Hold on tight: this is the most extreme MINI ever. This John Cooper Works GP model is a present that MINI promised itself for its 60th birthday and it's intended for a very select audience of brand enthusiasts.
If you know your fast MINIs, this is one to savour. Welcome to the third generation MINI John Cooper Works GP. The fastest car the brand has ever made. John Cooper would have loved this, a car that's bold, irreverent and politically incorrect, the kind of tonic we all need just right now. The idea of an uber-fast version of the already rather quick MINI Hatch John Cooper Works 3-door shopping rocket is nothing new. The very first JCW GP model was launched in 2006 with a supercharged 1.6-litre engine offering to 218hp. Six years later, a second generation JCW GP was made available for an equally limited production run with a turbocharged 1.6, also putting out 218hp. Both these variants signalled the impending end of that generation MINI Hatch's production run, as did this 'F56'-series third generation JCW GP model at its launch in early 2020. Only 3,000 will be made, with just 575 of those reserved for UK customers. And here, I'm going to test one of them.
No MINI has ever been faster, the 62mph sprint dispatched in just 5.2s, though you'd hope for that given that this is the largest, most powerful engine ever shoehorned beneath the clamshell bonnet of a MINI Hatch. Unlike the 1.6-litre units used in the previous two MINI GP models, this one's 2.0-litres in size, offering a 306hp output. You have to have an 8-speed paddleshift auto gearbox - something that might trouble the kind of audience this wild MINI is aimed at. There's no 4WD system either, something you might think this defiantly front-driven MINI might need when you stamp on the throttle from rest - or even in the mid-range - and find the front scrabbling desperately for traction and sometimes even orientation. Yet at the same time, you feel that this is all somehow an integral part of the extreme fairground ride this uber-MINI wants to take you on. It helps that the whole performance is accompanied by various evocative exhaust crackles from the huge 19mm-diameter tail pipes during throttle lifts and downshifts. And that some semblance of control, particularly in the wet, is maintained by the standard mechanical differential lock and the dynamic stability control system. Tame it all and simply astonishing point-to-point times over secondary roads are possible. The body structure, chassis and driveline of the standard MINI Hatch JCW had to be practically re-invented for this GP version. There's a new engine mount, a stouter front tower strut brace and a beefier rectangular support for the rear suspension. The brakes are brilliant too, with 360mm discs gripped by four-piston calipers at the front. Handling changes include special camber rates, a wider track, stiffer anti-roll bars and a greater offset for the bespoke 18-inch forged wheels that come shared with track-style Sport Performance-spec Hankook tyres. Plus the ride height is 10mm lower and the steering is even sharper than it already is on a JCW MINI. Don't worry about having to scroll through different drive modes; this GP model is programmed for 'Sport' only, in which it pulls all the way to the 6,800rpm red line as the gearbox performs its crisp and rapid shifts.
Nothing is subtle about this MINI - certainly not the way it looks. Has the brand ever produced anything with more radical racetrack presence? It's doubtful. The first thing you'll notice of course is the simply enormous GP-branded rear wing, with its subtle lip spoilers and a look apparently inspired by the boxy turbojet housings of the Concorde supersonic aircraft. More subtly altered is the rear valance within the rear bumper, which incorporates centrally-mounted twin tailpipes. At the front, there's a deeper front bumper than the one on an ordinary JCW hatch, with bigger cooling ducts and a more pronounced lower splitter. At the side, you'll note the 10mm lower ride height; and the fact that this is a 3-door - there are no plans for a GP model with the 5-door body shape. In profile, the biggest change its incorporation of the much wider wheel arch extensions needed for this extreme variant's wider track. These extensions are fashioned from the same carbon fibre used in construction of BMW's i3, they carry the car's individual build number and they house 8-inch wide 18-inch forged four-spoke lightweight rims Inside, it's all equally focused. There's two brilliantly supportive front sports bucket seats trimmed in dinamica and leather and fitted with red seat belts. They position you perfectly in front of the grippy three-spoke race-spec wheel which features steering wheel gearshift paddles manufactured using 3D printing. Otherwise, the cockpit's pretty similar to that of a standard JCW Hatch, apart from the adoption of a free-standing 'GP digital display' instrument cluster. Otherwise, apart from a few trimming changes, it's not very much different to an ordinary JCW model, the central infotainment screen being either 6.5 or 8.8-inches in size, depending on spec. As with the two previous generation MINI GP models, the rear bench has been chucked out in the interests of weight saving - as would be the case with a MINI race car. There's just a transverse brace behind the seats finished in 'Chilli Red'. It's actually there to stop luggage sliding forward, but if you want, you can tell your friends it's a roll cage-style structural element. Out back, the boot is just like an ordinary MINI Hatch 3-Door, which means it's pretty small, the primary lower area being just 211-litres in size. Pack light.
If you're fortunate enough to go to get a place on the waiting list for this car, you'll be asked for £35,345 - but you'll probably want a version of it with the optional 'GP Touring Pack' fitted, which will add another £2,000 to that total. Well over £37,000 for little MINI Hatch? Could that ever be justified? You'll need to drive this car to decide that for yourself. In terms of equipment, all the things we've been talking about in this test are of course standard - including the GP aerodynamic kit, the 18-inch forged lightweight two-tone alloy wheels, stainless steel exhaust tailpipes and that huge bicolour rear spoiler with its GP logo. Inside, you get bespoke sports bucket seats dynamica/leather trim and red seat belts, a GP digital display cockpit instrument binnacle screen, a 'GP Walknappa' leather steering wheel with metal shift paddles, anthracite headlining and a 6.5-inch Radio Visual Boost central infotainment screen. That 'GP Touring Pack' adds seat heating, dual-zone automatic air conditioning and, most notably, the Navigation Plus Pack, which gives you a larger 8.8-inch centre infotainment screen incorporating navigation, 'Apple CarPlay' smartphone-mirroring (but not 'Android Auto'), the 'MINI Connected' media package, a MINI 'Visual Boost' DAB radio, enhanced Bluetooth, various remote services, an Online Search with weather info feature, real-time traffic information and MINI's 'Concierge service' which can answer journeying questions from a call centre as you drive. Plus there's the 'MINI Connected XL' package with additional features that include Amazon Alexa voice control.
You won't care too much about WLTP-rated efficiency figures if you're considering this car, but we'll give them to you anyway. The combined cycle fuel figure is quoted at 34.0mpg, but if you get anywhere near to that in regular use, I'd venture to suggest that you really shouldn't have bought this car in the first place and it deserves a better home. You know where I am. The CO2 reading is 189g/km. What else? Well depreciation should be impressively solid, this being such a rare collectors' model. There's the same three year unlimited mileage warranty you'd get on any other MINI. Insurance is rated way up at group 37E. MINI itself offers fully comprehensive insurance but you might find that your own broker can improve on the premiums your dealer can offer.
Want an uber-fast hot hatch you could use every day? There are much better choices than this one. Most of them will have two extra doors and will ride better. Toyota GR Yaris has the AWD and the manual gearbox that this MINI lacks. And a Honda Civic Type R in its more restrained 'Sportline' form will attract less disapproving stares in the car park. On top of that, almost all the things a modern hot hatch isn't supposed to do are startlingly evident in this one; you fight with the steering and battle with torque steer under heavy acceleration, waywardness at speed requires keen attention and the ride acquaints you with every tarmac tear. So why do I still want one of these? Because in almost completely dialling out all of these things, as most competitors have, you also lose something: the raw venom this MINI has. And the challenge you feel from trying to master it. This car's extreme, it's addictive. And there's nothing quite like it.