The fastest Mini ever is just around the corner with maxi performance

Mini is a company that should be taken seriously when it sets about building a performance car. That’s why we stood up and listened when, late last year, we heard that the Mini Cooper JCW GP was coming back in 2020 after what will be a seven-year hiatus. Now, we’re seeing the first spy shots and, as you’d expect, it’s the Cooper JCW dialed up to 11 with some cues ported straight from the devilishly cool 2017 Cooper Works GP Concept. We want it now, together with its +300 horsepower!

Traditionally, the GP version of the Cooper Works is the ultimate performance model. In the past, John Cooper Works, which is long for JCW, built two GP models based on the previous two generations of the Mini. Of the last GP, which bowed out in 2014, only 2,000 examples exist, and just 500 were sold in the U.S., so expect the new model to also be a rare bird. Talking about birds, the GP will once again mark the swansong of the third-generation Mini Hatch with a new one coming soon.

Brief history

1959 - 2006 The History of Mini
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The Mini is a living legend, albeit one that has gotten its German citizenship since we’ve dived into the new Millenium. Still, the modern city car continues to be vastly influenced by the cues of Sir Alec Issigonis who designed the original BMC Mini which went on sale almost 60 years ago, in August of 1959. The original Mini, built between 1959 and 1967, sold well, some 1,19 million units being made by BMC.

The modern Mini, which was revived by BMW in 2000, has also become a staple of the contemporary automotive landscape, over 3 million rolling off the Oxford Plant in Cowley, England and, more recently, the Born Plant in the Netherlands.

The BMC Mini was named “European Car of the Century" for its innovative design while the BMW-built was bestowed with the honor of being presented the North American Car of the Year award in 2003. The U.S. is actually Mini’s biggest export market ahead of the U.K.

I won’t re-tell the story of the Mini as I assume most of you are familiar with how it came to be, but I’ll quickly detail how the name ’Mini’ got attached to the name ’Cooper’. The latter comes from one John Cooper, the co-founder, along with father Charles, and manager of Cooper Car Company, a British race car manufacturer and entrant based off Surbiton, Surrey, U.K. Bursting into the motor racing scene as a builder of Formula 3 cars in 1946, Cooper worked up the ranks and, by the time the Formula 1 World Championship was kicking off at Silverstone, John Cooper was getting ready to jump in, dully entering in the second round of the championship, the 1950 Monaco Grand Prix.

1959 - 2006 The History of Mini
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Cooper ran Formula 2 cars in the early days of the World Championship but they were front-engined as opposed to the mid-engined Cooper 500 F3 cars of the ’40s. In spite of having previous experience with the mid-engine layout, Cooper kept running front-engined cars until about the mid-’50s when they dabbled with building a mid-engined sports car. Only then did John Cooper & Co. realized that the midship position does make a lot of difference. To put it simply, the 500 F3 cars with their motorcycle engines weren’t powerful enough to prove the advantages of the layout and, because of that, Cooper moved on to front-engined cars following the trend that was on back in those days.

Now, with full comprehension of the benefits of putting the engine in between the axles and behind the driver's head, Cooper decided to build a mid-engined Formula 1 car.

This idea wasn’t new in and of itself, one of the top European Grand Prix racing teams of the ’30s also employing a mid-engine design, namely the German Auto-Union outfit with its Ferdinand Porsche-designed Type Bs and Type Cs and its last car, the Type D.

But John Cooper didn’t look into the exploits of the Germans, so he had to find it all for himself and, luckily for him and his company, he was the first to do so. As such, a mid-engined Cooper was designed by Owned Maddock and built in a relative hurry, and Jack Brabham finished sixth with it at the 1957 Monaco Grand Prix. The year after that, Stirling Moss won the Argentine Grand Prix with a privately-entered Cooper and, effectively, that sparked the mid-engined revolution in earnest. Brabham became World Driver’s Champion in 1959 and 1960 while Cooper took home the Constructor’s Titles both years.

