfer and keeps the MINI better composed allowing the two front tires better grip to apply power out of the corner. The JCW suspension kit is a welcome addition to any MINI, but on the 218bhp JCW GP, it’s even more helpful in getting around corners faster and getting power to the ground. It’s also probably the most underrated part of this car. Yet the GP is even lower than the typical MINI equipped with the JCW suspension. This is due to that extremely low body kit I mentioned earlier. But as opposed to most “aero” kits found on cars, the GP’s is quite functional in reducing lift and helping the car feel more stable at high speeds. Also part of this equation is the plastic under-tray and rear wing. On the standard MINI, BMW didn’t particularly pay attention to the aero efficiencies of what was under the car. However on the GP, BMW designed two long plastic trays that cover most of what is down there and work with the aero kit to create less lift and potentially more downforce.

However even more important in creating true downforce is the radical looking rear wing. Unlike all other OEM MINI wings or spoilers, the GP’s wing is attached to the boot and effectively sits behind the roof. According to sources, this is the result of aero work that showed that position to be more efficient at producing downforce and creating more high-speed stability – something stock MINI has always lacked. The wing is attached to the rear boot via reinforced molded plastic and the center portion is made entirely of Carbon Fiber. Compare this to the normal JCW wing which is simply plastic with a carbon fiber laminate applied to the top and you start to understand why MINI pegs the cost of a replacement GP wing at over $2,000. Another GP specific item is the updated intercooler that helps bring the power output up to 218bhp from the standard 210bhp on the 2005 and 2006 JCW MINI Cooper S. And to be honest that even feels conservative. But it’s the way that power is delivered through the power-band that differs from the stock JCW. The GP pulls very strong all the way to and past it’s 7,000rpm redline. In fact, we heard from several sources that MINI was rather conservative with the 7,000 redline. One wonders what engineers could have done if they had just a bit more time. Surely 7,500 or 8,000 could have been achieved.

All this power is put to the ground via some light (19.8lbs is definitely light for OEM standards) 18″ wheels and Dunlop SP Sport 01 DSST. These are the same tires I’ve written about previously on MF having had them on my JCW wheels last year. I won’t go into details here on the tires (since it’s been done before on MF) but I will say that they are generally a solid set of performance tires. They’re great on the street, decent on the track, passable in the rain and deadly in the snow. But the GP’s wheels (internally named R107) are a little more interesting to me. At over 5lbs lighter than the stock S-lites yet an inch larger in diameter, it would seem they offer the best of both worlds – a rarity for an OEM wheel. What that means is they both have great on edge feel (due to the size of the wheel vs side-wall) and give the car an eager feel at turn-in (due to the weight reduction). Both things only found in the aftermarket previously.

The US spec GP’s interior is a bit less special than the rest of the car. Due to US airbag standards (specifically the seat sensors that have been mandated since 2005), the US GP doesn’t get the wonderful Recaros that are standard everywhere else in the world. And while the cloth/leather seating is generally good, it’s not up to the excellence of the rest of the car. While the change does keep the price down, the seats tend to let down the car more than they should. Another omission (which the whole world shares in) is the lack of the superb JCW steering wheel. While again cost was surely an issue with this and other potential interior accessories, the addition of the JCW steering wheel would have been a very nice touch. If you’re an audiophile you’ll also be a bit disappointed. Four speakers (all in the doors) do not make for the best sound-system. Driving around Chicago on a Saturday night with the latest mix pumping out of four lowly speakers reminded me of driving in my friend’s ’84 Cavalier as a sophomore in high school with no radio and a boombox on the dash. Also a disappointment are stock vinyl shift and ebrake boot gaiters. The JCW alcantara gaiters would have been a nice touch to go along with the alcantara/leather JCW steering wheel. And then to top it off, the JCW leather dash would have been a fantastic addition as well. But then again MINI had a price point to hit and surely any dealer would be happy to help you correct these oversights for a price.

