In 2006, contributor Ian McLaren drove the first Mini JCW GP to an actual GP. Fifteen years later, he reunited with the original and its successor to welcome the all-new version to our shores.

Two hours into my drive of the first-generation Mini Cooper S with the John Cooper Works GP kit, my opinion of this exercise in weight-saving and heightened levels of driver engagement was less than positive. In the midst of a European heatwave and, with traffic queuing for more than an hour on every pathway leading into the famous Hockenheimring racetrack, the novelty of a weighted clutch pedal, together with the deliberate absence of air-conditioning, an audio system and, indeed, rear seats, quickly waned.

Created at the end of the first generation of the reimagined Mini’s lifecycle – and finished by Bertone in Italy – only 2 000 examples of the original JCW GP were built. Finally reaching our allocated parking bays behind the grandstand of one of the most famous tracks in the world, our convoy of fierce-looking The Italian Job hot hatches drew nearly as much attention as the hover of helicopters delivering VIP guests to the start of the 2006 German Grand Prix. Stepping away to view my transport’s lowered stance, bespoke 18-inch matte-black alloy wheels, novel-looking carbon fibre wing and unique colour scheme (including red mirror housings and exclusive production number emblazoned on the silver roof), all was just about forgiven.


Much later that afternoon – and with Michael Schumacher’s 89th win still fresh – a blast around some curved roads en route back to our accommodation instantly banished any lingering animosity I harboured towards the then most powerful Mini ever produced.

A bugbear adopted with the arrival of the two subsequent iterations of the new Mini is that the bonnet scoop that so feverously fed air into the supercharger of the 160 kW/250 Nm original JCW GP has since become purely decorative. That said, despite this aperture finished with a red outline and featuring a large model-designation sticker on the 2012 second-generation GP, forced induction in this car was via twin-scroll turbocharging, with air flowing over the bonnet instead locked out of the engine bay by a walled-off scoop.

Following the same diet of deleted interior furniture, the GP2, as it became known, was once again an exercise in improved handling prowess compared with the JCW model on which it was based. Delivering 160 kW and 280 Nm of torque from just 2 000 r/min, where the first GP featured a mechanical differential, the second version relied instead on an electrically operated item that sought to manage front-end grip by selectively braking an inside wheel.


Fitted with adjustable Bilstein coilover dampers, 330 mm Brembo-sourced brakes and bespoke Kumho semi-slick tyres, the GP2 arguably required more favourable prevailing conditions (including a smooth, dry surface) than its predecessor to fully unlock its dynamic potential. In such surroundings, a press of this car’s “GP Mode” switch dialed back the car’s stability-control systems while unleashing a full cacophony of smile-inducing overrun theatrics, managed via a weighted clutch pedal and short-throw transmission lever.

It’s at this point where any respectable review of the third-generation JCW GP begins.

The most powerful production Mini, its makers insist that in order to best engage with the car’s heightened dynamics, its turbocharged 2.0-litre drivetrain should be operated exclusively via an eight-speed automatic transmission with associated steering wheel-mounted paddles.

Not that this ZF-sourced transmission has any particular shortcomings. Yet, once you also realise the bright-red brace mounted in place of the rear seats is fitted simply to stop your luggage from sliding forwards and not, in fact, to offer any additional structural rigidity (i.e. an actual strut brace), you begin to wonder just how serious BMW was about making this the ultimate driver’s Mini.


It certainly looks the part. Those blade-like wheel-arch extensions (allowing for increased track widths front and rear) are produced from carbon-fibre salvaged from the i3’s production line, while 18-inch alloy wheels are fitted with bespoke 225/35 R18 semi-slick Hankook-branded rubber. The GP once again sits 10 mm lower to the ground than its modern JCW counterpart and mounted to the tailgate is a purposeful-looking double-tier wing. Parked alongside its predecessors, the newest version boasts ring-lamp LED daytime-running lights and Union Jack-emblazoned taillamps.

Despite offering just one driving mode – thus locking the fastest Mini ever produced into its most alert setting – I was immediately impressed with the level of suspension compliance. Fully expecting to be jostled around in my well-bolstered sports seat, the GP nevertheless copes admirably with most everyday surface conditions. Harsher imperfections do, however, announce themselves with a thud.

The car feels suitably grown up inside, too. A new five-inch digital instrumentation display offers crisp visuals, while car number 254 of 3 000 (one of 38 units allocated to South Africa) is fitted with both climate control and a full bouquet of audio functionality, items included only at the owner’s request.

Shared with the current all-wheel-drive BMW M135i xDrive, in this application the brand’s B48 1 998 cm3 twin-scroll turbocharged engine features a reinforced crankshaft, lightweight pistons, new connecting rods and a larger sump for improved cooling. Held in place using upgraded mounts, this force-fed unit delivers 225 kW and a substantial 450 Nm of torque to the front wheels via a mechanical differential. It’s a tall order to manage. Under hard acceleration, you begin to understand why this car’s maker is keen for you to keep both hands on the wheel…

A balancing act in terms of throttle management and steering-wheel tussle, the reward for a smooth-as-possible corner exit is a neck-straining blast towards the horizon. Aiding as much as possible in this regard is bespoke camber rates and a reinforced front tower strut brace for front-end rigidity.

If anything, I expected a few more theatrics from the new stainless-steel exhaust system (with 90 mm diameter, centrally mounted tailpipes), although the soundtrack remains purposeful.


The GP2 featured in these images was a last-minute inclusion on the day (courtesy, as were the other two cars, of an enthusiast owner) and arguably stole the show. While the original car is likely to maintain its cult-like status for being so fantastically anti-establishment at the time of its launch, the new car – while certainly looking the part – feels a little too grown up and weighed down by expectation compared with its free-spirited siblings. Indeed, it’s the middle child that feels the best balanced when it comes to styling modifications, power delivery and on-road dynamics. It also offers the most raucous soundtrack of the three.

As an exercise in exuberance to highlight the performance and dynamic potential of the famously fun-to-drive Mini hatch family, each generation of the JWC GP neatly fulfils its respective mandate. Where the newest version comes ever-so-slightly unstuck is that it arguably tries to do too much, succumbing to the pressures of modern motoring. Does it require this much torque troubling its front wheels exclusively? Should it at least have been offered with a manual transmission? And, could a simple cargo net have taken the place of a gimmicky-looking and ultimately not particularly useful “strut brace”?

The GP Family Tree

2006 Mini JCW GP

Price at launch: R292 000
Engine: 1.6 L, 4-cyl, supercharged petrol
Transmission: 6-spd manual
Power: 160 kW @ 7 100 r/min
Torque: 250 Nm @ 4 600 r/min 0-100 km/h: 6,2 seconds
Weight: 1 120 kg
Production run: 2 000 units

2012 Mini JCW GP

Price at launch: R399 500
Engine: 1.6 L, 4-cyl, turbopetrol
Transmission: 6-spd manual
Power: 160 kW @ 6 000 r/min
Torque: 280 Nm @ 2 000-5 100 r/min 0-100 km/h: 6,3 seconds
Weight: 1 235 kg
Production run: 2 000 units

2020 Mini JCW GP

Price: R809 488
Engine: 2.0 L, 4-cyl, turbopetrol
Transmission: 8-spd AT
Power: 225 kW @ 5 000-6 250 r/min
Torque: 450 Nm @ 1 750-4 500 r/min 0-100 km/h: 5,2 seconds
Weight: 1 255 kg
Production run: 3 000 units