1959 - 2006 The History of Mini
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The results pushed even Enzo Ferrari, who was an adamant supporter of the front engine layout, to switch to a mid-engine car for 1961. The inglorious Tipo 156 was dominant that year but, sadly, a freak accident claimed the life of Germany’s Wolfgang Von Trips who was en route to claiming the World Driver’s Title. As a result, his team-mate, American Phil Hill, became champion for Ferrari. That same year, John Cooper, a long-time friend of Issigonis, approached the designer of the Mini with an interesting proposition: he’d analyzed the Mini with its little wheels, the way they were placed for minimal front and rear overhangs, and the position of the engine, and he’d figured there was racing potential in the tiny urban runabout with its 80-inch wheelbase.

Issigonis, not a man interested in racing, didn’t agree to build for Cooper a batch of 1,000 Minis for him to modify. Happily, a few more persuasive talks later and Issigonis and BMC were onboard.

The 1,000 cars received the name 'Mini Cooper' and had larger 1.0-liter engines, bored out from 0.85-liters, seven-inch disc brakes in the front and a beastly 55 horsepower, up by 19 horsepower, to power them ahead.

These cars had two SU HS2 carburetors and were built to meet the homologation requirements for the Group 2 rally version. The rally version proved hugely successful, winning the Monte-Carlo Rally on three occasions - in 1964, 1965, and 1967. In 1965, Rauno Aaltonen became European Rally Champion behind the wheel of a Mini. Back on the road, The Cooper S version was introduced in 1966 and came with a 1.1-liter engine. There were also circuit racing versions including one equipped with a 1.3-liter engine. They were highly successful in the British Saloon Car Championship (BSCC) and even competed Stateside in the Under 2.0-liter class of the Trans-Am Championship.

2007 Mini Cooper S GP
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This sporting tradition was revigorated in the year 2000 by Michael Cooper, son of John, who founded John Cooper Works. The private company, based in Farnborough, in Hampshire, built tuning kits for the first-generation Mini Hatch whose top-of-the-line model was called ’Cooper’ in honor of the original Mini Coopers. The JCW kit helped the Cooper’s power output grow from 114 horsepower all the way to 125 horsepower.

Then, in 2002, JCW produced a kit for the sporty Cooper S version which already proposed an attractive 161 horsepower output.

With the JCW kit on, the S put out 197 horsepower. The kit cost less than $7,000 back in ’02. BMW was impressed with the results of these modifications and bought out the company in 2008, one year after purchasing the rights to the JCW name.

Exterior

  • Lower splitter
  • Huge flared arches
  • Air vent in rear arches
  • GP-style wheels brought back
  • Huge twin-element roof wing
  • Bigger twin exhaust pipes
  • Wider than ever
  • Protruding diffuser
2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP
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The Mini Cooper JCW GP is the sharpest weapon in JCW’s arsenal. Since the Mini was reinvented, the GP has been the version to get for the perfect blend of exclusivity and performance. The previous two GPs are now quite the collector’s item with only 2,000 built of each. This time around, Mini shows its generosity by announcing it’ll build 3,000 2020 GPs. Some speculators might be displeased at the news but, otherwise, it’s great that more people will get to experience what is slated to become the most extreme production Mini ever.

The writing was on the wall for a new Mini Cooper JCW GP ever since Mini showed up at the 2017 Frankfurt Auto Show with the ludicrous JCW GP Concept which was described by Mini CEO Peter Schwarzenbauer at the time as "driving fun in its purest form". BMW confirmed in November of last year that the JCW GP is in the works and, now, we’re hearing that the German automaker has entered a key phase in the development process of a car such as this one: intensive track testing.

2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP
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The first spy shots of the car show, obviously, a test mule covered in Day-Glo yellow camouflage which would make spotting body details a pain.