Of course the real star of the show when it comes to the interior is the lack of rear seats and that shiny bar in the back. While the bar may not be entirely useful in a structural sense, it does help keep your groceries from flying into the back of the seats (all while looking fantastic). Not all that an underrated feature if you plan to use the car as semi-daily transportation. In theory it also gives you a place to anchor a child seat with the provided anhor point. However those looking to use their Schroth Harness for track use, (an activity that this car desperately begs for) will need to lift up the carpeting and find the anchor points below the floor. One thing I noticed about the small additions behind the front seats was the small door that leads to the compartment below the floor absolutely would not stay latched. The very rudimentary mechanism that closes the door seemed poorly designed and not really well thought-out. Luckily the weight of the door kept it from popping open constantly. But small things like this (while somewhat annoying) reinforced the bespoke quality of the GP compared to a standard MINI. Speaking of build quality GP #0317 was not without the infamous MINI rattles. While the main one emanated from the dash (big surprise), more troubling was the odd plastic on plastic rattle from the rear. And without some sound deadening material and any back seats, that rear rattle got annoying very quickly.

Another small build quality issue that seemed to be exclusive to all GPs I’ve driven and ridden in was the way you had to shut the boot. By the end of our time with the car we were calling it the “GP slam”. We found the only way to be sure the boot was closed was to (with the boot open) put your hand on the license plate (God forbid you touch the metal!) and then to slam it with just enough force to make you feel uncomfortable. Only when you felt a little worried that you just broke your $32,000 car would it be fully closed. After spending seven days with the GP I came away with three main attributes that (for me) defined it as special over the stock MCS: addicting power all the way to red-line, sublime sounds, and improved dynamics. Now trying to pick one of those three as the single most impressive attribute of the GP is incredibly difficult. Looking at it logically one would have to say that the increased power and dynamics have to be the top two. And choosing between those two would seemingly be easy, right? While the increased horsepower is a huge part of the car, on public roads all that power and speed only does so much. At the end of the day the thing I miss most about the GP is the way it handled. The way it absolutely refused to pitch, roll, squat or dive in hard driving, how it felt utterly planted at speeds that make most MINIs feel nervous was eye-opening. For me the soul of the GP comes down to the aero work done throughout the car, reduced unsprung weight with the aluminum rear control arms, the addition of the superb JCW suspension and the weight reduction that brings it all together.

While all this makes for an great track car, what does it do for the general day to day livability of the GP? No, it may not be the right choice for those who need more than two seats occasionally. But for those who can look beyond that, this car does everything anyone could expect of it while feeling and sounding better (and yes badder) than any other factory MINI out there. It’s great with gas (despite the fact that I recorded 16.8mpg in my “rigorous” tests), it fits anywhere and it swallows luggage or groceries as well as a 3 series. One of the most loved attributes of the MINI is it’s ability to be a great track car while being versatile enough to act as a useful part of daily life. What MINI has done with the GP was to turn the performance portion up to 11 while keeping most of the versatility of the stock car intact. The net result is a truly special car that is hard not to fall in love with more and more each day. Simply put, the GP is the ultimate MINI.

Full size versions of the photos above can be found on Flickr here: MF Review: JCW GP
  • Jon


    The car I’d have if I were single and without family. (sigh)…

    Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to “suffer” with my MCS. 🙂

  • Great review. Excellent how you focused on what other review’s didn’t – daily driver or not. The GP is not so practical for me, but a fantastic car nonetheless. No questions went unanswered. Thanks Gabe!


  • Thanks Gabe – great write-up and excellent pics 🙂

    Four speakers (two in the doors, two in the dash)

    … all four are in the doors, one at the bottom of each door and one in the tweeter position next to the door open handle

  • GZ

    Nice review Gabe. I’ve seen so much on this car that I first thought another story would be redundant but you kept it interesting.

    I saw one of these in person and while my feelings are still mixed on the styling, I would love to drive one. One thing I question is why Mini engineers could not have created a car with MORE power than 218 HP? I have seen plenty of aftermarket kits that claim 225, 245, and even 265HP. I put a UNICHIP in my ’05 JCW that likely met or surpassed 218 HP and I also had the JCW suspension/brakes (plus a 22″ rear sway). While it was a heavier car it sure looked better. So I just can’t get too worked up as it just doesn’t seem all that extraordinary when it could be much more than what alot of people already had. Or am I missing something?

  • Have to agree with your summing up comments Gabe, I had a GP on loan in November and if I had the cash there’d be no question that one would be in my garage.

    A future classic no doubt and it’s the most-focused MINI to date. Roll on GP MK2

  • Seth L

    Could we get some of those pics in wallpaper size : )

  • Could we get some of those pics in wallpaper size : )

    Absolutely. I just added a link to the story for full size photos.

    … all four are in the doors, one at the bottom of each door and one in the tweeter position next to the door open handle

    Good catch – I completely forgot about that.

