Picking a favourite Mini is usually an open and shut case – just lock in the fastest and fartiest John Cooper Works version. Preferencing the bodystyle that opens and shuts its lid, however, is a far tougher bid for driving enthusiasts.
The latest third-generation JCW Convertible asks $5000 more than its JCW hard-top sibling, at $54,990 for either six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Yet it’s 105kg heavier, (now 1320kg) thanks to those cloth-cloaked octopus tentacles of steel and aluminium crouching overhead that can acrobat between windscreen and bootlid in 18 seconds.
While occupants can then become wind-swept, 0-100km/h performance is less likely to sweep drivers off their feet – the JCW Convertible auto becomes four-tenths slower, with a 6.5-second claim, while the manual is now three-tenths slower at 6.6sec.
The uprated 170kW/320Nm 2.0-litre turbo also loses its sprint advantage over the 141kW/280Nm Cooper S three-door that clocks triple digits in 6.7sec for $15,000 less.
This engine is also available in the BMW 230i with 185kW and the Mini Clubman JCW with 350Nm, yet it’s watered-down here. Although the crackly exhausts sound fruitier roof down and the transmissions are slick, the company has clearly failed to note the Audi S1’s 370Nm.
The latest JCW has also suffered from increased refinement measures that smother its personality. Where first- and second-gen JC-Dubs stood on their nose in bends, jiggled man-boobs on lumpy surfaces and darted edgeways if beyond a millimetre of steering lock was applied on corner entry thanks to a rack sharper than a samurai’s blade, the contrast to the new one is vast.
Mini has fitted touring Pirelli Cinturato P7 tyres to the JCW. The Cabrio understeers earlier than it should, and yet attempting to balance it coming off the throttle reveals a steadfastly solid chassis that struggles to play between its axles.
At medium pace the steering is decently weighted and smoothly progressive, but the dartiness that made a Mini a Mini has gone. Load up the bulbous-looking front end and little feedback trickles through.
The two-mode adaptive suspension provides excellent ride comfort and tight body control, particularly in Sport, and it doesn’t grind with the gas-axed body compared with previous versions because scuttle shake is minimal.
At least some of the JCW’s newfound maturity benefits the Convertible in this way, and likewise with the nicely furnished cabin and bolstered seats. With a unique USP, the fastest open-top Mini could even be preferable to its sibling – although in either case the door has shut on any distinct flavour for what has become a generic, brisk front driver.