However, Mini has made the job easy for us by equipping the JCW GP with a brash body kit: huge flared arches, bigger air vents than before, a magnificently-large twin-piece chiseled rear wing glued to the roof and everything in between.

Mini allowed a few zoomed-in previews to leak through the cracks but they’re not quite telling.

In the front, you’ll find a bumper similar to that on the standard Mini Cooper JCW. The protruding inlet in the lower part of the bumper with its rounded edges is still there, still divided into three openings by two angled bars. The oval outboard vents, which aren’t fake on this one, are also there, as is the familiar Mini mouth. The grille lacks a chrome frame on this prototype while the production model should come with a blacked-out frame as the previous JCW GP did.

2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP
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One of the major visual - and functional - details of the new super-fast Mini is its flared arches. While we’ve seen slightly bulged arches on spirited Minis of the past, this mule’s body kit take everything up a few notches. You can clearly see in the front how much the rounded arch extension goes beyond the usual line of a standard Mini Cooper. This must mean we’ll be getting bigger rims and appropriately chunkier tires.

The JCW GP Concept featured 19-inch wheels, but one of the preview shots from Mini showing the wheels in their final form tells us that 18 inches in width is all we should look forward too.

Still, while the Cooper S comes with 205/45R tire wrapping 17-inch wheels and the JCW boasts 225/40R tires for the 18-inch wheels or 225/45R rubber for the 17-inch variety, the JCW GP will most likely offer a bigger contact patch with the asphalt.

From the side, the JCW GP still looks mean thanks to those big wheels and fittingly big brake discs and calipers. Those five-spoke black wheels are the same we’ve seen on a previous test mule spotted last September. However, that one probably was just a run-of-the-mill Mini Cooper JCW fitted with the GP’s engine and its sizeable wing as the body kit we see on this example wasn’t present on that black car. Another thing that’s easy to spot is that the fin-like bodywork extensions that sprout upwards from the rear quarter panel on the JCW GP Concept won’t be carried over to mass production - what a surprise! Still, the rear wheel arches do feature a vertical air inlet similar to what you’ll see on the Supra. We do hope, though, that Mini is honest with us and won’t adorn their pocket rocket with a fake vent just to make us go, "Oh, cool!", for a couple of seconds.

Again, the extreme design of the 2017 concept car’s back end has been toned down noticeably on the production version although the wing is there to stay. It’s also been teased in one of the images released by Mini where we can see that the inside of the two-element wing will be red while the lower edge of the wing goes down in a G-shaped curve. The endplates have the letters ’GP’ engraved on them.

2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP
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The typical Union Jack rectangular taillights are on duty while the diffuser is bigger than before with vertical fins and dual exhaust in the middle.

The tips are bigger than ever suggesting Mini's advertised +300 horsepower is no joke.

We don’t yet know the dimensions of the new car, but it should be as long as the normal JCW which measures 152.5 inches although it probably will exceed 70 inches in width, the JCW measuring 68 inches. The 98.2-inch wheelbase will be retained on the Hardtop although the GP might sit lower than the 55.7 inches of the JCW thanks to juicier suspension. You should also expect some red graphics along the sides of the car as well as the hood plus some GP badges as seen just before the air inlet on the hood on the 2013 GP.

Interior

  • Could use a lot of carbon fiber
  • Back seat to be replaced by strut brace
  • Red inserts all around the cabin
  • Bucket seats are a prerequisite
  • Unlikely to get flappy paddles like the concept
  • Infotainment system with plenty of red on the displays
2017 Mini John Cooper Works GP Concept High Resolution Interior
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Note: 2017 Mini John Cooper Works GP Concept interior pictured here.

We’re yet to see any images of the interior of the 2020 Mini Cooper JCW GP but if the previous two models are any indication, the cabin of the model that’ll drop next year should be pretty bare in the interest of weight saving. There will be two bucket seats, potentially with racing-esque harnesses, but that’s that.

