WHAT IS IT?
Mini has taken to its lively third-generation JCW hatchback with a chainsaw, removing its roof and installing a folding soft top in its place.
Besides that, the rest of the package is much the same. Same 170kW/320kW turbo powerplant, same adjustable suspension and the same big brake package and aero kit. Some extra weight sees 0.4 seconds added to the 0-100km/h sprint compared to the hatch (the JCW Convertible auto trips the beam at 6.5 seconds), but the removal of the roof hasn’t diluted too much of the JCW formula.
WHY WE’RE DRIVING IT
Because the old one was fun, but flawed when it came to its interior packaging and ergonomics. It was also a raw driving experience that verged on being extreme – enthusiasts love that kind of thing, but do convertible buyers feel the same way?
Mini reckons it’s fixed all of that with this, the second-generation JCW Convertible.
For four-seat performance convertibles, none really exist at the JCW Convertible’s price point. However there’s the less-sporty Audi A3 Cabrio to consider, while the Mazda MX-5 and Abarth 124 will deliver just as many wind-in-your-hair thrills albeit in a less versatile two-seater package.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Feature-packed and more powerful than ever before, the new-generation JCW Convertible is a sharper deal, easier to drive and faster than its predecessor.
The interior finally makes sense from an ergonomic standpoint (say hello to a proper speedo and door-mounted window switches), the previous model’s dorky roll hoops have been excised and there’s now a smidge more boot space, while its electric fabric roof deploys with push-button ease.
There’s a small loss of engagement from a driving perspective, but unless pure 98-octane runs through your veins that’s unlikely to trouble you.
PLUS: Playful chassis, improved standard specification, willing engine, improved interior
MINUS: No heated seats as standard, some interior squeaks on rough roads, a little less engaging than the outgoing JCW convertible
The Wheels Review
MINI’S latest addition to its stove-hot John Cooper Works range is a classic case of two steps forward, and one step back.
Hugely improved interior with more standard equipment than ever: a profound step forward.
Grunty 2.0-litre with proper hot-hatch performance and respectable 170kW/320Nm numbers: another forward step.
More approachable handling: now we’re going backwards.
The JCW hallmark of agile – and sometimes spiky – handling set the previous-generation John Cooper Works convertible apart from most other fashionable drop-tops, bestowing upon it a go-kartish chassis that would slap a broad smile on any driving enthusiast. A secretary’s car, it was not.
But in the search for more sales, Mini has naturally endeavoured to make its topless range-topper a little more civilised. Yes, it’s not bone-rattlingly firm anymore, but its steering is no longer as tactile and involving as it once was.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s still a pointy and precise little thing and it’s still got an entertaining and sometimes tail-happy chassis beneath it, it just might not satisfy the keener drivers out there like its predecessor did.
However keen drivers aren’t exactly expected to be in the JCW Convertible’s core demographic. Those punters are better served by the cheaper JCW Hatch.
But if you want to be seen, the JCW Convertible makes for appealing topless transport. It may have slightly less zing in its steering, but there’s a more powerful and more torque-laden 2.0-litre up front that’s less stressed around town than the previous-gen JCW drop-top, and more driveable as a result.
It’s also a joy to punt that engine hard. It’s responsive at seemingly any point in its rev range, with peak torque occurring between 1250-4800rpm and peak power happening between 5200 and 6000rpm. It’ll happily rev right to its 6500rpm redline too, all while emitting a rousing turbo four-pot soundtrack punctuated by plenty of pops and crackles from its twin tailpipes on the overrun.
And, thanks to the folding roof, that soundtrack is more audible – and thus more enjoyable - than it is in the hatch.
Like the hatch, the JCW Convertible also gains dual-mode adjustable dampers. They’re firm in either setting, but at their slackest they’re at least a lot more pliant than the rock-hard non-adjustable suspension of the R57 JCW ‘vert.
And the interior not only boasts more equipment (Mini somehow managed to jam a head-up display and 12-speaker sound system in there), but it’s got space for four and a bigger boot than before. A few more steps forward, then.