It all comes down to power.
For a niche company, Mini made a big splash at the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show with the global debut of its hardcore, special edition 2020 John Cooper Works GP as well as the North American debut of the company's first mass-market electric car, the Cooper SE. Off the heels of these two important debuts, we had a chance to sit down with Mini USA Head of Product Planning and Strategy, Patrick McKenna, to discuss some of the decisions that were made with the all-new Cooper Works GP model.
This is, of course, only the third GP model in the company's history - the original was introduced in 2006 and the second-generation model was released in 2013 - so this reveal is significant.
"I think it's always important to reference John Cooper as the person who took an economically minded car and put in a larger engine and bigger brakes," McKenna began. "Here we are 60 years later, and we have the Mini John Cooper Works GP, the strongest car we've ever had in our lineup."
With 301 horsepower (74 hp more than the regular JCW model), 332 pound-feet of torque, and a top speed of 165 mph, McKenna reiterated his point that this is the "strongest" Mini model ever. This is great news, but just like the recently revealed JCW Clubman and JCW Countryman, the GP only comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
"When we decided three years ago to bring that horsepower in, we had to decide to forego the manual transmission because there was such extensive work required because we were boosting the horsepower by 73," McKenna explained. "It really required massive changes to braking, suspension, chassis tuning, damping, motor mounts. I'm talking about all three cars (referencing the Clubman and Countryman), but the GP is included in that. Because it's such a massive boost and horsepower, there was an extensive amount of work required and the manual transmission was simply not possible in that equation."
"For the Countryman and the Clubman, there are lower take rates for manuals," McKenna went on to tell us. "The manual take rates are definitely more robust on the smaller Minis." But since the 301 hp engine was developed for all three of those vehicles, it made no sense to develop a manual only for the GP.
We asked McKenna what we would tell an enthusiast who currently drives a manual car now:
"We're thrilled with the performance of the eight-speed Steptronic automatic. We think the shifts are very crisp, it's perfectly mated to the engine. And for the enthusiasts who really feel very strongly about a manual transmission, we're proud to be one of the only manufacturers that still offer manuals on multiple models, including the John Cooper Works Hardtop. So if you really feel strongly about a manual, there are options within the portfolio," he answered.
"The question that I ask you know, for anyone who drives these vehicles after you experience the horsepower, ask yourself if you would skip the horsepower. Because that's really what it came down to was that hard decision on this particular offering. And I think we made absolutely the right decision because this architecture absolutely could take more power," he finished.
So if you do decide the automatic isn't a deal-breaker and you'd like a GP, you'd better act fast because there will only be 3,000 units offered globally, and only around 400 to 500 will come to the US. "We don't have a specific number. We have done approximately 500 in the past," McKenna said. "And every one of them will be numbered."
McKenna walked us over to the GP model Mini had on display in LA to show us where each car will wear its build number. "Within the carbon fiber wing fairings (or spats) on the outside of the car, they'll be a number there," McKenna said, pointing at the number 2020, which we had assumed correlated with the model year. "And then the number will also be 3D-printed on the dashboard. Plus, we're still brainstorming about how we should deliver number 0001. The first one will be coming to the US."
We suggested a lottery might be a fun way to choose who gets the coveted '0001' car and McKenna added that Mini will try to ensure that the right people get their hands on the new GP. "We have a pre-order system open now. And it's exclusive to first- and second-gen GP owners. So they have the first right to get the new GP," he explained. "Some of them are already inquiring about carrying over their number. We will do the best we can, but because these are numbered for the entire world, it may be challenging for us to get a specific number if it is allocated to another part of the world with a different specification."