The 2020 JCW GP is unlike any other MINI ever made. It is the most inherently flawed MINI we’ve ever driven with torque steer that demands the driver wrestle the wheel as much as point and shoot out of corners. At times even frightening, it’s the type of engineered mayhem that rarely exists in today’s automotive world. And it’s utterly exhilarating.
Producing 306 hp all through the front wheels, the 2020 JCW GP completely re-writes the GP brief. For two generations we’ve come to expect moderate power levels with a lightweight and honed chassis dominating the experience. Those first two generations felt tactile, engaging and fast. They weren’t that fast mind you. But you felt every one of those 214 hp (211 hp for the GP2) as you rowed the manual six speed transmission. The all new 2020 JCW GP burns that tradition to the ground with a completely new formula of power and speed that feels shocking coming from a front wheel drive car.
Managing 306 hp One Corner at Time
The 2020 JCW GP delivers all of its 306 hp and 332 ft lbs solely through the front wheels. That’s the same engine that we have in our 2020 JCW Clubman – a car that exhibits torque steer even with MINI’s All4 system sending power back to the rear wheels. In the GP there is no such system to redistribute power. It’s always on and always flowing through the same two tires that you steer with.
Typically this is the sort of flaw that would show-up out of low speed corners only. But here with so much torque, you’re just a jab of the throttle away from wrestling with that 332 ft lbs of torque.
Take note. We’re four paragraphs in and we’ve not stopped talking about the engine and power output. That’s how much this car is dominated by its drivetrain. The other part of the drivetrain that has garnered a lot of attention is the GP’s Aisin sourced 8 speed automatic transmission. We’ve driven variants of this same unit now for years in various JCW products and found it to be generally excellent. In our current 306 hp Clubman it’s appropriately snappy and generally pleasing. Shifts in sport are aggressive and crisp with the type of neck snapping feel that MINI has never had. More importantly the transmission reacts to inputs with quick consistency helping the JCW Clubman deliver a 4.6 second 0-60 time over and over again.
In the GP that same transmission feels a touch less crisp and even a bit slower in its transitions on its way to 60 mph. After putting almost 1,000 miles on the car we’ve come to the conclusion it must be a very conscious decision to attempt to isolate the front tires from even more torque induced disruption.
If you’ve never driven the 306 hp JCW Clubman or Countryman you wouldn’t notice and you might even appreciate the quickness of the shifts and the point and shoot nature of the whole package. But there’s clearly a difference in the way this transmission reacts. Combine that with the traction problems that come with only two wheels putting power down and you have a 0-60 time of around 5 seconds versus 4.6 with our JCW Clubman.
Ideally MINI would have slotted a close ratio Getrag manual transmission in the GP. Given that the straight line performance is flawed due to traction, we’d much rather had MINI focus on engagement and interaction by going with a three pedal set-up.
Of course MINI didn’t have a choice. BMW never had any intention of developing a manual transmission for the 306 hp tune of the B48. That left MINI with a choice to either keep the same 228 HP offered in the current JCW hatch and focus on the chassis (as they have in the past) or completely rewrite the rules. In deciding to do the latter MINI has created a car that feels so different than what has come before it that you wonder if it shouldn’t have been named something different altogether.
Name and transmissions aside this is a blindingly quick car that requires a different driving style. For the first time in memory we have a MINI that demands a light touch on the throttle and total concentration. This isn’t a car that we would call fluid. Instead it’s a blunt weapon that thrills with speed, grip and astonishing braking capability. In other words the GP is truly a track car for the street. With a Nurburgring time of 7:56:69, it blows away the previous GPs by almost 30 seconds. Let that sink in for a moment. The previous GP was celebrated for a 8:23 Ring time. Only eight years later MINI has shattered that by 27 seconds.
MINI has accomplished this performance in a number of ways beyond that gaudy power figure. Much like the recently revised JCW Clubman and Countryman the 2020 JCW GP features a number of chassis modifications to increase the rigidity of the car. MINI says the effect is a more direct feel with greater levels of feedback through the wheel and we’d definitely agree based on our time with the car.
Braking is another area that MINI focused on and it shows on and off the track. Never have I felt a smaller MINI with this much braking power. While the set-up is identical upfront to the JCW Clubman and Countryman, the GP stops quicker due to the 2,855 lbs curb weight (vs 3,450 lbs in the JCW Clubman). One thing it gives up is stability due to the weight distribution and size of the F56.
Another key difference is that the GP’s four piston front calipers are made from steel rather Than the aluminum in the JCW Clubman and Countryman. While there’s an increase in unsprung mass, there was concern from MINI engineers about the longevity and heat dissipation of the calipers given how often GPs will likely be tracked. So pro-tip for all those out there who are buying a GP and won’t be tracking it. If you want to shave some unsprung mass, swap calipers with a 2020+ JCW Clubman or Countryman.
