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Opinion: Why the New GP is MINI’s First real JCW Product

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There is little question the original JCW GP is a special car — an incredibly special car. It was thrown together at break-neck speed with off-the-shelf parts and yet it’s one of the most satisfying cars I’ve ever driven at any price. Sure, MINI had some trouble selling all of them at the time, as they have with the GP2, but since then it’s become a classic with ever-slowing depreciation. That original MINI JCW GP will surely be a classic.

In contrast, the new GP is a much more serious car. Road testing and development took place primarily at the Nurburgring, led primarily by a MINI race car driver. Instead of a few months, the second generation JCW GP was two years in the making. In those two years, MINI JCW fitted an entirely new, bespoke suspension. MINI spec’d unique tires and a specially-matched six-pot braking system that was designed to stop cars almost 1,000 lbs heavier. The result was nothing short of phenomenal. Whether on the track or on the road, the 2013 JCW GP is astonishing in its ability to change direction, stop, and go. Yet it’s not just the quickness of the new GP that exhilarates. It’s the car’s feedback at every touch-point.

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There’s much more to the GP than simply an upgrade to the existing MINI JCW Hardtop. Unlike the first GP, or any JCW product for that matter, this is a rethink of every aspect of the car, save drivetrain. We’ll get to that in a second, but first let’s talk about why the GP is so impressive and quite possibly, a peak into JCW’s future.

Aside from the engine, the rest of the new GP is more singularly focused than even BMW M cars. Simply put, the suspension and tire set-up is more serious than anything outside of an M3 GTS or CRT. The brakes are derived from the BMW 135i and thus quite over-specced for a 2,700 MINI. “Stopping power” doesn’t begin to describe the result. That braking capability means you can drive the car deeper into a corner and even trail brake if that’s your style. Yet for all their capability, the GP’s brakes aren’t grabby or difficult put to good use in everyday driving.

Then there’s the GP’s aero. Some of it is sexy, some not. The rear wing is smaller than the previous GP because, surprisingly, smaller actually works better at reducing lift. Yet the rear spoiler is only part of the equation. There are the plastic bits under the front of the car that will go unseen by most owners. Yet those under panels are almost as important as the wing, because they reduce lift in the front of the car, where it’s needed most.

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Inside, the GP is a mixture of off-the-shelf JCW components and bespoke touches. Most obvious, the rear seat has been removed in an effort to reduce weight. Yet for all its red JCW fanfare, the interior package works very well. From the red seat belts to the leather dash, to the Recaro seats — once you take a seat in the GP’s cockpit, you know you’re not in your average dealer-spec MINI Hardtop. With the sound-deadening material removed, the GP’s cockpit is a very visceral place to be when the car is in motion. You hear and feel everything the car is doing — from the burbling growl of the engine to the seemingly endless grip of those exclusive Kumho tires.

All the on-paper specs and laundry list of components don’t do this car’s driving experience justice. Some people, most who whom haven’t even driven the GP, have dismissed it as “not enough” of an improvement over the standard JCW Hardtop. We couldn’t disagree more, and we’re not alone in the world of the automotive press in holding the GP in high regard. Most of the GP’s detractors talk about horsepower, as though 300 hp in a FWD car is an automatic performance formula. While we disagree about horsepower as a magic bullet, let’s talk about the GP’s engine.

If there’s any dissapoitnent with the new GP it’s found under the hood. The 1.6L JCW power plant found in the GOP is unchanged here in the US. In European GPs, some subtle tuning created a bit more power, but not much. Why did MINI invest so heavily into every other aspect of the car except the one that creates the go? In a word: budget. MINI only had so many dollars to spend in developing the new GP. Given all the things they could have done, MINI chose to focus on aerodynamics, braking and suspsension instead of blowing the whole budget on squeezing 50 reliable horsepower out of a dead-end engine program. Minus the other improvements made to the GP instead, MINI would have ended up with a slower, less compelling car in the end. The Prince engine was always a stop-gap measure for MINI until they figured out what to do long-term (starting with the F56). Now that they have that decision in place (a 2.0L four cylinder JCW sounds good doesn’t it?) they’ll be able to create future JCW cars with an engine strategy in mind from the beginning.

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If we think about the GP in that context, outside of the engine MINI and JCW significantly upgraded every other performance component on the car, all while further setting the car apart visually. While the specific graphics on the GP definitely aren’t for everyone (they aren’t for us), for anyone who’s driven the car in anger, the results speak for themselves. It is without question the fastest and most rewarding MINI created to date. And in my mind, this is the first real product MINI has created that lives up to the JCW name.

This car more than any before it should give us all hope for the JCW brand’s future. If the rumors we’ve heard are true regarding the 2015 JCW, we should all expect very good things. The R56-based JCW GP is an early look at that. Especially when you add the potential of a 2.0L, turbocharged engine to the equation.

