[MUSIC PLAYING] ALISTAIR WEAVER: The Honda Civic Type R has long been Edmunds's favorite hot hatch, but now its crown is under threat from the limited edition 2021 Mini John Cooper Works GP, the most powerful, most extreme, and the most expensive production Mini ever.
I'm Alistair Weaver, and we're here at the Edmunds Test Track with two of the hottest hatchbacks ever produced. Both are either new or updated, both are over 300 horsepower, both are front wheel drive, and both are uncompromising in their pursuit of performance.
We're going to put them through the full Edmunds testing procedure, and then we're going to drive them on the track and declare a winner. But before all of that, be sure to subscribe to the Edmunds channel, and check out the link below for a companion piece on Edmunds.com that reveals all the testing data. Let's get on with it.
To be honest, I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Minis. It was my mom's first car, and legend has it that if she hadn't broken down in it and asked my dad for help, then I wouldn't have been here. And I'm sure we can all agree what a tragedy that would have been.
That first, classic Mini really was a work of genius, a genuinely pioneering family car with trick suspension that just happened to be good on the track and rally stage. The Mini Cooper S that won the Monte Carlo rally still looked like my mom's shopping machine. It had a kind of utilitarian chic.
Unlike this car. It's like Mini's designers took one look at the Honda Civic Type R and said, hold my beer. Now, whether you like it or not is purely subjective, and I certainly enjoy its sense of theater. But what does irritate me is how much of it is fake.
Now, Carlos Lago has his pen. My old skiing buddy, Matt Watson at Carlyle has his Stick of Truth, and I have my Chopstick of Shame. So ready for this, Charlie? Stay with me. Engine air intake? No such thing. Engine power bulge? Also fake. Front grille? Well, some of it's real. Some of it's not. We can forgive that, I think.
These kind of wheel arch extensions designed to widen the track of the car give you, in theory, a bit more poise and stability. This is using carbon-reinforced plastic, the sort of thing that you find on the BMW I3 and I8. And apparently, they channel down the side of the car. But if you follow me, you'll see at the back here that these vents don't really go anywhere. But what it actually does is collect gravel-- strange.
You also get that natty little gas cap. And then, if you can follow me to the rear, please, sir, there's a diffuser down here. If you crawl underneath, you'll discover it isn't really a diffuser at all. You get some fantastic looking exhaust pipes.
Now, the piece de resistance is this split-wing, complete with little gurney flaps. Now, you might be thinking this is a moment of aerodynamic genius, but what it's actually for is to make sure that you don't decapitate the aerial every time you open the truck. Watch this. [LAUGHS]
The other thing I should point out, if you look inside, in order to save weight, Mini has junked the rear seats-- you can't even have them fitted as an option-- and gone to is the luggage shelf. What you do get is this sort of red bar, which, at first glance, looks like a strut brace designed to improve the integrity of the body shell. But according to Mini, it's actually there to stop your shopping whacking you in the back if you brake suddenly. It's quite a collection.
It's not exactly minimalism. In fact, in my eyes, it's not exactly Mini. It's hard to argue that under BMW's stewardship, Mini is getting further and further away from that original purist ethos. But at least it's not just a styling exercise. There is meat on those bones, which is just as well given it costs $45,000, or around $8,000 more than the Civic Type R.
You get 301 horsepower. That's 73 more than the standard John Cooper Works. There's reinforced crankshaft. There's new pistons, a new turbo, a new oil sump, even a new engine mount.
But the one thing you don't get is a manual gearbox. Apparently, BMW doesn't have a manual box for a transverse engine capable of handling the GT's 331 pounds-feet of torque. Instead, you have an eight-speed auto with flappy paddles-- more of which later.
Like every car we test, we've put it through the full gamut of the Edmunds experience-- so 1/4-mile speeds, braking, and even lateral acceleration, or G-Force to you and I. And now, by the magic of socially distanced cellular technology, I'm being texted the results. So text me, please, Mr. Editor.
And here we go. Honda Civic Type R, 0 to 60, 5.7 seconds. Mini GP, 5.1, helped by that automatic gearbox and slightly lazy clutch action in the Honda. 1/4 of a mile, 13.8 at 103.6 miles an hour for the Honda, 13.2 for the Mini at 108.5 miles an hour. So braking, that's how fast it stops, from 60 to 0, 107 feet for the Honda, 105 feet for the Mini. So about that much shorter.
Now onto the skid pad for a measure of lateral acceleration G-Force. Honda Civic Type R, 1.03g, which is a really good result. Anything over 1g, particularly for a front-drive hatch, is super impressive. Mini GP? Drum roll, please.
0.99g. So the Honda has more lateral grip. Enough of the stats. Let's hit the circuit.
You've probably noticed by now that here we're focusing mainly on the Mini. If you want the full tech lowdown on the Type R, watch Carlos Lagos's superb film on our channel. Now we'll hit the track.
So as I warm my car up, let's reacquaint ourselves with the benchmark. It's amazing how immediately at home you feel in the Civic Type R. These seats are fantastic, way better than they are in the Mini. And this driving position really is first-rate. I like the Alcantara wheel they've got on this, the recently updated type R, and it's got this slightly thicker, heavier gear know.
Now, I remember a development engineer once telling me that you could tell how sporty a car was by the distance between the gear stick and the steering wheel. And in this car, it's-- well, it's barely a hand span of my slightly puny hand. So it's nice, on a modern car, to be able to feel the cogs mesh in the way that you can in the Honda. Doesn't sound amazing, but what this car's always done well is to put its power down.
There's over 300 horsepower. Through front-wheel drives, it's normally a recipe for problems. But actually, you can start to feed out of these corners at 90 degree right and feel the turbo kicking and provide that torque, and away you go.
