2020 Mini John Cooper Works GP debuts -- we hop in for a ride
Mini's small-batch go-kart has enough power for major fun on the track at an affordable price.
Emme HallFormer editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
It's been six years since we saw a Mini John Cooper Works GP which, frankly, is entirely too long. For 2020, Mini is trotting out the next-generation of the limited-run pocket rocket, complete with more power, more speed and a $45,000 price tag. The GP officially made its debut Tuesday ahead of the 2019 LA Auto Show.
The latest front-wheel-drive runabout gets a new turbocharger added to its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, resulting in 301 horsepower and 331 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission is the only one available, but 3D-printed paddle shifters should help drivers feel a bit more connected. A torque-vectoring front differential keeps the power going where it should for maximum cornering power.
Track goodies include a model-specific oil sump that ensures proper distribution even when G-forces are at their maximum. Cooling is provided by two external units, a high-power fan and a high-capacity coolant tank. The transmission has its own robust cooling system. Theoretically, this thing could drive across the Sahara in August and not overheat.
Overall the car is super-stiff with a specially tuned suspension that lowers it 10 millimeters compared to the standard Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop.
Visually, the GP has been tweaked for improved aerodynamics with a large roof spoiler and big intakes in the front, as well as a new lip spoiler. Giant carbon fenders act as air ducts for the brakes and make room for 18-inch forged wheels wearing 225/35 Hankook Ventus S1 Evo tires. The car only comes in one color: Racing Gray metallic with accents of Melting Silver metallic and Chili Red. Inside you'll find just two seats and much less acoustic insulation, all in the name of saving weight. Heck, you can even order it without air conditioning.
Hitting the track
At Thermal Club outside of Palm Springs, California, I'm treated to a few hot laps with Mini chassis engineer, Jurgen Metz, behind the wheel. During testing the GP turned in a sub-eight-minute lap of the Nurburgring Nordschleife, so I'm anticipating some major G-forces here at Thermal.
The GP can scoot from 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds, so Metz is up to speed quickly. The first turn is never-ending, showing the grip of the Hankook tires. He unwinds and accelerates towards a blind crest that frankly makes me a bit nervous, but I don't feel any lift as we crest the hill. Metz is then on the brakes hard, the 14-inch rotors with four-piston fixed-calipers in front, single-piston floating-calipers in the rear bite in hard, bringing the GP down to a manageable speed before the next set of quick turns.
Here is where the torque-vectoring tech comes in. Even at these high speeds, the GP doesn't understeer in the turns. Instead it's incredibly tidy. Torque comes in at full bore by 1,750 rpm and remains flat through 4,500 rpm, so there is plenty of speed on corner exit. Point and shoot.
As we come into the straightaway, Metz clicks off well-fired shifts, and I see 194 kph on the speedometer. That's 120 mph to those of us across the pond, but the GP doesn't max out until 165 mph.
As a passenger, I wish the seats were a bit more bolstered. My shoulders are fine but my hips are sliding around a bit on the cushion. The GP's exhaust makes its way into the cabin, which is nice, but I'd prefer a deeper timbre.
The 2020 Mini John Cooper Work GP will be available in the spring of 2020 with a starting price of $44,900 plus $850 for destination. However, if you want one, you'll need to act quickly, as Mini will only produce 3,000 of the little race-inspired hardtops.