Mini JCW GP Review: Why It's A Confusing Mess Of A Hot Hatch

The John Cooper Works GP mixes a ruinously aggressive chassis with a dull inline-four and a lazy automatic gearbox
Mini JCW GP Review: Why It's A Confusing Mess Of A Hot Hatch

With a starting price of £33,895, the Mini John Cooper Works GP really ought to be good. It certainly looks special as you first walk up to it, with its fantastically excessive GP-branded rear wing and unusual flared wheel arches.

On the front passenger-side extension, a number tells the world which of the 3000 GPs set to be produced (575 of which are UK-bound) they’re looking at. There’s no rear seat bench, with a bright red bar in its place. Its main purpose, by the way, is to keep luggage from shooting forward - it’s not a structural part of the car.

Mini JCW GP Review: Why It's A Confusing Mess Of A Hot Hatch

A 20mm wider front track makes full use of the arch flares, but that’s far from the only suspension modification. The ‘GP3’ sits 10mm lower on new springs and JCW dampers, and the negative camber has been increased. Giving a clear gap to the regular JCW is a massive uplift in power - the GP develops 302bhp and 332lb ft of torque, all of which is shoved to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic and a Torsen limited-slip differential.

That makes for a top speed of 164mph, and a 0-62mph time of just 5.2 seconds. That’s astonishing for a front-wheel drive car, but conditions will need to be absolutely perfect if you’re to have any hope of replicating the acceleration figure. And I don’t just mean in terms of the weather - the road surface is a huge factor.

Mini JCW GP Review: Why It's A Confusing Mess Of A Hot Hatch

The suspension setup is so aggressive, that any little imperfection in the road surface and every change in camber will leave you grappling with the wheel as the GP tries to torque steer into the next county. Because this is led by the character of the tarmac, it’s completely unpredictable. You could happily make it through first and second gear before the steering wheel tries to wrench your arms out of their sockets mid-way through third.

On the occasions this doesn’t happen, the GP feels stupidly quick. Hardly surprising considering we’re looking at a 1255kg car with over 300bhp. But the engine developing that thrust sounds strained and weedy at higher revs, and if you leave your gear change too late, a boring soft rev limiter awaits.

Mini JCW GP Review: Why It's A Confusing Mess Of A Hot Hatch

Wherever the gear change happens, the cogs are swapped with a complete lack of aggression and not much in the way of haste. It’s reluctant to downshift when you want it to, although at the very least, you do get some lovely metal paddle-shifters.

It’d be a perfectly serviceable ‘box in most other cars, but the eight-speed’s character is completely at odds with the GP3’s hyper aggression. Which, it must be said, quickly becomes tiring. It crashes and bounces along the road with all the grace of a broken tumble drier, sometimes compressing with such force that it feels like the wind has been knocked out of you. The after-effects of a short drive in this thing can be replicated by throwing yourself down a flight of stairs.

Mini JCW GP Review: Why It's A Confusing Mess Of A Hot Hatch

There’s a capable car under all that mess which does occasionally shine on super-smooth tarmac. When the front end does bite, the traction is impressive, but it’s so hard to tell if the GP is going to do so or have a massive hissy fit about a camber change it doesn’t like, that you rarely trust it.

When everything goes the GP’s way - the weather, the smoothness of the road and corners - it can be sublime. These flashes of brilliance are all too short, though, and when it’s time to cruise home, the rock-solid ride will make the journey seem a whole lot longer than it really is.

Mini JCW GP Review: Why It's A Confusing Mess Of A Hot Hatch

On a track, the JCW GP makes a lot more sense. Its power delivery is less likely to be corrupted by what’s under the tyres, and in higher-speed corners, the Mini will aggressively oversteer even with only a partial lift. Once you’re expecting it, this can be tremendous fun, but that engine and gearbox combination is always lurking in the background to put a downer on the party. Plus, a hot hatch shouldn’t need to be on a circuit to truly work.

In a weird way, that £33,895 price tag is perhaps more reasonable than you might think. Similarly powerful cars from the bigger C-segment like the Honda Civic Type R are in that territory, but they don’t have that special feeling of the limited-edition GP. Then again, a Type R is a much more complete package that’s still a riot on both road and track.

Mini JCW GP Review: Why It's A Confusing Mess Of A Hot Hatch

The Mini is also in Toyota GR Yaris territory. Picking the former over an all-wheel drive WRC homologation tearaway is like choosing to watch Justice League instead of Avengers. In Touring form, it’s also £10,000 more expensive than the brilliant Ford Fiesta ST Edition.

Much like Justice League, the Mini feels like it’s been made by different groups of people aiming for different things. It lacks conviction in some areas while going too far in others. The GP is a car only for truly dedicated hot Mini fans, but they’d be better served by a standard John Cooper Works with a manual ‘box. Or better yet, the original supercharged GP.


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