7,000, hitting the rev limiter, hard on the brakes. Lift off, turn it in a little bit. Held the nose. You can start to feel the rear end rotate. This is a car that you can steer on the throttle, but without it ever feeling alarming.
I'm going to go into R-plus mode, which, on the road, it makes it way, way too harsh. But it's actually been designed for circuit use or tracks like this. So this is now their Civic Type R in full attack. You never forget you're in a front-wheel drive car, but there's a lot of fluency. Yes, you can place the car really well on the circuit.
And I love this rest matching as well. In some ways, it's kind of lazy not to have to heel and toe, but it does make life easy a little bit to say that you're hitting the rev limiter. Fourth gear, a little lift through here, and hard on the brakes.
Down to third, moved a little bit on the braking. That's OK. Turn it in. Hard on the throttle, and the car actually helps you to pull it out of the corner. It's really easy to drive, but it's still entertaining, and it's far from intimidating.
And that little bump in that corner, you can feel how aggressive the damping is in this mode. But that's always going to be in the Honda's favor. Because it's got electronic dumping on the road, you can switch it down to Comfort or even Sport and have a ride quality which is compliant enough to be tolerable.
Of course, the other thing in the Honda's favor is this is still a proper five-seater family car with a good-sized trunk and plenty of space for genuine adults behind me. This really is a car that you can sell to the family as a everyday tool.
Right, come on, Mini. Inside, it'll instantly feel familiar to pretty much any other Mini driver. You do get, though, these fairly funky digital displays and some 3D-printed flappy paddles here on the steering wheel that actually move with the rack. You also get more 3D printing here on the dashboard, including your car's unique build number.
Apart from that, though, pretty much business as usual, including the excellent Mini driving position. On the electronics, you have a unique Mini GT Stability Control Mode. If I activate it here, it gives me this little message on the dash that says "Sporty Driving Experience due to Later Intervention of Suspension Control Systems." Which is odd, because it does absolutely nothing to the suspension. Anyway, let's go.
To be honest, our handling circuit at the Edmunds Test Track could have been tailor-made for this Mini. It's more like a tarmac rally stage than a traditional racing circuit. So if it's going to feel good anywhere, it should feel good here.
To create this car, Mini's engineers have given the standard John Cooper Works a thorough going-over. It now sits 10 millimeters-- that's about 1/3 of an inch-- lower to the ground, and they've upgraded the springs, the dampers, and the stabilizer bars. Now, unlike the Honda, there is no electronic damping. So it only really has one mode, and that's, well, angry. So it's kind of like my ex.
So at the moment, we're in stability GP mode. Let's see what she can do. Now, that ride quality on the road at times, if I'm honest, can feel slightly brutal. It never really settles. And I was driving down the highway, talking to a friend on the phone, and I had to actually apologize, because he could hear this kind of fluttering in my voice. And when you hit expansion joints, then there a real hard kick in your spine.
But this circuit here is a lot smoother, so that's diminished. But it's still very, very firm. And the other thing about it is you have this constant presence of torque steer, the challenge that the front tires have of actually deploying all that power. The way the Honda puts its power down is a lot more efficient. You're always conscious it is front-wheel drive, but it works with you.
In the Mini, you feel that the mechanical diff is always doing battle. And you can feel that sort of kicking back through the steering. And I don't want a sports car that's easy to drive. I don't-- I want to feel like there's a challenge. I want to feel like it rewards me when I do things well. But this car, it feels like it's not so much working with you as hampering progress.
Ultimately, somehow, as well, in this pursuit of ultimate performance, Mini's deprived this car of the kind of ultimate agility for which it's renowned. I can't help think that a standard Cooper S would feel a lot more agile, a lot more willing to play than this GP does.
I'm going to try, now, actually, just turning all the systems off. Dynamic stability control is now completely off. Let's see what difference this makes. So turn it in, be patient.
I keep knocking the gearstick with my knee. Coming out of this second gear corner, I feel that I'm constantly fighting that front end. Turn it in. You have to be pretty aggressive to kill that initial understeer, and again. And then you see the car.
As soon as I come back onto the power, the car is wanting to push me effectively to the outside of the circuit. And particularly on a circuit as tight and twisty as this, when you really do want to use the full extremity of the tarmac, it doesn't inspire confidence in the way that the Honda does. Also, you don't have a manual gearbox, which as fine.
My god, but nor is it a double clutch transmission. It's actually a standard auto, which means it's not as quick to change. Sometimes, particularly on the downshifts, you shift, and then you kind of wait for it to happen. You get this initial push, and that will fire it out I feel like I'm working that much harder, and not, necessarily, in a good way.
And I'm sorry if this is sounding really negative, because on paper, it's got so much going for it. But it's just not working for me. And earlier, I actually threw the keys to a couple of other members of the Edmunds test team for their opinion, and we all kind of came up with the same feeling.
I find it, actually, quite frustrating, because as I said at the beginning, I've always liked Minis, and I really, really wanted to like this GP. But it just feels like they're trying to push their recipe a bit too far. You sometimes get into cars that are driven more by a kind of marketing demand to create some buzz and create some excitement in the media than a bunch of engineering know-how. And this car feels like that. It's somehow less than the sum of its parts. It just feels like they're stretching themselves a little bit too far.
And so to the conclusion. And to be honest, I'm finding it difficult to be so hard on the Mini, because I really, really wanted to like the GP. I love mad cars, and this is certainly one of those. But we're here to be objective.
And I reckon you buy that car because you must have the fastest, most expensive, arguably one of the most exclusive Minis ever built. But you don't buy it because it's a great car, because frankly, it isn't. If you really care about cars and excellence like I do-- and so does everybody else at Edmunds-- then the only choice is the Honda Civic Type R. The best just got that little bit better. To be honest, it wasn't even close.