  • Lorien

    “t’s almost as if it deserves to be driven like you stole it constantly” what a lovely line! I fully agree

    I also agree with your review, but will note that I found the runflats too harsh for the roads in Italy, and swaped them for the better Michelin PILOT PS2 (same size). The drive is a lot better now than before.

    Owner of GP#1986

  • FrankInMiami

    You forgot to mention another seemingly annoying irritant of the GP: Lack of a rear window wiper.

    Also, no front and rear fog lights are offered in the US Spec version of the GP either. (They are also available in the European spec version, so I have been told)

    Great review otherwise. I also agree that the interior is really nothing special for a “Special” edition factory MINI. However, I really like the anthracite background of the tach and speedo.

  • FrankInMiami

    GZ, I think the whole point of the GP, from a performance perspective, is that it offers better off the line low end torque than a stock MCS, while offering a more “linear” acceleration experience. Extra horsepower is not that very useful with out the all important torque, wouldn’t you agree?

  • FrankInMiami

    Oh, and the fact that the GP was offered only halogen headlights, may dissapoint the most vocal of Xenon light fans out there. 😉

  • FrankInMiami

    In our last local club event, there were 2 brand new GPs. While I have no problem with the styling of the car (The red mirror caps don’t bother me), the rear view angle of the car is dissapointing for some reason. It just doesn’t look substantial sort of speak. The “narrow” looking tires, the huge rear spoiler and a little tacky rear bumper don’t give the car an agressive stance, but rather a tack on look, typical of “rice-rockets” out there.

    Don’t get me wrong. It is a LOVELY car and would have seriously considered it if it had not been for the lack of a rear seat, but there are bits in the interior and exterior of the GP that could have been done better in such away to further distance the car from its “proletariat” breathen.

  • You forgot to mention another seemingly annoying irritant of the GP: Lack of a rear window wiper.

    It’s been reported elsewhere and talked about here so I glossed over it. But yes, no wiper. However the boot glass doesn’t get as dusty as the standard car due to the wing.

    Also, no front and rear fog lights are offered in the US Spec version of the GP either. (They are also available in the European spec version, so I have been told)

    Rear fogs are available outside the US. In the US it’ll either be a dealer install or some DIY. Front fogs would require some cutting of the front plastic – not ideal.

    However, I really like the anthracite background of the tach and speedo.

    Me too – however they were a little harder to read during some times of the day and/or with sunglasses on.

    Oh, and the fact that the GP was offered only halogen headlights, may dissapoint the most vocal of Xenon light fans out there.

    Again mentioned so many times here and on WRR I figured I’d not beat it to death.

  • FrankInMiami

    Gabe, are the gear ratios of the GP different from the stock MCS?

  • GZ

    I agree about the torque and we’ll see the benefit of that on the ’07 S (JCW). And I understand how the GP is an improvement on your garden variety JCW. However, it’s not a substantial improvement in performance and the exterior is questionable (chrome mirror caps/CF please). I do like the seats and instruments(interior chrome please)but a nice touch would have been aux guages (i.e. 2004 MCS 40)and CF dash.

    The price is in line though and that’s why it’s unspectacular. Of course it’s likely selling at a premium.

  • FrankInMiami

    My local dealer still has 2 new GP’s both retailing with a $10K mark-up.

    The car is fantastic, bit it is not worth a penny over the $31K sticker price, IMHO.

    And I agree with Gabe that the US GP seats, while they have a nice upholstery combo are nothing but the standard “sport” seats found in stock MCS. This car with the European spec Recaros and the JCW steering wheel would have been absolutely splendid.

  • FrankInMiami

    GZ, the JCW package for the R56 MCS will not be available until the 2008 model year.

  • meb

    …I’m still not convinced. BMW have taken a different turn, one that points away from pure sports cars. In particular, weight is way up in most cars. I cannot fault BMW for catering to those who want there cars to perform one of life’s functions, while also driving by the way.

    Although the GP and the newest Mini are indeed light, the purity of purpose is still missing. The edge needs to be sharpened a bit.

  • meb

    above should read …everyone one of life’s functions…

  • GZ

    Unfotunately that seems too be the case. Fall ’07 I’m hoping. I will place the first order.

    I just bought all ’07 MC brochures including JCW items from Ebgland off Ebay. The JCW seats are amazing. The pictures look great inside and out. When February hits people will be excited.

  • Lou A.

