Hold on tight: this is the most extreme MINI ever. This John Cooper Works GP model is a present that MINI promised itself for its 60th birthday and it's intended for a very select audience of brand enthusiasts.
No MINI has ever been faster, the 62mph sprint dispatched in just 5.2s, though you'd hope for that given that this is the largest, most powerful engine ever shoehorned beneath the clamshell bonnet of a MINI Hatch. Unlike the 1.6-litre units used in the previous two MINI GP models, this one's 2.0-litres in size, offering a 306hp output. You have to have an 8-speed paddleshift auto gearbox - something that might trouble the kind of audience this wild MINI is aimed at. There's no 4WD system either, something you might think this defiantly front-driven MINI might need when you stamp on the throttle from rest - or even in the mid-range - and find the front scrabbling desperately for traction and sometimes even orientation.
Yet at the same time, you feel that this is all somehow an integral part of the extreme fairground ride this uber-MINI wants to take you on. It helps that the whole performance is accompanied by various evocative exhaust crackles from the huge 19mm-diameter tail pipes during throttle lifts and downshifts. And that some semblance of control, particularly in the wet, is maintained by the standard mechanical differential lock and the dynamic stability control system. Tame it all and simply astonishing point-to-point times over secondary roads are possible.
The body structure, chassis and driveline of the standard MINI Hatch JCW had to be practically re-invented for this GP version. There's a new engine mount, a stouter front tower strut brace and a beefier rectangular support for the rear suspension. The brakes are brilliant too, with 360mm discs gripped by four-piston calipers at the front. Handling changes include special camber rates, a wider track, stiffer anti-roll bars and a greater offset for the bespoke 18-inch forged wheels that come shared with track-style Sport Performance-spec Hankook tyres. Plus the ride height is 10mm lower and the steering is even sharper than it already is on a JCW MINI. Don't worry about having to scroll through different drive modes; this GP model is programmed for 'Sport' only, in which it pulls all the way to the 6,800rpm red line as the gearbox performs its crisp and rapid shifts.
Inside, it's all equally focused. There's the two brilliantly supportive front sports bucket seats trimmed in dinamica and leather and fitted with red seat belts. They position you perfectly in front of the grippy three-spoke race-spec wheel which features steering wheel gearshift paddles manufactured using 3D printing. Otherwise, the cockpit's pretty similar to that of a standard JCW Hatch, apart from the adoption of a free-standing 'GP digital display' instrument cluster. Otherwise, apart from a few trimming changes, it's not very much different to an ordinary JCW model, the central infotainment screen being either 6.5 or 8.8-inches in size, depending on spec.
As with the two previous generation MINI GP models, the rear bench has been chucked out in the interests of weight saving - as would be the case with a MINI race car. There's just a transverse brace behind the seats finished in 'Chilli Red'. It's actually there to stop luggage sliding forward, but if you want, you can tell your friends it's a roll cage-style structural element. Out back, the boot is just like an ordinary MINI Hatch 3-Door, which means it's pretty small, the primary lower area being just 211-litres in size. Pack light.
Want an uber-fast hot hatch you could use every day? There are much better choices than this one. Most of them will have two extra doors and will ride better. Toyota GR Yaris has the AWD and the manual gearbox that this MINI lacks. And a Honda Civic Type R in its more restrained 'Sportline' form will attract less disapproving stares in the car park.
On top of that, almost all the things a modern hot hatch isn't supposed to do are startlingly evident in this one; you fight with the steering and battle with torque steer under heavy acceleration, waywardness at speed requires keen attention and the ride acquaints you with every tarmac tear. So why do I still want one of these? Because in almost completely dialling out all of these things, as most competitors have, you also lose something: the raw venom this MINI has. And the challenge you feel from trying to master it. This car's extreme, it's addictive. And there's nothing quite like it.Click here to find out more about our MINI John Cooper Works GP range