Photos: Zerin Dube
We’re living in the golden age of the automobile right now. You can buy purpose-built enthusiast versions of just about every kind of vehicle these days, from sedans to pickup trucks to wagons, and they all do a pretty good job of putting a smile on the driver’s face when pushed hard.
There is another tier that sits above those vehicles, though. A tier where just the thought of driving these vehicles gets the serotonin flowing, and a great sense of happiness overwhelms you. These are vehicles like the Mazda Miata, Porsche 911 GT3, anything with a Hellcat engine, the Jeep Wrangler or Ford Raptor, and a handful of other no-compromise performance enthusiast vehicles. These vehicles are all over the spectrum as to what they are good at, but they all exist to do one thing – bring the driver maximum joy when being used as designed.
Here recently, I had the opportunity to spend a week with the 2021 MINI John Cooper Works (JCW) GP, and the same feeling of immediate joy overcomes me a month later whenever I think about driving it. There are many reasons I shouldn’t like the car on paper but put rubber to the road and all that goes out the window.
The Not So Subtle But Oh So Functional Design
One look at the JCW GP and you know that there’s something different and special about this particular Mini compared to the rest of the model lineup.
The GP has a unique front fascia with bold red accents over the Racing Grey Metallic paint and massive air intakes that keep the cooling systems happy and give the car as much of an aerodynamic advantage as possible by way of downforce.
Moving to the side profile, the bold red accents continue toward the bottom of the doors. The stance is 0.4 inches lower than the standard Mini JCW, with a little more negative camber that is visually apparent.
JCW GP sits on unique 8×18-inch forged wheels which get 235/35 tires all the way around that push out to the very corners of the car. Peeking behind the front wheels are massive 14-inch disc brakes with four-piston calipers finished in Chili Red. Both the calipers and wheel center caps wear the GP logo.
Rather than go with subtle fender flares to accommodate the wider tires, Mini gave the JCW GP insane looking fender blades made out of hexagonally sewn carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP). These fender flares stick off the side of the car and look like something you’d find on a DTM race car. Mini says the CFRP is made with materials recycled from the production of the BMW i3 and BMW i8. Each JCW GP wears a unique number on the front fenders, indicating its place among the limited run of just 3000 units. Our car wore the number 0302.
The rear of the JCW wears an equally not subtle massive rear wing that extends well past the car’s body lines and almost looks like a hat. The contrasting red and grey of the wing make it even harder to miss. Mini says the front chin spoiler and rear roof spoiler work together to significantly reduce lift on the front and rear axles compared to the pedestrian JCW model.
A center-exit dual rear exhaust along with Union Jack rear tail lamps finish up the Mini JCW GP’s aggressive look.
Inside the JCW GP
The JCW GP’s interior is unmistakably Mini with its large round center infotainment cluster, surrounded by the hallmark light ring, which changes color based on function or drive mode selected.
Some Mini model interiors deviate from here into the more quirky side of Mini ownership, while the JCW GP focuses more on the driving experience and performance. This is a very driver-oriented car. The rear seats are gone to save weight, replaced instead by a Chili Red aluminum cross brace. Unfortunately, this bar primarily serves to prevent luggage and cargo from slipping forward rather than contributing to any additional chassis stiffness. Weight has further been saved by removing acoustic insulation from the vehicle, bringing the total weight to 2,855 pounds.
The front seats are John Cooper Works sport seats finished in Dinamica/leather combinations with silver edges and red accents. Seat belts are finished in bright red. A small red GP logo sits just under the headrests. A placard on the passenger side wears the individual number of the car as well.
The John Cooper Works sport nappa leather-wrapped steering wheel gets red contrast stitching and a metal marker for the center of the steering wheel, along with 3D-printed metal shift paddles at the rear of the wheel.
Gauges are presented digitally by way of a high-resolution 5-inch color screen which displays both a tachometer and speedometer, as well as various other telemetry from the car when in GP mode.
The Driving Experience
At the heart of the Mini JCW GP is the BMW-sourced B48 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which produces 301-horsepower and 332lb-ft of torque. While this engine is available in other vehicles in the Mini lineup, the GP is the only one where power is delivered only to the front wheels rather than utilizing all-wheel drive. Mini also has given the GP a traditional eight-speed automatic transmission rather than a manual or dual-clutch unit. The eight-speed is good, but still feel like a DCT would better suit the car’s spirit.
The front-wheel drive nature of the Mini JCW GP is part of the reason this car is so exciting. Flick the red signature Mini start-stop toggle switch, and the car comes to life with a throaty burble that sounds downright mean for any car, especially a four-cylinder. Set the user-selectable drive-mode to GP, and the fun begins.
I headed to the nearest complex of twisty Texas back roads and let the JCW GP rip. Mash the throttle to the floor, and you’re met with explosive acceleration combined with vicious torque steer. The exhaust howls while you’re rapidly propelled to speeds that law enforcement would frown at, while the violent torque steer (the most I’ve ever experienced in a road car) gives you an upper body workout as you fight to keep the car centered.
The car will dart around from side to side as the road crown changes well past the 90-mph mark. You can actually feel the limited-slip differential fighting to keep the power down to the road. Enter into the corners, and the car bites hard into the pavement and never lets go.
While this kind of sounds exhausting, driving the JCW Mini GP was the most fun, I’ve ever had in a front-wheel drive car. Some cars make you fight them constantly during the driving experience, like the Dodge Viper, but I never imagined I’d experience this in a Mini.
It was simply exhilarating every single time I pushed the pedal to the floor and aimed for a corner, and I laughed like an excited kid every time. There aren’t many cars sold these days that can do that anymore, but the Mini JCW GP delivered on it time and time again. Sure the suspension will beat you up on anything but the smoothest roads, but this isn’t a cushy luxury car. It’s meant to be aggressive and visceral every step of the way.
For me, it’s impossible not to love a car like the Mini JCW GP. It’s raw, brutal, and definitely doesn’t take itself as seriously as the Civic Type-R or other hot hatches. This is a car that is built to go fast and have fun doing it. This is a car that delivers the joy of driving every single time you get behind the wheel. It looks funny to some and like a race car to others. Either way, it will turn heads and draw a lot of attention.
Priced at $45,750 as-tested, the Mini John Cooper Works GP is a lot of coin for a hot-hatch two-seater. There aren’t any real options to speak of as the car comes one way. It’s certainly not cheap, but for the right buyer, the John Cooper Works GP is one of the most engaging and invigorating driving experiences they’ll ever have. It’s been nearly two months since I’ve last driven the GP, and it still puts a smile on my face whenever I think about it.