    The relatively balmy weather(no frozen precip) in the northeast has been a godsend. GP0487 goes into the garage in favor of the 4×4 when the white stuff happens. The lack of sound deadening allows just enough “music” into the cockpit where my wife isn’t clamoring to come along…her loss my gain.

  • marcel

    excellent review and great pics. I’ve been pretty harsh on the GP mainly for its looks but the car is really growing on me…

  • Vanwall

    Very personal, yet informative review, Gabe! Initially, I wasn’t impressed with the looks of the GP on paper, but when I got to MTTS, it was very different in the flesh – I was pleasantly surprised, and it was a very well integrated styling exercise. Like you have previously found out, the JCW suspension package is not like the others, and as part of the GP package with the R107s, I presume that’s one reason it’s so well behaved under any circumstance. Too bad about the Recaros, but overall I imagine the weeks experience wasn’t too onerous. 😉

            Rob in Dago
  • UBeenMiniD

    Right on Gabe.

    Couple of quick things.

    The speakers … the Xenons … all more weight. And although I feel the GP is great out of the box, it’s pretty clear it could still lose some weight. If I make any mods, it will be mainly weight driven. Rims come to mind, just so I preserve the GP rims.

    I agree with Lorien about the tires. I will be doing that myself, as the Bay Area is just too harsh for these runflats.

    I also agree with meb to an extent. The GP was initially billed as being something reminicent of what the original E30 M3 was for BMW (read my recent post about this with JCW officially owned by BMW now). I’m not so sure they quite made it. As you mention Gabe, they fell short on the interior appointed trim (e.g. steering wheel, dash, seats, etc.). I’m sure the $ drove those decisions in the end.

    But when all is said and done … would I do it again?

    Without hesitation. There’s just too much positive.

  • Charlie

    Of course the real star of the show when it comes to the interior is the lack of rear seats and that shiny bar in the back. While the bar may not be entirely useful in a structural sense, it does help keep your groceries from flying into the back of the seats (all while looking fantastic). Not all that an underrated feature if you plan to use the car as semi-daily transportation. In theory it also gives you a place to anchor a Schroth Harness for track use (an activity that this car desperately begs for).

    Gabe, The “parcel bar” is just that—a bar to stop parcels. It was tested for that purpose; and rated to anchor a child safety seat at most. It is not suitable to as an anchor for a driver’s harness like the Schroth—especially for a 150-250 lb driver.

    The rear seat belt anchor bolts are still in place under the foam storage insert; and you can buy the center buckle assembly from a MINI dealer to utilize the Schroth system; but you have to remove the compartment cover, and remove the red side panels in order to remove the foam insert to modify it to access the seat belt points for harness installation at a track event.

  • Great review! But the GP doesn’t deliver 218hp and the stock works deliver only 201hp we had an dyno test in Holland and al stock mcs deliver more power as standard but not the works and the GP! So, i put mine MTH header back on the GP and special software (not the MTH file but the software is special written in Holland by ) and now it deliver 220hp and 260nm 🙂 And yes this is the best Mini i ever driven.. and i am glad that the rear seats are gone 😉 (more space for mine surfgear)

    Hans GP1630

  • Sorry i forgot, on the dyno had the GP 210hp! and the most stock mcs 186hp!!

  • FrankInMiami

    Hans, your dyno results are very interesting. The 2005 and 2006 MCS are rated (Per BMW) @ 168HP, but I always felt that the car had much more than that. Was the 186HP dyno readout made on a car 100% factory stock?

    Also have you dyno’ed a 2002-2004 MCS with the old gearing? The old MCS was rated @ 163HP…..

  • GZ

    They surf in Holland? Are the cloggs built into the boards? According to Hans there is something rotten in Denmark. Stock MCS 186HP vs. 210 on GP and 201 on JCW? Could this be true? 6000K for 15 ponies? Or am I misunderstanding something? How subjective are various dynos?

  • How subjective are various dynos?


  • marcel
    They surf in Holland? Are the cloggs built into the boards? According to Hans there is something rotten in Denmark

    yes, they (wind)surf. without cloggs. Denmark, different country… 🙂

  • It’s in Dutch.. And this was the first dynoday.. Automagazine’s like also use this dyno. It’s was amazing that the stock mcs deliver so must power and the works don’t.. It;s on the same dyno.. so.. And No, we don’t surf with cloggs and we don’t smoke wiet all day 😉 I do Kitesurfing and windsurfing and next week i am in Bali for surfing..