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Written By: Gabe

  • bubbleboy76

    GP1 and GP2 is not the exact same color, right? GP1 looks more blue-ish. and GP2 more dark grey.

    • JonPD

      They are different colors bubbleboy76, Your eyes are correct on the color differences.

  • JonPD

    Having owned the original GP and driven the GP2 on the track and street still am one that was and is disappointed with the GP2 personally. While the suspension and brakes in the GP2 is solid overall the car still felt short in my book. Its looks were ok however the childish stickers are ugly as can be. While I was not expecting a 300 hp car, I was certainly hoping for more than a tiny tweak of the motor leaving it with less separation from the standard JCW cars. The GP2 felt like 80% of the car it should have been. MINI needed to create a car that had a clean separation from the standard JCW cars. A JCW and especially needs clear upgrades and uniqueness from the Cooper S. Guess I would say at the end of the day that the GP2 felt more like a /Msport versus a full blown /M. For me the original GP is still the go to car as it has character in spades that the more refined GP2 just cannot replicate in my view. I think the GP2 should have been the placement of the factory JCW cars and then give more power and unique details and faster acceleration along with standout look all their own. The fact you can order most of what makes the GP2 visually different and bolt it onto a non GP cheapens the entire car.

    I have hope that BMW/MINI will finally treat the JCW a bit better overall and hope that and eventual GP3 will be a truly special car. Wish I could say I have confidence in that due to their track record however.

    • cct1

      The main difference in increased performance between this car and the GP1?

      Sticky tires.

      Swing and a miss by BMW. My hope lies in what the 2015 2.0 liter will bring to the table. When the suspension/brakes are maxed out, power IS the magic bullet.

  • wetwolf

    To those who have driven the GP2, any truth to the R&T comment about the rear end getting squirrelly under heavy braking from 120? This is from the article about the performance car of the year.

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      Less so than standard MINIs.

    • Head Honcho

      I would love to hear from anyone that has compared it to the Ford Fiesta ST. Maybe it was that same article that they chose the Ford over the GP. I saw another where the Fiesta was chosen over the JCW. I know it is way cheaper build quality but half the price. I could look past its looks if it is really that good.

      • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

        Fiesta or Focus?

        • Head Honcho

          Fiesta ST

        • R.Burns

          It’s been compared and if the Fiesta is better than 208 or Clio, it is way behind the Mini on a track ! Think the GP2 is very close to the current Megane RS trophy, and better than all other Megane RS

        • Head Honcho

          They didn’t give the win to the Fiesta over the MINI on track time. It was over all feel. I am sure a little bit on price also. How many people get on the track?

        • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

          It’s amazing how often cheeper is automatically “better” in a lot of these comparisons. Sure, value is important, but when it’s the only factor being considered, it assumes all other factors are equal, which they usually aren’t, and definitely aren’t when we’re talking about a car like the GP.

    • Dr Obnxs

      I’ve found that getting rid of the liquid filled front control arm bushings really reduce or eliminate the squirrely breaking behavior in new MINIs. The stock bushings are one of my least favorite parts in the cars….

    • BimmerFile_Michael

      With any car that has the majority of its weight over the front this is an issue, not just the GP and I would argue that the GP has less of an issue in this area because of the suspension.

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      Less so than standard MINIs.

    • John Coleman

      I’ve had my GP2 on the track a few times. Although I’ve been able to get it up to 118 mph on the back straight at High Plains Raceway (Colorado), typical speed is closer to 115 before breaking for 45 degree right turn. Looking at my Harry’s Lap Timer data, breaking force was between .51Gs and .71Gs at the end of the straight. I’ve experimented with traction control set to GP Mode and all the way off and did not feel that the car was ever squirrelly.

      Other info: tires were the standard performance run flats that came on the GP1.

  • Dr Obnxs

    So, based on this the NEXT JCWs will be the current GP suspension philosophy with a 2 L 4 turbo I4? Sounds good but I’m skeptical….. It seems to me that BMW has always been a bit wary of the performance overlap between MINIs and BMW, and with the platform sharing that’s going on now, how can MINI ever offer a mass-produced customizable suspension with a turbo 4 that would eat most one series lunch? While I’d love MINI to really unleash the hounds on what the chassis is capable of without regards to the value proposition of BMWs, I really doubt that it will ever happen. But let’s say it does, and the next JCW is the real deal….. Then WTF would be the GP3? I love the tease of this article and really hope it comes to be. But I’ve also seen BMW in action and fear that our hopes will not be fully realized.

    • BimmerFile_Michael

      I have seen BMW in action and everything is always fully realized- it is just not spread to every market. You can not truly understand what the M3 CRT really is. The next GP should follow suit.

      The one condition of this all is that limited run cars have suspensions that do not completely make it to the next generation mass production cars- the idea does but coil overs are not for everyone.

