The most extreme MINI yet looks impressive in person, even under light camo

One of the cars I was most eagerly looking forward to seeing at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed is the upcoming 2020 MINI Cooper S JCW GP. The automaker chose to have the car’s “dynamic debut” up the Goodwood Hillclimb but, when the car was not on the track, it was quietly sitting in the paddock looking like a touring car on road tires - I examined it closely and took a few closeup shots of the camouflaged pre-production prototype.

2020 MINI Cooper S JCW GP Visual impact

I Saw the 2020 MINI Cooper S JCW GP at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed and Holy Mother of Hot Hatches (Well, almost)
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What sets it apart visually from the regular Cooper S JCW has to be the noticeable bolt-on fender flares (that, it has to be said, are considerably smaller than those of the concept that previewed the production version), more aggressive front and rear bumpers, and a big roof spoiler mounted on the back. The rear wing is quite special, and it’s actually split into two parts, right down the middle (although it is not a two-piece wing).

The fender flares work really well with the design of the car and they could even have been bigger without ruining the lines of the car.

They really look like they belong on the car, and I especially like that the right rear flare actually has a cutout for the fuel filler cap to come out - it all looks very proper. I’m not sure if the fender flares actually serve an aerodynamic purpose, but even if they don’t, they make this car look really special.

I Saw the 2020 MINI Cooper S JCW GP at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed and Holy Mother of Hot Hatches (Well, almost)
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The 18-inch GP-branded alloys with a four dual-spoke design are also quite special and they fill the arches well enough without looking oversized.

Their design is unique to the JCW GP and on the Goodwood prototype, they were shod in 225/35R18 Hankook Ventus S1 Evo Z performance tires.

What I didn’t like about it is the fact that, even on this ultimate version of the Cooper S, the hood vent is still fake. In fact, this is one of the design features of the current generation MINI that I really don’t like because it’s there just for show and, to be fair, it probably creates a bit of extra drag by affecting the smooth airflow over the hood. But MINI could have made it functional for the JCW GP, or at least try to justify the fact that it is there.

I Saw the 2020 MINI Cooper S JCW GP at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed and Holy Mother of Hot Hatches (Well, almost)
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Overall, the MINI Cooper S JCW GP looks like a proper pocket rocket thanks to the combination of its low and wide stance, the add-on body kit, the rear wing, and the special rims.

I also especially liked the camouflage wrap that MINI chose for this car because it’s not your typical psychedelic wrap designed to fool the eye - if you look closely, it’s actually the outlines of famous racing tracks, and it actually looks really smart on the car (it’s similar to how a McLaren dealer wrapped an MP4-12C back when it was new). MINI should offer this finish as an option because it looks absolutely brilliant.

2020 MINI Cooper S JCW GP Technology & Specs

I Saw the 2020 MINI Cooper S JCW GP at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed and Holy Mother of Hot Hatches (Well, almost)
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Seeing the new MINI JCW GP go up the hill at Goodwood, I was surprised by how quiet it is. I’ve driven the regular MINI Cooper S and to my ear, it sounds no louder than that car - it just whooshes along, making very swift and effortless progress, but not doing so in a dramatic manner. I maybe would have liked a bit more drama coming out of the back of it - but this can obviously be fixed with a raucous aftermarket exhaust.

Another negative point I noticed has to do with swapping cogs - the JCW GP will only be offered with an automatic gearbox that is undeniably quick and very efficient at changing gears, but it detracts from the keen driver’s enjoyment.

As I peeked through the prototype’s window, I saw the automatic gear selector and part of the attraction I was feeling towards the car faded.

I’m sure the six-speed automatic with paddle shifters makes the car quicker and easier to drive, but it really does alienate the real enthusiast for whom no feeling compares to rowing your own. Sure, it may pack 302 horsepower (if it’s the same engine that powers the Countryman JCW and the new M135i,) and that makes it the most powerful MINI ever, so the driver might have his or her hands full driving such a potent front-wheel-drive car, but for some people nothing beats a manual gearbox.

I Saw the 2020 MINI Cooper S JCW GP at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed and Holy Mother of Hot Hatches (Well, almost)
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Top Gear recently talked to Jurgen Matz, a chassis engineer on the JCW GP project, and asked about why the car didn’t come with a manual. Matz replied that “Nowadays most of the competition have paddles, which for most of the customers is easier to drive. If you want to go really fast, you are faster with the paddles.”

He went on to say their “research found only a small, small request for a manual which gave us a decision to make. Look at the Alpine A110: they decided the same. There are some fans who like a manual but unless it’s a large amount, you have to make a decision: what is best for most people?”

To me, this seems like a missed opportunity, especially since latest Honda Civic Type-R - the model the 2020 MINI Cooper S JCW GP is benchmarked against - only comes with a manual gearbox, and it’s still very popular. Sadly, this is what happens when the marketing department wins out over the engineers actually working on the car. They, I’m sure, would have liked the car to have a proper six-speed stick shift, even if it would have made the car a few tenths slower.

I Saw the 2020 MINI Cooper S JCW GP at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed and Holy Mother of Hot Hatches (Well, almost)
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The car will undeniably be blisteringly quick, though, and all latest MINI Cooper S examples fitted with an automatic gearbox make all sorts of pleasant noises out the back, both when up- and downshifting.

That does partly make up for the absence of the stick shift, but for some, myself included, the self-shifter on this GP is a deal-breaker, and it prevents me from really coveting one of these.

Further reading

2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP Exterior Spyshots
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Read our full review on the 2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP.

2014 Mini Cooper 5-Door Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2019 Mini Cooper.

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