  • R56LVR

    Hans, are you talking windsurfing? Right on, my brother! The MINI is the coolest windsurf vehicle, bar none. I fit all my windsurf gear in mine with only one half of the rear seat folded down. 🙂 No roof rack!! My JP FSW 93 fits INSIDE the car (with the fin removed). 430cm mast also. During the season here, I regulary leave my board, mast, boom and 3 sails and everything else in the car and commute to and from work with it all loaded up ready to go.

  • And the New R56 Cooper..

    119,46Hp (stock 120HP) 158NM by 4500 rev

  • tony T

    Good review mate.

    Prooves that the GP is more than the sum of its parts, and yet there were definate areas that could have been better.

  • R56LVR

    So, if we are agreed that the cargo bar is not suitable for a harness, then how do you install a Schroth Quick Fit in the GP?

  • Speaking of build quality GP #0317 was not without the infamous MINI rattles.

    Well mine GP is without any rattles even after 14000km and some trackdays.. however the brakes can’t handle the some fast rounds on the track.. they were smoking after 5 rounds (it was hot that day) they can improve the brakes for the next R56 GP 😉 And, yes i have the JCW steering wheel thanks too motoringfile..) This must be standard for this car the GP cost in Holland €45000,- euro!!

  • GZ

    “there’s two things I can’t stand, one are people who are intolerant of other people’s cultures, and the other……”

    Hans. Did you Dyno a 2007 MCS? Is it 191?

    The dyno of 2006 MCS at 186 is fine but isn’t anyone going to weigh in on the JCW dyno of 201 (what happened to my 210 Mini claimed?). No one has a comment on $6000 for 15 hp? I thought this would create some dispute in defense of the JCW.

  • The dyno of 2006 MCS at 186 is fine but isn’t anyone going to weigh in on the JCW dyno of 201 (what happened to my 210 Mini claimed?)

    I’ve seen dynos claim enough crazy things in my time to not be bothered by something like this. And I’ve also seen enough crazy things when you’re talking one identical car vs another. If I were a JCW owner I wouldn’t give it a second thought. Just go drive a stock MCS and you’ll remember why you spent 6k.

  • The dyno was with a Cooper 2007 and it was 119,4 HP!!

    And it’s the feeling that make the differents with the Works it just feels beter than a stock mcs and that is $6000,- worth.. Like Gabe say (sorry for mine english but your Dutch aren’t must better i think 😉

  • GoodFinder


    That was a very good review to accompany all the other write-ups we’ve seen to-date on the GP. Most of the GP owners I know are also very happy with their purchase, ownership and driving experience. We know that no one car can “do it all” and the GP is a wonderful synergy.

    The primary performance area I’m improving on my GP is actually to dial the handling up a further notch (adjustable camber plates, strut brace, different wheels and tires, rear sway bar, coilovers, accompanied by further lowering, performance alignment, and corner balancing).

    Thanks again for the review, your wonderful website, and I look forward to saying hello in person at MOTD ’07!

    Steve Harvey / GP 0102

  • Phil

    Hi Gabe, We have an ’05 MCA and were wondering what “R” designation it would be. Sure would like to get the right grill badge to add to our collection. Thanks and Happy Holidays!

  • Phil – there’s a cheat sheet on the right of MotoringFile to asnwer just that question. For the Cooper Auto it would be R50.

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  • derek

    I’m likin’ the iron cross wheels…

  • Christopher

    I have two Minis and one is the MC40, but when this came out I was so jealous. The MC40 is cool, and there are fewer of them; however, it’s all cosmetic. The GP is just plain wicked.

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  • Nice write up Gabe. Actually I now own GP0317. Havent heard any rattles tho, and ive installed a stereo that kills the stock junk it came with – this thing hits like a wifebeater…its neat to see your pics and learn that this one was a car used for review. I use the GP as an everyday driver (sweet twisty backroads to work and back home 20 miles total) and intend on storing it through the winter. Wherever I roll peoples be sweatin the GP like a runaway slave. It stands out for beyond most MC grocery runners. Thanks again. Holla atcha boy..haha

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  • Saw that i commented on this a year or so ago and thought I’d update you as things have changed a bit since then…

    I’m now the proud owner of GP1916 and a Father of one. i can just about get away with this as my Wife has a sensible Golf.

  • GP1254

    I LOVE my GP!!! 🙂

  • Terry

    Nice excite up Gabe, so has the new JCW coupe exceeded the GP?

    • Terry

      Sorry, should say Nice write up Gabe.