Get ready for a wild ride with the MINI John Cooper Works GP 2020 edition, or 'GP3' if you want to go for the fanboy shorthand. But then, what were you expecting from a limited-production, 265km/h MINI with no back seats and 306hp flowing through the front wheels?
In the metal
It's a three-door MINI Hatch, but not as we know it. Its full name is the John Cooper Works GP, although most people will refer to it as the MINI GP, and the MINI GP3 at that. Because there have been two previous attempts at this sort of stripped-out, super-focused, special-edition MINI before - the original arrived in 2006 and had the clunking name of 'MINI Cooper S with John Cooper Works GP Kit', while the second iteration rocked up in 2012 and was more plainly entitled the John Cooper Works GP. The arrival of the Mk2 GP eight years ago meant the original was retconned to GP1, making the successor the GP2 and thus, by extension, this brand-new 2020 addition to the deranged family of MINIs the GP3.
You won't mistake it for any other current MINI product, mind. It follows the previous GPs' formula of assertive exterior styling and dominant detailing and colour schemes. Those blades enlarging the wheel arches and hiding the wider track of the GP3 are made from bits of recycled carbon fibre that didn't make it into production of BMW's i3 and i8 models. With that colossal rear wing, which will not be to all tastes, you might think there's a lot of aero going on here but MINI doesn't claim much in terms of downforce-enhancing properties from the bodywork at all; it seems to all be for kerbside show. The paintwork choice is but one: Racing Grey panels, a contrast Melting Silver roof and mirror caps, loads of red detailing (both of the Chilli and Rosso varieties) and two-tone, 18-inch, MINI GP-specific forged-alloy wheels.
Inside, it's minimalistic. Again, this is concomitant with the GPs that went before it. There are no back seats, there's no rear wash-wipe system for the back screen and, unless you specify the GP Touring Pack, there's no air conditioning, infotainment system nor seat-heating capabilities either - this is all in the name of saving weight. There's a big, red strut brace spanning the passenger compartment behind the seats and to further heighten the ambience the build number of the car is embossed into the passenger dashboard, while it also gains the digital instrument pod of the MINI Electric and 3D-printed paddle shifts for the gearbox.
And, on that particular note, this is where the MINI GP3 might start to annoy the purists. Unlike its three-pedal forebears, the GP3 has an eight-speed automatic gearbox - a torque-converter, too, rather than the more fashionable and performance-oriented dual-clutch unit. The simple reason for this is that MINI doesn't have a manual gearbox that can handle the 450Nm of torque generated by the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, which has seen service in a variety of fast BMWs such as the M135i, the M235i Gran Coupe and the X2 M35i. But while the GP's 306hp looks big, it isn't the outright most-powerful production MINI yet, because this engine (or a version of it) has already been installed in the Countryman and Clubman John Cooper Works vehicles. So is the MINI GP3 just too extreme for daily usage? Or is it, weirdly, not quite extreme enough?
The difference between the GP and all those BMWs that have used this engine, not to mention the Clubman JCW too, is that it flows its 306hp and 450Nm through the front wheels alone, rather than both axles. This makes it, as a road-going contrivance, easily the most intense MINI since the John Cooper Works Challenge and a quite ferocious front-driver in the grand scheme of things. Don't, for a minute, think that the plush John Cooper Works seats and the automatic gearbox and the X2-related oily bits somehow all contrive to make this a slightly soft-around-the-edges machine. It has no adjustable suspension and no driving modes save one - which is the one MINI's engineers have dialled in from the factory. And it's brutally unforgiving.
From low speeds, the MINI thumps and snuffles out adverse cambers and generally gives the impression that it has no civility nor dampers whatsoever, never mind fixed-rate ones focused on outright body control at the expense of all else. It is therefore, perhaps unsurprisingly, not going to be the best daily driver you've ever encountered. In fact, it is probably going to be among the most uncomfortable cars you'll have the misfortune of travelling in.
To that end, the mark for this driving section does not in any way reflect its low-speed ride quality nor its mechanical refinement nor its ability to suppress outside noise contributors from entering the cabin. You want a comfy MINI for commuting, go and buy a Cooper D. If, however, you want one of the most exhilarating MINIs yet and, indeed, one of the most scintillating hot hatchbacks of any shape or price available right now, you want to be considering the GP3. Trying to hold onto it as it bucks, bashes and snarls its way down an undulating back road is a demented thrill all of its own and, if you are feeling brave, you can chuck it into a corner, lift the razor throttle and the back end will slip gleefully into oversteer.
It needs a lot of provocation to do this, however, because the grip levels are ludicrously high. This makes it far more talented at dissecting corners at speed than you might credit a 450Nm front-wheel-drive car to be. Thank the limited-slip differential for apportioning out the engine's output across the leading axle as best it can, but also revel in excellent steering and suspension that absolutely comes into its own once you start driving the MINI GP in a manner that's almost as aggressive as the car's exterior body styling - the springs and dampers finally get into a groove once you've got three figures showing on the speedometer, so you can sense their track-biased leanings.
And it's quick. Gracious, it's quick. The GP3 will rabidly deploy its power to the tarmac and while that 2.0-litre engine isn't quite the most melodic four-cylinder unit in history, nor is the exhaust as extravagantly loud as some of the pop-bang MINI pipes of the past, it nevertheless sounds suitably raucous and sporty, enhancing the sensation of speed no end. Yes, there's perhaps the lingering suspicion that we enjoyed the MINI in the best possible way: during a reasonably short but spirited drive on dry, clear roads. It may well become tiresome over the course of longer journeys, but we're happy to say this is the best, most involving MINI we've ever driven - and yes, we have sampled both GP1 and GP2.
What you get for your money
The MINI GP3 will be special order only here in Ireland, and we'll probably have to try and dip into the UK's allocation of 575 right-hand-drive examples out of a global production run of 3,000. The price is therefore going to depend on our changing VRT laws, which will switch to a new system from January 1, 2021, and we'd estimate it would be in the €50,000-€55,000 ballpark if you decide to take the plunge on a GP; set that against the backdrop of a 231hp John Cooper Works Hatch with the automatic gearbox costing from €39,154 at present.
If it helps salve your conscience somewhat, know that there are no options on the GP3, save for the aforementioned GP Touring Pack (which'll likely add a couple of grand to the asking price), and so what you're paying for here is hilariously unhinged performance and the relative scarcity factor of the GP3. Having said that, it's not quite as rare as its GP1 and GP2 predecessors, of which just 2,000 units of each were sold globally. Therefore, in order to make peace with dropping nearly 60 thousand Euro on a MINI, you have to think of the GP3 as a longer-term investment piece, more than just a criminally hard-riding hot hatch with a whopping great boot.
Could MINI have improved this product by fitting a manual gearbox of some sort and maybe limiting the torque? Possibly. Is it going to be a nice vehicle to use on a regular basis, in the humdrum traffic flow of modern motoring? Absolutely not. Has MINI decided to make too many examples of the GP3 and is it too expensive? Maybe yes, and definitely yes.
So perfect, this car is not, not by a long way. But that's kind of why we love it. Frankly, it's easily the most uncompromising and simultaneously characterful MINI we've yet driven, and it has a 300-horsepower-plus engine, for goodness' sake. Therefore, while we will happily admit that it has an incredibly narrow operating zone in which you'll only be able to access the very best of it (you need a quiet back road or preferably a track, dry conditions and big cojones), once you get the MINI GP3 boiling away in that niche, you'll find it a terrifically riveting hot hatchback.