MINI's Convertible shows its serious side in John Cooper Works form. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The MINI Convertible isn't the first place that keep drivers would look to get their thrills but in John Cooper Works form, it has unexpected potency. 231bhp from a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine equates to 0-62mph in 6.5s and a 150mph top speed. There aren't too many convertible cars under £30,000 which can top that.
If you thought a MINI Convertible was mainly a car for cruising around the fashionable districts of our urban centres and looking good, possibly in a slightly limp wristed kind of a way, then think again. The MINI John Cooper Works Convertible is a turbocharged drop-top with real fire in its belly. MINI says it's the fastest small premium cabriolet in the world, which is a little like claiming to be the tallest one-armed unicyclist in north of Doncaster, but one tickle of the accelerator and you'll get what they're on about.
The Convertible MINIs weigh around 120kg more than the hard-topped cars thanks to the roof mechanism and the strengthening measures employed to keep the body rigid in the absence of a fixed roof. This means that the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine has a little more work to do in the JCW Convertible than in the JCW Hatch but with 231bhp at its disposal, that shouldn't be too much of a problem. Performance-wise, the MINI JCW Convertible can sprint to 62mph in 6.5s which is 0.2s slower than the lighter hatchback car. The top speed is also down, but losing 3mph off a 150mph maximum isn't going to worry many prospective buyers. The peak torque output of the car is a hefty 320Nm.
Just as important as the vigour with which the MINI JCW Convertible fires itself up the road are the measures it takes to stay on it. As standard, buyers get sports suspension optimised for high performance and agile turn-in response as well as precise steering. Another standard feature is the high-performance brake system developed exclusively for John Cooper Works models. Designed in collaboration with Brembo, the 4-piston fixed caliper disc brakes are particularly resistant to fade. A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard, but as usual with MINI models, there's an 8-speed Steptronic auto transmission available as an option and you can change gear using steering wheel paddles.
Design and Build
The performance potential of the MINI John Cooper Works Convertible is clear from its purposeful design. The front section comprises of large air inlets that feed the high cooling requirements of the engine, its ancillary units and the brakes. Additional air inlets in the outer areas of the front apron ensure the ideal operating temperature is maintained in racetrack conditions. The hexagonal radiator grille at the centre of the front section has a honeycomb pattern and a cross member at the bottom edge finished in red.
Otherwise, the attributes here are just as they are in a normal MINI Convertible. So at speeds of up to 18mph, the fabric top can be lowered or raised in 18 seconds. If you just want to open the small portion over the front seats, it can slide back 40cm, automatically, at any speed. Rear passengers get more legroom than the previous version of this car could offer, making access the second row easier. When the folded fabric roof is down it forms a wrap-around collar around the back seats, rather than disappearing completely. It encroaches slightly into the boot area but despite this, the luggage capacity has grown by around 25% this time round. This allows for up to three typical airline cabin cases, so everyday practicality is much improved.
Market and Model
The far-reaching modifications made to the MINI JCW Convertible don't come cheap, but then this isn't your typical souped-up small cabrio. You'll pay just over £26,500 for the manual model - or just over £28,000 for the Steptronic automatic version. In comparison, a 192bhp Cooper S Convertible model costs around £22,500.
So what do you get for the JCW variant's premium? Well, inside the cabin there are John Cooper Works sports seats with integrated headrests and upholstery in Dinamica/fabric. Other standard fittings include John Cooper Works branding for the leather steering wheel, the door sill cover strips and the gear lever, plus stainless steel pedals and cockpit displays with dark dials. Interior trim in a Black Chequered pattern with red design accentuations appears not only on the seat surfaces but also on the steering wheel rim, the gear lever and the central instrument surround.
As for safety, you get standard front airbags, side head-thorax airbags integrated in the backrests and a tyre pressure display. In addition, there's a fully integrated rollover protection system whose actuators are interconnected with the car's safety electronics. As soon as the risk of a rollover is detected, the two high-strength aluminium bars retract within 150 milliseconds by means of a pyrotechnical trigger function.
Cost of Ownership
Anybody who owned one of the older MINI Cooper S models would laugh aloud at its claimed 33.6mpg consumption figure, since driving the vehicle as it begged to be driven would often send average fuel figures dipping below 20mpg. The contemporary turbo engine in the MINI JCW Convertible is a lot easier on the juice, with a combined figure of 43.5mpg, plus you can theoretically record 152g/km of CO2. Opt for the Steptronic automatic and you can improve those figures to 47.9mpg and 138g/km.
What else? Well, residual values are bound to be quite strong: the three year retention figures you get with MINI models are always well above the class average. That'll also be helped by the way that MINI reliability improves with each generation, something evidenced by falling warranty claims. As expected, there's the usual three year unlimited mileage warranty with the usual BMW-style variable service indicators. And on that subject, almost all MINI buyers opt for the no-brainer TLC package, which, for around £350, gives you comprehensive servicing cover for five years or 50,000 miles, whichever is reached first.
This MINI Convertible is no fashionable urban runabout, although it's likely that many will still be used as such. The JCW tuning kit transforms it into a potent compact performance car and while owners are asked to pay handsomely for the privilege, where do you get a convertible with this kind of capability for less?