One must give Mini, actually MINI, a lot of credit. Debuting in 2001 under BMW ownership, it has stayed with the concept of a small, distinctively styled hatchback. While various models have gotten larger, the basic shape and values remain the same. When researching for this review, I was shocked to learn the original Mini stayed in production until 2000, obviously not in the United States.
Now MINI has made a giant leap into legendary status. It now produces the quickest front-wheel-drive production car in its class. New for 2021, this MINI John Cooper Works GP (JCW) is a limited edition, number 250 of 3000 units. The 2.0 liter, turbocharged, BMW-sourced engine produces 301 horsepower and 332 lbs-ft of torque at a low 1750rpm. Quite out of character for this hardcore handler, the only transmission offered is an 8-speed, torque converter automatic.
Yet only weighing 2894 lbs, this translates to a 4.7 second 0-60mph time and a 13.1 second, 110mph quarter-mile time as tested by Car & Driver magazine. If it were not for the difficult-to-launch front-wheel-drive layout, it is a 12-second car. Not to mention a 24 mpg city and 30 mpg highway fuel economy ratings. But this is not a commuter. More on that later.
The exterior styling is distinctively MINI, and then some. A roof mounted wing in the rear grabs the eye. The massive fender flairs are really large, flat, carbon fiber reinforced plastic endplates that stick out from the bodywork like “mini” billboards with the edition number of the 3000 total produced displayed. They are needed for the wide track and 225 width, 18” Hankook Ventus S1 Evo tires. The fake hood scoop, large brake rotors and red trim all announce serious intentions.
And that intent is track duty. It rides like you think a track car would. So firm, referring to my notes taken, “Bumps make you say ‘Oof’.” is written twice and occurs where normally a sporty sedan shrugs it off. Maybe there is some implicit bias since it is not a 600hp, mid-engine exotic where this may be excused. The steering his heavy for a car that normally could double as a decently fuel-efficient commuter. However, the quick responses and proper ratio of steering wheel angle and vehicle travel makes for fun driving when the road twists.
The steering wheel also twists due to torque steer. Even uphill at 50mph it tugged in my hands during a full-throttle punch. The 4-cylinder humming deeply in fury. Smash the throttle while turning and it will buck and jump, understeer and drift wide, reminding the driver that the wheels responsible for turning are also arguably wrong for the co-responsibility of sole power delivery.
Get that all straightened out and the aggressive gearing contributing to the rapid acceleration gets you to 60mph before you can utter the words, “Funs over”. Besides the ride, there were some noises not heard since being a guest in a couple track-only cars. At low speed, there is an occasional chirp or rattle coming from the rear of the car. It gives it personality since this car is unapologetic in its intent. There is a bit of a jerk as the transmission downshifts when rolling to a stop, as if it is eager to get going again. Maybe a simple software update could smooth that out.
After a lapping session on suburban streets and highway qualifying, the tinkling of the exhaust cooling is the farewell thank you for making it do what it does best. But once again the front wheels are not the best for acceleration when traction is lacking. Experiencing axle hop due to cold tires and pavement, the loud clunks were disconcerting.
Despite the size, it is not claustrophobic, the outward visibility approaches fishbowl-excellent. Using the un-scientific method of placing the wrist on top of the steering wheel to see if outstretched fingers touch the windshield to determine how small the car feels, it passes in spades. But the problem is the A-pillar is also so far forward, the sunshade is utterly useless when swung to the side. Well not completely useless you put your chin on the steering wheel while driving. I found that to be unacceptable. The A-pillar placement also moves the blindspot noticeably forward. The resulting roofline is far forward as well, and therefore the narrow rear-view mirror is far away as well.
The seats feel properly firm and supportive for lateral g-force loads but are manually adjusted, keeping in mind the desired lightweight dynamics versus the expectations of the $45,750 sticker price. The placement of the familiar BMW iDrive controller is below the hips of the front occupants, reminiscent of the ignition key location of Saabs. Luckily the familiar layout of the button-dial and buttons trumps a touchscreen. A thoughtful feature is tilting the steering wheel to adjust the angle also moves the driver’s fully digital display.
There is an inductive charger under the center armrest lid, but it does not quite fit an iPhone 8s. The door pockets are perfectly size for a wallet and phone though. The rear does not have back seats, but has a red strut tower brace that still allows for a significant amount of rear cargo space. This open area surely contributes to the raised sound level in the car. Despite the adequate space, my wife disqualified taking the MINI John Cooper Works GP to Home Depot for a flower run. Granted those pots are insufficient for g-loads of any kind so it was just as well.
Small, fun, “tossable”, very quick, many of the ingredients for an exciting car are wrapped up in the unique styling of the MINI John Cooper Works GP. Kudos for such a dedicated effort, it isn’t something you see every day.
Author BIO: Rob Eckaus
Rob is a long-time auto enthusiast and a graduate of AMG, Audi, BMW M, Bondurant, Exotics Racing, GT500 Track Tour, KTM X-Bow and SRT driving schools/events as well as a participant in hot lap sessions, drag racing, car events, and motorcycling. Rob is a member of the Western Automotive Journalists and the Motor Press Guild.
Besides a contributor to The Truth About Cars and prior to that, The Auto Channel, his blog is Barely Streetable at Blogspot and his social media handle is Barely Streetable on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & YouTube