Despite that change weight has been shaved in numerous ways. Even with the heavier brakes, more cooling and more robust chassis components the GP weighs 10 KG or 22 lbs than the standard JCW.
The result is a car that feels almost scary fast. The power is relentless and the car’s ability to handle it is at times limited – especially above 30 mph. But that unabashed front wheel drive experience is something MINI engineers purposefully signed-off on. In talking with MINI’s Chief Engineer on the GP project, the intent was to create a car that felt raw and (in his words) “not too clean”. What that means in the real world is a car that challenges you in every corner and demands concentration of the driver for that clean exit.
Where the GP really comes to life is when it can stretch its legs. Whether it be on a track or on wide-open roads, the GP needs space to run given the speed it can so quickly generate. And once you get there things get interactive and at times challenging.
Perhaps no where is this more evident on the road than highway on-ramps at speed. The wheel will pull, tug and fight you as you accelerate all the way up to and over the recommended speed. Practicing restraint will give you a much cleaner exit onto the highway but even then you’ll want two hands on the wheel with total concentration. And that’s on smooth roads. Throw uneven pavement or (God forbid) tire ruts at the GP and you’ll want to be on your game.
Our cold November week with the GP echoed our review of the first GP way back in 2006. Unlike the original GP with its 18” runflat Dunlops, this new car offers Hanooks Ventus S1 EVOs in non-runflat form. The result is better cold weather traction and a ride that feels less brittle and ultimately more comfortable.
JCW GP – Design
The GP came about very quickly – in just under two years. That meant that the team creating the car had to make a bunch of bold decisions very quickly. Chief among these was to push to evolve MINI’s design language. The most obvious (and controversial if you look at our comments) are those boxed fenders. In speaking with the Head of MINI Design Oliver Heilmer the concept had been around the MINI design studio for some time but was deemed too aggressive for most models. Then came the GP which felt like the perfect model for such an outlandish element.
But these aren’t just design for design sake. The boxed fenders are functional in two ways. For one they widen the car covering the wider track and larger tires. Second the chief engineer on the program explained to us that they help air-flow around the car. While the difference they make isn’t dramatic, a MINI going 165mph could use all the air-flow help it can get.
To create the strength needed while minimizing weight, MINI leverage BMW’s carbon fiber expertise and produce them out of a thermoplastic substructure and an outer shell made of carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP). That webbed pattern is known as CFRP fleece, a refined material that is recycled from the production of the BMW i3 and the BMW i8. Finally the components are produced at the carbon neutral Moses Lake factory in Washington State where BMW produced almost all its carbon fiber components.
They also collect leaves extraordinarily well.
More important in regard to performance is that massive wing hanging off the roof. It’s MINI’s first aero appendage that actually produces measurable downforce. In turn that helps put more weight on the rear of the car (with the GP needs due to no seats) creating more grip and stability at speed.
The JCW GP as a Daily
Two seats will limit this car for some. But the upside is the most storage space of any sold at 33.4 cubic feet (until you start folding seats down on the Clubman or Countryman of course). If two seats work for you the GP is actually a fairly compelling equitation. Treating it like a small shooting-brake, we threw everything from dogs to groceries to luggage at it with no issues.
Upfront it’s mostly carry-over with seats and other materials taken from the standard JCWs. The exception is 3D printed aluminum shift paddles and 3D plastic trim with each GP’s individual production number. Otherwise this is identical to a well specced JCW down to the navigation and seat heaters.
The only real drawback of daily use is the increased road noise and the few rattles our test car produced from the back. the car rides firm but does’t crash and annoy as runflat shod JCWs. You really don’t give up much with the GP other than two small seats that you might not ever use. In return the massive storage space and and a well specced interior go a long way in making this an easy car to live with.
Learning to Love the GP (Flaws And All)
In talking with designers and engineers from MINI it’s clear that they’ve poured years of development into aspects of this car but what you see in front of you came together at a blinding pace. The good news nothing feels rushed here and in fact the overall experience feels premium and (sans that epic torque steer) rather refined.
Yet this is a flawed car it’s fundamental premise. You cannot put 306 hp through the front tires and expect anything less than mayhem. But that’s also the JCW GP’s super power. Never before has MINI created a car that delivers this much of a raw, adrenaline fueled experience.
The $45,750 JCW GP officially sold out in a matter of weeks after it’s official release. Most owners never drove it before they saw their own in the flesh. One can’t wonder how many of them were shocked at the performance and the very un-GP like experience. It’s a car that takes time to wrap your head around. But once you do (and we assume these owners ultimately did), the GP becomes a performance weapon unlike anything MINI has ever created. It’s not the fastest of the fleet (that goes to the JCW Clubman) nor is it the most interactive and nuanced (that’s the F56 JCW). Instead it’s a rush of power, speed and raw adrenaline that’s unlike anything before it. And if rumors are to be believed, nothing after it as well.