Singapore – If you’re a big enough petrolhead and more than just a casual fan of sportscars, you’ll realise there’s far more to fun cars than clickbaity dragstrip showdown videos that are propagated on social media these days.
Stomping on the loud pedal down a straight is briefly satisfying, but this isn’t the be-all-end-all of ‘fun’ cars, at least insofar as our interpretation of ‘fun’ is concerned!
In a really fast car these days, 0-100km/h can take 3secs or less, which is barely a blink and a breath, and we’d rather our fun last a lot longer than that…
As the late rally legend Colin McRae famously said, “Straight roads are for fast cars, turns are for fast drivers” and there’s nothing that separates the wheat from the oversized crossover chaff with a gazillion horsepower under its bonnet as you dive into the first corner.
‘Fun’ cars shouldn’t just be ‘effortless’ or ‘easy-to-drive’, but constantly challenge and keep a driver on his/her toes, as opposed to just dishing out instant gratification when you plant your right foot deep into the ‘Go’ pedal.
Ultimately, they should straddle the fine-line between benign and bananas without veering into outright viciousness when things go Pete Tong.
Hot-hatchbacks like the JCW GP are in a niche of their own that is near and dear to this writer’s heart, who has had pint-sized pokers like the Punto GT Turbo, Clio 172 and Golf GTI pass through his white-knuckled grip over the 20+ years driving life.
Originally, these modest, blue-collared heroes offered genuinely entertaining chuckability in a light, compact, but more importantly, supremely agile package.
The genre used to be defined by unassuming pocket rockets that required the specialised knowledge of a cognoscenti to appreciate and went about their business without the big firepower and even larger aero found in overt sportscars.
If you’re giving the F56 2020 MINI JCW GP.3 in our pictures some side-eye (ya’know, to avoid any potential confrontation), you can see that’s all changed, or rather the audience has.
In an increasingly hypebeast arena of short attention spans, it’s no longer sufficient to speak softly... even if you happen to carry a big stick.
The point is to bludgeon the likes out of your social media followers for that brief heartbeat before they swipe on to the ‘next new’, and that’s the new normal we live in today.
MINI Mayhem – MINI JCW GP.3 (F56)
The GP.3 is the third and latest iteration of MINI’s stripped-out JCW hatchback, which started with the ‘JCW GP Kit’ in 2006 (from the second version onwards, the moniker was simply shortened to JCW GP).
Basically, these purist GP models were lightened (and rear bench ditched), tuned and tweaked for fast-road and circuit use – because #racecar!
It’s an aggressively stanced ‘little’ thing shod in forged 18-inch alloys, not that we’d say ‘little’ to this menacing MINI’s face. Everything cute and cuddly about the regular MINI has been transmogrified.
The result? A heavily armed (and armoured) road rocket with accompanying fangs and nails, thanks to a turbocharged 2.0-litre with 306hp and massive 450Nm to shift a piffling 1.3-tonnes.
Apart from a more aggressive front-end treatment for better cooling and aerodynamic effect, the GP.3 also sits 10mm lower than the JCW and each of the four corners even features a CFRP wheel-arch ‘cover’ to accommodate larger (and wider) footwear.
Of course, by now you’d also have spotted that humongous roof spoiler with its double-wing contours (including a thoughtful cavity for the antenna to slot into when the tailgate is up).
The GP.3 is limited to 3000 units, and unlike its two manual-only predecessors, is 8spd auto-only. While it punches out 75hp more than the ‘regular’ JCW, it’s quite interesting the GP.3’s 306hp is identical to the output of the MINI Countryman JCW All4 (like the Countryman’s brother from another mother, the M135i xDrive), albeit in a far lighter and more agile body.
The manual-auto debate is a divisive one and too involving to get into here, as even the big boys like Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini have struggled with the conundrum.
Suffice to say, auto/dual-clutch ‘purist’ models in the high-end sportscar pantheon have gone on to sell in even bigger numbers despite the outcry from the vocal enthusiasts, so we don’t think it’s going to be any different for the GP.3. This ‘accessibility’ might also explain why MINI has made 3000 units for the GP.3, versus the 2000 units each for the GP.1 and GP.2.
There’s bespoke trim in the interior, but most important to driving enthusiasts are the well-weighted brake/accelerator pedals, authoritative paddle shifters, snugly supportive sports seats and steering wheel, which just about manages to avoid being too chunky.
