Mini Unleashed

3 is the perfect number. After having had a great success with the astonishing GP1 and GP2, Mini is back with the new 2020 GP, or GP3 for some enthusiasts. A limited edition (3000 examples), track focused hot hatch which is synonymous with the maximum Go Kart feeling possible. We must say that, just by looking at the enlarged carbon-fibre wheel arches and at the rear seat delete, our minds are set on “this must be awesome” expectation-mode. 

You see, when the first GP’s came out we were in the moment where Minis were the hottest hatch around, wanted by every young man and woman who could afford them. When the GP came out after the JCW, everyone went absolutely nuts and these cars sold very quickly. Same story when the GP2 came out in 2012, with an even better version to add to the already awesome lineup. Since then, enthusiasts have been waiting for another GP and luckily, our wait has ended in 2020 with the new John Cooper Works GP, or GP3 as it’s also known unofficially. 

With 306 hp and 415 Nm is the most powerful Mini to date and on paper it shows its promises very clearly. Self locking differential, no rear seats, a specifically tuned B58 inline 4Twin Power Turbo with dedicated pistons, rods and engine lubrication, stiffer suspension and larger tracks front and rear looks like a recipe for fun.  Light on its feet at less than 1300 kg and with the optional semi slicks is the Mini track-enthusiasts were waiting for. Also, many would scream as the GP is only available with an 8-speed automatic gearbox and at the absence of dedicated ultra-light bucket seats but these seem to be “flaws” that one can easily live with. 

As EoW philosophy works, the equation fun car = fun road is the only formula that should be applied. Using the last available days before Italy became a red zone due to this awful Covid 19 crisis, we loaded the empty rear end with cameras and some luggage and went to explore one of the most driver’s focused passes in South Tyrol, the Timmelsjoch. Uniting the Passeir region to Austria via one of the best driving road of the area, it’s where a car like the Mini GP would feel right at home… when it’s not on the racetrack. Suited for nimble cars, it’s perfect for a proper test as it’s narrow and twisty on the first leg and right after Moos it becomes wider and more indicated for a faster pace. 

It’s an easy trip from Brescia towards the Timmelsjoch but we eventually managed to get lost and ending up in the Schnalstal valley after getting into a dice with a group of German enthusiasts. A non-scheduled dice with some nice folks with M4’s, GT3’s and even a Skyline GTR R32 put the Mini credentials up to a test: it’s got the same attitude as the most provocative bowler on the road. If anyone spots the wing and the flared wheel arches, it’s on baby: prepare to be ready to race. Our unscheduled fight brought us to one of the most beautiful valleys of the region, which is surrounded by pure nature. Here, the GP showed an unexpected side, which brings its behavior close to a GT rather than an all out track car. Sure, the ride was still bone-shakingly hard, but the torque allowed for high-pace relaxed cruising. Instead of revving the brains out to keep it within the range, just put it in 5th gear and let it do its thing. You’ll be surprised by how fast it is: thanks to the torque, it’s not unusual to find yourself traveling at speeds well over the limit without you knowing. Despite being noisy inside the cockpit, it’s difficult to feel the speed: 170 kph do feel like 120 as the GP feels hardly stressed under any conditions. After we recovered from the deviation to the stunning Schnalstal valley, we resumed our journey towards the Timmelsjoch. A couple of Kaminerwurz and some hot canederli later we found ourselves in the road we were set to reach.

Here is where the Mini GP should feel at home and it does. First thing: torque steer is present everywhere. Exiting the corners is 2nd will upset the front and have you trying to correct the car: without any traction control on, a road suitable for 2nd and 3rd gear becomes ideal for 3rd and 4th. Only here you can feather the throttle and get the maximum traction out of corners. The torque also limits the need for the gearbox: despite being great in normal driving, it’s slow in the response during sporty driving, and it feels out of place in a car so extreme. The set up is proper but on something track focused it’s normal to see a dual clutch or the ever-wanted manual. Yet, the shifts are crisp and smooth and the software also takes advantage of some engine brake as well, helping the braking. The steering is unnecessarily heavy and the wheel is too thick for some proper feel. BMW test drivers seem to prefer this set up, where you have a heavy steering which has a very strange response. Also, from a Mini GP one should expect a steering which is as direct and as analogue as possible: we’re not saying that it’s not good, but seems, like the gearbox, a bit out of context. The ride is stiff but definitely worth every bit as the GP is very precise and forgiving: find a good pace and you’ll have massive amounts of fun. Even if you miss the right line or arrive too fast towards the apex, the car will forgive you and put you back where you should be. Interestingly, it doesn’t encourage you to go any faster as… it does feel way too much of a car for being a hot hatch. 

On the tight roads, it’s a joy to drive: never short on power and always at the ready, it’s your best companion in any joyride. The Mini GP on the road does feel right at home and surprisingly is way less wild than you would think. Yes, it’s the classic car that answers to the “big engine-small car” mantra, but in a way it encourages you more to find a good pace than go full attack as the previous GP’s did. As soon as you find the perfect way to manage the impressive torque-steer and find the right way to drive it, you’ll have a car which feels more like a super John Cooper Works than a specialized GP. Looking at the non-functional rear sway bar and at the absence of rear seats, you do feel that despite being cool aspects of this car, they’re a bit pointless. 

Descending on the Austrian side of the Timmelsjoch, the GP behaves more like a GT rather than an homologation special. The exhaust is quiet and doesn’t burble and the warm seats make you want to race towards a cup of hot chocolate rather than to the bottom of the bass, to do that road again. Yet, it can be devastatingly fast for being a hot hatch: drop some gears and take out the traction control and the GP will turn into a super-rocket. Coming back home, you do feel a bit confused: despite all that performance available, the GP has some aspects which tame its fiery character. Auto gearbox with no kick in the back when shifting, no burble and no track focused aspects like proper bucket seats, adjustable premium suspension and an engine wanting to rev to 11 water down the crazy go kart to a point where it seems… strange. 

Is this a Mini for drivers? Maybe new generations will appreciate this car more than we can possibly do. For sure, the GP is a true Mini for the new Millennium and it’s definitely a car which leaves a mark in history.

Many thanks to Nanni Nember Mini


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