The bench will most definitely go and be replaced by either a strut brace like on the previous two GPs or, maybe, a roll-cage.

The dash will be covered in leather, most likely black with red stitching or, maybe, some red details, and I could go on a limb and say there will be a carbon fiber center panel across the length of the dash. Obviously, the circular center console control unit with the infotainment screen will be there guarded by the two vertical air vents. Mini might delete some of the creature comforts inside the GP to shed some weight though.

Drivetrain

  • Over 300 horsepower
  • TwinPower Turbo Technology
  • Powered by a turbocharged, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder
  • +80 horsepower over the previous Cooper JCW GPs
  • Almost 100 horsepower over Yaris GRMN
  • Some 80 horsepower over Audi S1
  • Will come with track-tuned suspension
2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP
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If Mini will indeed churn out over 300 ponies from that 2.0-liter, turbocharged unit that powers the standard JCW, then the GP version will become one of the most powerful supermini cars money can buy.

With that being said, you’ll need quite a lot of money to get your hands on one of them and you’ll need to be quick to your pocket as not many will arrive in America. Still, it has more oomph than the comparable products from Volkswagen, Audi, Toyota or Renault and, more importantly, some of those aren’t available in the U.S. so your choice becomes a whole lot easier when you come to think about it.

Looking back, the first Mini Cooper JCW GP - or Mini Cooper S with John Cooper Works GP Kit - if you wish to test your memory by remembering the needlessly long official denomination, was already a notch above the S. For instance, it had 215 horsepower, 46 more than the S, and also three more torques. The weight was down by 88 pounds, and you also got a limited-slip diff, a body kit and 18-inch wheels with bigger brakes. The price of all of this? $17,400 over the $21,200 base price of a Cooper S, quite a lot 12 years ago. I mean, the 350 horsepower Focus RS costs $41,120 today, and that’s over $5,000 less if you work out the inflation...

2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP
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The 2013 Mini Cooper JCW GP seemed to be a more sane choice at a price of $42,505 in today’s money. So, not only did Mini charge you less for the second GP, but it also offered you more. As Autocar states, "it would obliterate a Toyota GT86 in a drag race. It would also outsprint a Focus ST and an Astra VXR to 100mph, thanks to its far shorter gearing." However, the author does admit "the Renault Mégane 265 offers a little more accelerative performance for less money." Then again, the 2013 model had about as much power as its predecessor, and it managed to arrive from 0 to 62 mph in just 6.3 seconds, 0.2 seconds quicker than before.

However, Mini wasn't all about power, at least not until now.

The ’13 model came with adjustable coilover suspension, a significant boost in braking performance and a more hardcore chassis tune. Also, the 1.6-liter unit offered 192 pound-feet of torque at all times and up to 207 pound-feet through an over-boost function. Now, thanks to the use of a 2.0-liter engine, there will be more torque available. The 2019 Mini Cooper JCW, for instance, cranks out 236 pound-feet of torque available at 1,250 rpm and 228 horsepower at 5,200 rpm. It weighs 2,845 pounds which is about as much as the 2013 JCW GP and 375 pounds more than the simpler model from 2006.

2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP
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We are, keeping everything in mind, a long way from finding out just how rapid the 2020 Mini Cooper JCW GP will be although it should be spectacular.

"The fastest MINI in our brand history – which now goes back 60 years – is an expression of pure racing passion,” said Thomas Giuliani, Vice President Product and Launch Management of Mini in a statement. This curtain dropper has always been a car that enjoyed punching above its weight, always messing around with the bigger hot hatches.

Prices

2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP
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There’s no pricing information available at the present time. However, as I’ve said, the previous GP iterations proved to be quite pricy, in line with Mini’s premium brand aspirations. That didn’t stop, though, the clients from coming in droves. The first GP kit was sold out before it even started arriving in the U.K. through the miracle of pre-ordering.