      With the M3 GTS and CRT BMW hard bolted the rear end (everything) to the frame, took out all the rubber an made changes to kinematics (angles/lengths etc.). They added stress plates and changed materials; on the current crop of M offerings this is standard fare- along with insane strut bracing etc. The adjustable dampers are not manual and there is no adjustment in ride height however.

      Having spent time with the BMW Board member in charge of MINI- I can honestly say that he is focussed on MINI being MINI- go kart handling and performance minded rather than the overlap with BMW. There really is no overlap as BMW will never have a car to compete with the hatch and MINI can get away with stiffer suspensions than BMW can outside of M. The BMW shared platform cars will be for sales not performance.

      The GP3 will feature CF and a BMW tuned engine, with sick brakes and handling. It will be without issues. It will be what every enthusiast wants- the question is whether it will be for every market. BMW has not been able to offer its best products in the states for 3 generations of M3; will this be true for the future of the GP? We hope not.

    • PGT_Mini

      The BMW N20 is a pretty sweet engine, especially when paired with the 8HP transmission. In full-tilt spec (240hp), and placed in the third gen-GP…it would be a handful for a FWD car. I would therefore venture a guess that BMW will fit the lower spec N20 as seen in the 320i vs. the 328. We own a 328 M Sport and its a great car….5.8 sec to 60, 35mpg. A GP3 would easily meet those numbers with the 320 spec N20 given the lower weight.

      • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

        The N20 is a completely different engine as compared to MINIs new 2.0.

        • PGT_Mini

          Doh. I thought I had read they had some common DNA…..the lines merging closer together.

  • BimmerFile_Michael

    This GP is similar in Concept to what M has done with there limited run offerings of late minus the engine…

    What that may indicate is that the future base JCW will take many of these new techniques to improve performance.

    BMW M has done this with the CSL, GTS and CRT offerings to create the next base M version.

    The engine tuning will come- the next generation is being shared with BMW on several levels so there will be more cost effective ways.

    The GP 2 is a preview to what the future holds for JCW and when GP3 comes around- it will be the culmination of a decade of R&D when compared the the GP1.

    Personally I think the GPII is what it is all about- rather than HP using finesse like a true Go Kart.

  • brt356

    As always, excellent job on another great article. Thanks

  • BimmerFile_Michael

    We are talking about the GP2 and how it will shape the next generation of cars.

    • MJCW

      The shape of the next generation of cars is precisely what I’m worried about.

      • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

        The shape is not on-topic, however.

  • MINI Lover & Driver since 2004

    but … GP’s are already sold out here in Belgium … and extra, MINI europe is not that hardcore as MINI USA … the ambassadors overhere are absolutly NOT MINI, (Except Mr Piens) … and the image they sell is not the image they believe in … My MINI will be my last one … Rather to B then to seem real… Hello Audi or Porsche My last meeting with one of the MINI vendors was about the style of their sales-people… And the big boss askes me : would you buy a MINI from a guy with tattoo’s and a stretch ?? Duuh thats what in the MINI catalogue, Skaters, Surfers, extreme people and so on … So I go like : Yeah sure ! Instead they hired the same salesperson they fired 5 years ago … One of those guys who looks at you, and already makes his idea …. If you got mony, you’re his friend, if not … Get Lost… Really MINI ? Set your priorities straight…

    • tobi

      pas faux :) groupe ginion ou martin, bof bof…

  • Gene Leeds

    Great article. I still have absolutely zero interest in the GP.

  • BimmerFile_Michael

    B48B20o0 is the engine code for the next JCW engine- the same engine will be used in the F45 (2 Series Sport Tourer) and the F48 X1 28i. So expect output to be easily tuned for different applications.

    The B series engine is BMW’s next generation .5 cylinder scalable architecture that can be used in many different products. This is the basis of the 3 cylinders and on up to 6 cylinders. There is no plans for a V8 using this architecture- there may be no future V8s offered if sources are to believed and BMW continues to push plug in and hybrids….

  • Herr26

    The next JCW models will not be as spread out alongside existing MINI Concepts. Sure you will have the JCW Aeropacket , accessories power kit etc… But not all variants of the next MINI generation will be a full blooded JCW.

    The gloves are off and MINI are now moving the JCW brand To be the full blooded core performance arm of MINI similar to BMW M. The JCW Concept premieres these intentions (for now) it will be the Ultimate in Performance for the MINI. It also allows some extra performance , equipment and aerodynamics exclusivity.

    • JonPD

      Guess my question would be similar to what type of ///M car. The ones that have won a vast number of races bringing the BMW Roundel to its premise or the one that makes ///Momsport SUV to allow little Jimmy’s Mon and Dad to get him to practice on the football pitch? Guess a more legitimate question would be ///M like a M3 or dropping a standard production motor into a “///M”. Don’t get me wrong I love the 1M unlike a vast majority of ///M’s recent offerings but still think the lack of a motor upgrade was a huge miss. Building a JCW should not mean a tiny handful of extra power and meager gains on acceleration that has been the hallmark of JCW to date.


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