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

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.