This time, with production, ramped up to 3,000 units, we should see more cars coming to the U.S. than before. I’m betting on at least 750-800 cars slated for the American market given the 500-car allocation for the previous model of which just 2,000 units were made in total. The MSRP will still be high, around $45,000. To put things into perspective, a Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE costs $43,995 and packs 455 horsepower and, unquestionably, a cooler body. The crazy-looking Civic Type R could also be as much as $9,000 cheaper with an MSRP of $35,700, and we know how good a car that is. A more spacious Golf R slides in at just under $41,000 while a Challenger or a Charger with the Scat Pack costs about the same, $40,000.

Competition

Ford Fiesta ST

2018 Ford Fiesta ST High Resolution Exterior
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The Fiesta ST is, arguably, the best mini hot hatch you can get... if you live in Europe. It comes with 197 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque and can reach 62 mph from a standstill in 6.5 seconds, as quick as the first GP and just 0.2 seconds off the second one.

Autocar says that "the steering (the fastest rack of any performance Ford) is sharp and well weighted (if a little lacking in feel) and the ST feels agile and lithe in virtually all circumstances." You can also get more than ever before with the ST-2 and ST-3 trim levels that offer more equipment, safety-related and otherwise. The ST-1 costs just $24,502 in the U.K. while the ST-2 is $1,290 more. You get climate control, heated Recaro front seats and blue seatbelts, B&O PLAY premium sound system and Ford SYNC3 DAB radio with a larger eight-inch touchscreen as standard for your money. Finally, the ST-3 costs $27,720, $2,000 more than a bare naked Miata.

Read our full review on the 2018 Ford Fiesta ST

Audi S1

2014 Audi S1 High Resolution Exterior
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The Audi S1 is the almost unknown little brother of the RS3. That’s because it’s a bit of a cross-breed: it has hot hatch specs but the size of a mini hot hatch. The price, though, falls in the former category as it starts at $34,820 in the U.K. Also because it’s an Audi, black is the only free paint. For any other color, you’ve got to pay at least $516.

When all is said and done, you end up with quite a buzzer. It romps away with 228 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 273 pound-feet of torque between 1,600 and 3,000rpm. Top speed is limited electronically to 155 mph (the old GP could do 149 mph). The 0 to 62 mph sprint is the S1’s ace up its sleeve as it does the run in just 5.8 seconds, a whole 0.5 seconds faster than the Mini. Expect the GP version to better that time or at least it should with 60 extra ponies...

Read our full review on the 2018 Audi S1

Conclusion

2020 MINI John Cooper Works GP
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The third Mini Cooper JCW GP could be a really great car in a niche category, that of premium small hot hatches. It will surely be expensive, more expensive than many if not most of its rivals, so it must back up a high MSRP with class-topping performance. The 300 horsepower (or more) output should be enough to topple anything we usually see in the supermini class, be it a Clio, a Fiesta or a Yaris, but then there are cars like the S1 which offer increased performance in a similarly small car.

One thing that’s certain is that Mini has taken a page out of Honda’s book on how to build an outlandish hot hatch given the styling we’re seeing hidden under all that camouflage. Let’s hope we can take it as seriously as we took the Civic Type R once we went past the splitters, air vents, winglets, diffusers, and wings. Mini wants to beat with it the 8:23 minutes record set around the Nordschleife by the previous car and, if they do that, it would give the car some nice pedigree among those that still care about Nurburgring lap times.

  • Leave it
    • Hugely expensive
    • You can definitely have more powerful cars for the money
    • You can also have more spacious cars for the money as well

Further reading

2017 Mini John Cooper Works GP Concept High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
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Read our full review on the 2017 Mini Cooper John Cooper Works GP Concept

2013 Mini John Cooper Works GP Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2013 Mini Cooper John Cooper Works GP

2007 Mini Cooper S GP
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Read our full review on the 2007 Mini Cooper John Cooper Works GP

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