You won't need to explain to anyone that the 2020 Mini GP means business. Just look at it. You'd have to be more than short-sighted to miss the big intakes, arch extensions and a two-part rear wing. Save for tricked-out £70k French unicorns, it's as proper as manufacturer-built front-drive hatchbacks get. You've probably already decided if you love or hate it. But we'd defy you to resist having a go if someone offered.
The basics are familiar by now: 306hp and 332lb ft of torque from BMW's B48 twin-scroll 2.0-litre, delivered to the front axle via an eight-speed ZF auto and mechanical locking differential. 0-62mph takes 5.2 seconds and a 165mph top speed means it's the fastest road-going Mini yet, while a wider, stiffer and uniquely geo'd chassis works with 18-inch four-spoke rims wrapped in sticky Hankook Ventus S1 evo Zs.
The suspension setup is bespoke, with 40mm wider tracks at both ends, a ride height that's 10mm lower than the JCW's, and GP-specific springs and passive dampers, supported by firmer bushes. The front axle gets new swivel bearings to increase camber, too, while firmer engine mounts keep flex to a minimum and sharpen throttle response. Throw in the kind of weight saving that stipulates the removal of the rear bench (as per GP tradition) and you have a car that's 70kg lighter than a JCW. It gives off the right vibe, let's put it that way.
Given that a manual 'box would have saved significant additional mass, you might ask why Mini hasn't offered a lightweight three-pedal variant. Turns out it's a compatibility thing; there were no pre-existing manual options capable of plugging and playing with such a potent, UKL1-based model. And thanks to the GP's low production numbers - just 575 of a 3,000 global run are coming to Britain - there's obviously too little justification for re-engineering something to suit. Mini also makes no bones about this car being honed with track lap times in mind, and an auto is obviously the quicker solution.
Certainly, the transmission makes driving the Mini GP at sedate pace remarkably easy. It has been tuned specifically for this function and is happy to run as if it's marshalling a regular JCW - which, as far as the view ahead suggests, is exactly what you're in. You're faced with the same oval-shaped, frameless digital instrument cluster, the same infotainment screen housed within Mini's unique centre console and the same nicely finished, rounded dash design. There are bespoke dial graphics and GP badges, but the main enhancement are a pair of bucket seats, which are snug and look the part. That red bar in the back, by the way, is there to protect you from flying luggage - not stiffen the structure. But it's a cool link to the GP's predecessors.
It's clear enough from the outset that rigidity is not a commodity the car lacks. Its passive damping remains firm at all times, although the ride is never overtly harsh thanks to the absorbing properties of those bushes. Sure, you'll find yourself being jiggled, but it's forgiving enough at speed - assuming the road is relatively smooth. Because one thing the GP can't iron out are those irregular bumps that British B roads specialise in. Anything other than moderate pace between villages will have you constantly fighting the rebound to stay straight.
Evidently what the chassis really wants is to be permanently under load. At half mast it'll stay glued stoically down, but not in an immersive or interesting way. Ratchet up the commitment to the extent that its springs and dampers face genuine lateral duress and suddenly the GP comes alive - leaning cheerily into its negative camber and indulging in mid-corner rotation with a trailed brake. The steering ratio is set so an initial slowness (which is handy on the motorway or when you're sneezing) is swapped for hyperactivity in what feels like a degree or two of lock, meaning you're only asked for small steering inputs to control it all. It feels supremely agile and buzzing with energy.
Off-corner traction is excellent, with the diff juggling the engine's low down surge with no slip - although the chassis's bump-related issue does compound the challenge with a fully open throttle. Being fluid with your inputs becomes hard with the steering tugging at your hands; the GP doesn't possess the latitude of something like a Civic Type R, which rewards smoothness with smoothness. On a bumpy B road, the Mini's front axle feels much closer to its limit, and begins taking exception to your right foot. Only on occasional sections of new and smooth tarmac does the GP really begin to flow.
Still, there's no complaining about the way it builds pace in between; it's quick off the line and rapid once rolling, and the quick-shifting gearbox is well matched to its character, allowing you to work in a wide torque window (332lb ft arrives from just 1,750rpm) or rev beyond the 6,000rpm redline. If only it sounded a little more exciting. In GP mode you can up the volume being pumped through the speakers by switching the ESC to Sport - a sonic backdrop punctuated by the odd crackle and pop from the tailpipes - but the motor tone is flat and the exhaust's blast-furnace too distant to really enjoy. Presumably WLTP has something to do with that, given the lack of furniture between you and it.
Couple that relative lack of aural excitement with the GP's inability to remain straight and true on a B road, and you're left with a super-hatch that is subdued and frenetic in unequal measure - while being tremendously fast. The truly good bits come in fits and spurts; the car desperately wanting the right bit of road and for its driver to be in determined mood. True enough, this tail-wagging personality is not un-Mini-like, and when you're finally dialled into it the GP's body control and emphatic front end make it redolent of the Mini JCW race car we drove last year. Which is high praise for a road-legal model of any stripe.
Nevertheless, the overriding impression that you're not having half as much fun as you would on track is inescapable. Arguably that was inevitable given Mini's objectives during development - and it's very likely that some of the 575 UK-bound GPs will find themselves lapping the nation's circuits to the delight of their owners. But previous iterations made a better fist of the compromises needed to produce a compelling road car, and at least one British-built Japanese hatchback will do the job with its back seats intact. Or, to put it another way: the new GP is precisely as good as you think it looks.
SPECIFICATION | MINI GP
Engine: 1,998cc, turbocharged 4-cyl
Transmission: 8-speed auto, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 306@5,000-6,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 332@1,750-4,500rpm
Top speed: 165mph
MPG: 38.7 (NEDC combined)
Price: £35,345 (£37,345 for GP Touring Pack)
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