Mini has lopped the roof off its hottest hatchback to create the fast n’ funky John Cooper Works Convertible, with a turbo two-litre giving it the thrust to match its athletic exterior.
With 170kW of power it’s the most powerful Mini drop-top ever, and it also benefits from all of the practical improvements (such as a more liveable interior and improved refinement) that have been applied to regular variants of the Cooper Convertible range.
TELL ME ABOUT THIS CAR
The JCW Convertible is based on the Mini Cooper three-door hatch, retaining that car’s four-seat configuration but replacing the steel turret with a power-folding fabric roof. Meanwhile, the engine bay is home to the 170kW/320Nm turbo 2.0-litre engine of the John Cooper Works Hatch, with power going to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transaxle.
Priced at $54,900 in either manual or automatic form, the Mini JCW Convertible is, according to Mini, the most affordable four-seater performance convertible on the market.
- The Mini JCW Convertible is exceptionally agile, which is not what many would expect from a hot hatch that’s missing a key part of its structure. Removing the roof hasn’t had a major impact on the way the JCW handles, and it’s pleasing that Mini has gone to the effort of keeping the JCW’s chassis razor-sharp.
- You won’t need to delve too deep into Mini’s extensive options list with the JCW Convertible, for its standard specification is already generous enough. A big colour infotainment display with sat-nav is the centrepiece, with DAB+ digital radio and a 12-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system hooked up to it. There’s also keyless entry and ignition, front and rear parking sensors, a head-up display, LED headlamps and dual-zone climate control.
- With 170kW of power and 320Nm of torque, the Mini JCW Convertible packs a hefty punch for such a small car. It’s a willing and flexible engine, with peak torque on tap from between 1250-4800rpm and peak power coming on stream from 5200-6000rpm – there are few parts of the JCW’s rev range where you’ll find a lack of oomph.
- Performance is brisk. Equipped with the automatic, the JCW Convertible will reach 100km/h from a standing start in 6.5 seconds, on its way to a top speed of 240km/h. Add another tenth of a second for the manual, as well as an extra 2km/h to its top speed.
- The JCW Convertible’s four-piston front calipers and all-disc braking hardware generate some significant stopping power, which is reassuring in a performance car. Stomp on the polished alloy brake pedal, and the response is instant.
- Like a bit of aural dramal? The JCW won’t disappoint. Like its hatchback sibling the JCW Convertible makes plenty of pops and bangs on gearchanges and throttle lift-off, except they’re far more audible to the driver when the roof is down. Accompanying the exhaust’s percussion is the wheeze and snort of twin-scroll turbo up front, which only adds more depth to the JCW’s appealing soundtrack.
- Yes, you can actually fit four adults in it. It’ll be a bit squeezy (and entry/exit isn’t the easiest when the roof is up), but the rear seats aren’t there for decoration: they’re actually usable.
- Despite having dual-mode electronically-adjustable dampers, the JCW Convertible’s ride is never truly settled. It’s busy on choppy surfaces and harsh over bigger bumps. It’s a taut suspension that feels beautifully tied-down, but the compromise is a less-than-comfortable ride.
- The Cooper Convertible gets some additional under-body reinforcements to compensate for the loss of torsional rigidity that comes with the removal of the roof, but there’s still some steering column shimmy that can be felt with the roof down. Though it’s a performance car, the JCW Convertible doesn’t get any extra body bracing to help stiffen it up.
- Perhaps a small complaint, but we noticed a faint rattle from the rear cabin when the roof was up in multiple cars. Annoying, considering the rest of the car’s build quality appears to be tight as a drum.
- The JCW Convertible feels as pointy as the hatch – a great thing – but keen drivers may find the steering a touch uncommunicative and dull, especially compared to previous JCW generations.
- While the JCW Convertible is generally well-equipped, there are some curious omissions. Heated seats, for starters, should be standard on a car with a fabric roof; so should a buffet-reducing wind deflector for when you want to drive topless but don’t want to mess up your hair. Instead, Mini expects you to pay extra for these convertible must-haves.
ANYTHING ELSE I SHOULD CONSIDER?
If you’re looking for a four-seater convertible with genuine performance credentials, there’s really not a whole lot else out there – at least, not at the JCW Convertible’s price point.
The closest rival is Audi’s A3 Cabriolet 1.8 TFSI, but it’s more suited to boulevard cruising than chasing winding roads. With just 132kW and 250Nm it can’t hold a candle to the JCW’s performance.
If the seat count is less important to you then there’s the Mazda MX-5 and the Abarth 124 twins to consider, both of which offer impressive handling and classic roadster styling for less than $50k, albeit in a much less versatile package.