Flick the starter, fire up the GP.3 and you’ll notice it settles into a deep baritone thrum with little hint of the mayhem to come.
Sure, the GP.3 will happily pootle around town, but that’s not how you want to be driving it, because this is a beast that is dying to muscle its way around.
Despite its serious, track-ready aspirations, the GP.3 proves to be a boisterous beast that constantly wants to be let out of the cage.
Its relatively petite proportions (by today’s standards), prodigious poke and punchy gearshifts will let you cut a swathe through traffic, and there’s ample feel from steering and seat of pants for spirited driving.
Like many powerful front-drive cars, the GP.3’s raging 450Nm hit of torque threatens to overwhelm the front wheels on many occasion.
However, this only adds to the rowdy rocket’s rambunctious appeal, because it teaches you to use the throttle judiciously, and this sort of introspection adds up to an involving drive experience for us.
If anything, the GP.3 relishes being roughly ridden as you engage in a bout of rough-housing with the road.
Minuet in GP – MINI JCW GP.2 (R56)
Compared to the GP.3, the GP.2 looks positively mini, with little in the way of outré visual cues to clue one in to its performance credentials.
A discreet roof-spoiler, GP-unique four-spoke 17-inch alloy rims and distinctive Thunder Grey Metallic body-colour with racy red highlights help differentiate the GP.2 from the MINI herd.
We’re of a generation that places a premium on substance over style, and there are certainly treats galore under the GP.2’s skin, such as the six-pot brakes, tweaked chassis and retuned suspension complete with inverted shocks to deliver even more precise handling finesse.
Its 1.6-litre turbocharged 218hp/260Nm output (modest by today’s standards) are similar to the supercharged original’s, and perfect for the eminently balanced, genteel package that the GP.2 proves to be.
Don’t get us wrong though, there’s nothing remotely leisurely about the GP.2’s performance once keeping the turbo on-the-boil becomes second nature to you; in fact there’s a purposeful sense of urgency as you work your way up/down the notchy six-shooter.
More poignant are its dainty footwork and alert reactions, which should come as little surprise once you consider the kerbweight of the ‘empty’ GP.2 tips the scales at just 1160kg (almost 100kg down from the GP.3).
The GP.2 isn’t the sort of car that inspires you to talk about drag sprints and 0-100km/h timings, because as a true driving enthusiast’s car, those are the least of what it’s capable of.
From the moment you slip into the driver’s seat, insert the key-fob, fire the GP.2 up and start-off, you’re slowly sucked into her warm embrace as you embark on the age-old discovery between man and machine.
You don’t ‘force’ or arm-twist a car like the GP.2 into delivering its best performance, but she’ll respond passionately to a deft hand at the helm and commitment to the corners.
The ride is firm, but never crashy and the GP.2’s delicate body-control endows it with a perky, playful nature that will dive keenly into corners and let you explore her limits safely, precisely and confidently.
Like the GP.3, the GP.2 has a ‘GP Mode’ that lets one enthusiastically attack corners with reduced electronic intervention, and if you’re feeling braver, you can disable it completely for even greater dynamic control over your destiny.
With so little weight to shift, the pace is fluid and brisk, with gear ratios that are well-spaced for both city-driving, as well as tackling your favourite series of tight, snaking corners. The GP.2 is an eminently balanced package that belies its diminutive proportions and gives new meaning to the term ‘larger than life’!
The flow of communication isn’t just one-way either, with only the driver making steering, pedal and shifter inputs. In fact, the GP.2 maintains a steady stream of feedback and fires-off a rousing gun salute from the tail-pipes for an immersive analogue driving experience, so you intuitively know when to ease-off or attack.
Size truly matters not for the JCW GPs, because these MINIs are truly maxi on fun.
JCW GP.2 Leon Lim
JCW GP.3 Autoinc
PHOTOS Zotiq Visuals
MINI JCW GP.2 (MY2013)
Engine 1598cc, inline4, turbo
Torque/rpm 260Nm/1750-5750rpm (Overboost 280Nm/2000-5100rpm)
Transmission 6spd manual
Top Speed 242km/h
Kerbweight (DIN) 1160kg
Fuel Consumption 7.1l/100km
Production 2000 units
MINI JCW GP.3 (MY2020)
Engine 1998cc, inline4, turbo
Transmission 8spd Steptronic auto
Top Speed 265km/h
Kerbweight (DIN) 1255kg
Fuel Consumption 7.3l/100km
Production 3000 units