There can't be much of a market for a for a 231hp front-drive convertible that thinks it's a hot hatch, but that's what MINI has created in its new John Cooper Works model. Removal of the roof has done little to dilute the polished dynamics of the JCW Hatch while allowing you to hear the car's charismatic exhaust a little easier. Those that want the ultimate open-topped MINI will not be disappointed.
In the Metal:
It's not difficult to spot a JCW version of the MINI Convertible as it shares all its styling cues with the John Cooper Works hatchback. Up front that means a honeycomb pattern for the large radiator grille, extra cooling ducts and protrusions that don't exactly make for a pretty appearance, but it sure is purposeful. A red section towards the bottom holds a John Cooper Works badge in case you were in any doubt, while the standard LED headlights get a daytime running light ring using LEDs too. That JCW badge appears on the 'side scuttles' as well, housing the indicators in the wings, and the door mirrors can be finished in white, black or Chili Red (the latter is exclusive to the JCW car). Buyers can also specify John Cooper Works bonnet stripes and the Rebel Green colour is unique to this model. At the back there's another new bumper, another JCW badge and, most prominently, two large centrally exiting exhaust outlets. The 18-inch two-tone alloys pictured are optional - a set of all-silver 17-inch rims are standard.
As in the other MINI Convertible models, the fabric roof opens or closes in 18 seconds at speeds of up to 30km/h. It's a quiet operation too and there's a heated rear window. If you don't fancy going fully topless, the front section of the roof can be opened like a particularly wide sunroof to about 40cm in length. A single button on the driver's door can raise and lower all four windows and unless you plan on carrying rear passengers regularly, it's worth investing in the easy-to-use plastic wind deflector, as it noticeably reduces buffeting in the cabin at higher speeds.
Smaller rear seats aside, the rest of the interior is as per the JCW hatchback, which is to say beautifully put together and neatly differentiated from others MINIs, most obviously with gorgeous sports seats that are comfortable and have great lateral support too. There's a chunky JCW leather-trimmed steering wheel, stainless steel pedals and a bespoke gear lever, along with 'Black Chequered' plastic trim here and there.
Making it easier to get bigger bags into the boot is the standard Easy Load function, which enlarges the opening when the roof is up, though boot space is a paltry 215 litres at a maximum. Thankfully the rear seat backrest splits and folds 50:50, so think of the space under that wind deflector as extra luggage volume...
There should be no surprises here for us, as we've spent time in the John Cooper Works hatch and in the MINI Convertible in Cooper and Cooper S flavours, but the JCW Convertible still managed to impress. It receives extra body stiffening measures over and above other MINI Convertibles and it shows. Over less than perfect road surfaces there wasn't a hint of body flex, no matter how hard we pushed the chassis. That allows the sports suspension to work better and though the car is undoubtedly on the firm side of things, it is never harsh or outright uncomfortable - I suspect it'll be better again on the standard 17-inch wheels on higher profile tyres.
And it is an absolute hoot to drive. The steering is meaty and direct (if not blessed with loads of useful feedback) and the nose of the car is ever eager to sniff out the apex of a corner, with loads of bite from the tyres giving you the confidence to lean on the chassis. It's adjustable on the limit and very stable, perhaps a fraction too composed for keener drivers, but overall still a blast. Apparently Brembo helped develop a specific sports brake set-up for the JCW models, but the pedal feel was the least impressive aspect of this car, even if braking power was never in doubt.
You'll be too busy revelling in the performance and sound of the engine to worry about that. The JCW MINIs are powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine making 231hp, which seems adequate rather than sensational, but its delivery punches far above what you'd expect of such a figure thanks to a rapidly spooling up turbo and maximum torque of 320Nm available from as low as 1,250rpm. It's difficult to catch this engine napping, even if you're in the wrong gear. On that note, though the automatic version of the JCW is more efficient overall, we'd urge you go for the standard six-speed manual gearbox as it suits the character of the car better, even if the throw of the lever is quite long due to its low-down positioning in the car. The pedals are well-spaced if you'd like to blip the throttle on downshifts, but there's an automatic rev-matching function too so it's not strictly necessary.
Finally, it's worth pointing out that one of the best things about the JCW Convertible is that it allows your ears unobstructed access to the various exhaust sounds. This engine sounds highly distinctive and more interesting than most four-cylinder turbos around, but switch the car into Sport mode (it's where you'll find the best throttle response and heavier steering too) and there's a gratuitous number of pops and bangs from the exhaust every time you lift off the throttle. It's childish, but let's face it; being a child sometimes can be a lot of fun.
What you get for your Money:
Now, we realise that this is a low score for what is otherwise a good car, but tell someone you've spent over €46,000 on a MINI and it's possible they'll slowly back away before calling the men in white coats to take you away. It seems crazy. Nonetheless, there appear to be very few 'hot hatch convertibles' available at any price that compare to the John Cooper Works, so perhaps MINI has discovered an untapped niche we never knew existed. At least it's well-equipped. The automatic version costs less to tax, incidentally, as it's in Band B2, and it's only a little more expensive to buy, at €41,728.
The lack of any real rivals for the new John Cooper Works Convertible suggests that there probably isn't much pent up demand for an even faster and more driver-focused version of the open-topped MINI. However, it takes very little time at the wheel to raise a grin, as this car really is huge fun. If you like open cars, love driving and the high list price doesn't put you off, the JCW really is worth a look.