The motorsport-inspired MINI JCW GP is a joy to drive on road or track

The edgy, boisterous and feisty MINI JCW GP commands a big price premium, but its motorsport-inspired technology and exclusivity help to justify the cost. While it’s designed to perform on the track, its huge performance is accessible and enjoyable on the road. The ride is firm and it’s noisy on the motorway, yet if you want a car that exhilarates on every journey, this is the hot hatch for you.

You'd expect a hot hatch as single-minded as the MINI JCW GP to back up its performance with racy styling. And there’s certainly no missing it, with unique Thunder Grey paint set off by red edging around the bonnet vent, mirror caps and front air vents, plus slightly garish decals.

Yet it’s the aerodynamic additions – side sills, a chin spoiler and fixed rear wing – that give it menace. And they’re not just for show. In conjunction with underside panelling and an F1-style rear diffuser, the bodykit reduces lift at the rear axle by 90 per cent, while improved air flow under the engine helps suck more air from the intercooler.

The bespoke approach continues with the chassis. To allow the Kumho tyres to work harder, front camber is increased over the standard JCW, while toe-in is reduced. And for the first time in a roadgoing MINI, a fully adjustable coilover suspension set-up allows ride height to be lowered by up to 20mm.

Under the bonnet, the standard JCW’s 1.6-litre twin-scroll turbo engine is upgraded with an aluminium cylinder block, reinforced pistons and lightweight crankshafts. This tally of mechanical changes makes the GP far more than a marketing special, although the result is a rather modest 7bhp power upgrade.

Still, binning the rear seats contributes to a 55kg weight saving, making the MINI 234kg lighter than the Megane, at 1,160kg. But the bigger-capacity Renault has an extra 46bhp, and 360Nm of torque, so while the GP has a quicker in-gear response, it’s left trailing in the sprint from 0-60mph.

Not that you need to see test track figures to appreciate just how fast the MINI is. And even the shortest of drives is enough to allow you to savour the sharp throttle response, vocal exhaust and punchy power delivery. It’s a blast.

On bumpy or cambered roads there’s a price to pay for this boisterous nature. The firm suspension reacts to every imperfection, leaving the chunky-rimmed steering wheel fidgeting in your hands. Still, body control is faultless and the sense of involvement you get from the standard JCW’s razor-sharp controls has been turned up a notch in the tauter and livelier GP.

Unsurprisingly, given the motorsport engineering under the skin, the MINI’s dynamic nature is highlighted further on a track. The fast and accurate steering helps the driver to develop what feels like an intimate connection with the tarmac, and the immediacy of the chassis response means almost every press of the throttle or brake allows you to adjust the car’s balance. It’s easy to unstick the rear tyres by trailing the brake into the corner, or with a gentle lift off the throttle mid-bend – yet the communicative chassis means it’s always easy to gather it all up should you go too far.

Crucially, however, whether you’re driving on your favourite B-road or a track, the MINI is always eager and leaves the Renault feeling a little docile in comparison. So where’s the catch? Well, it’s noisy on the motorway and too firm around town, while sacrificing the rear seats limits the car’s practicality. Still, the standard JCW cabin gets GP decals and red highlights, while the Recaro seats are supportive and comfortable. Plus, as you’d expect from a car that’s all about enjoyment, the driving position is perfect.

The £28,790 price tag is steep, but MINI plans to sell just 2,000 examples. So exclusivity is guaranteed and you can expect strong residuals – in fact, you might just be buying yourself a future classic. All that counts for hot hatch fans, though, is that the John Cooper Works GP is one of the most thrilling cars money can buy; a car you’ll drive just for the hell of it.

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