by Roger Biermann
The Mini John Cooper Works Convertible exemplifies the original ethos of the Mini brand, packing style and attitude into as tiny a package as possible. Affixing the JCW badge to the convertible Mini is more than just a matter of style, though, as it means shoehorning a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder developing 228 horsepower under the clamshell hood to send the brand's littlest offering from 0-60 mph in just 6.3 seconds. Throwback styling and Union Jack embellishments aside though, a $38,400 price tag is an expensive pill to swallow, especially when you can buy an MX-5 Miata or Fiat 124 Spider for $10,000 less, and a 2 Series Convertible for only a little bit more. And yet there's something about a pint-sized pocket-rocket with a convertible roof that we just can't help but love.
While 2020 hasn't seen substantial changes to the styling of the JCW Convertible, a series of upgrades and changes have been issued for the complete Mini range, many of which affect the drop-top JCW. The biggest change is that a manual gearbox is no longer available, leaving only an eight-speed automatic gearbox to handle the shiftwork. In terms of features, the BMW-inherited Active Driving Assistant is now standard and the mirror caps have been redesigned for better aerodynamic efficiency. Inside, Satellite Grey Lounge Leather upholstery is no longer available, replaced by a Leather Chesterfield option in the same hue, while specific to JCW models, Carbon Black Dinamica/leather with Grey accents now replaces the previously available Carbon Black with Red Accents.
The JCW nomenclature means performance, a notion imparted immediately by beefy front and rear bumpers, a red accent strip across the grille, and JCW badging on the front and rear. Larger alloy wheels fill the arches - 17-inch items on Classic and Signature sub-trims, and 18-inch wheels on Iconic models - while all trims get LED headlights and taillights, the latter with Union Jack styling. With a fair bit of performance on tap, the rear is what most on the road are likely to see, characterized by twin-tailpipes mounted centrally. Lastly, a folding soft-top roof is standard, with the availability of the Union Jack proudly displayed.
Despite sharing a platform with Cooper and Cooper S derivatives, the beefier body kit means the JCW has slightly altered dimensions. It shares the same diminutive 98.2-inch wheelbase, but it measures 0.6 inches longer at 152.5 inches overall. It sits just as broad though at 68 inches (76.1 inches with the newly designed wing mirrors) and stands just as tall at 55.7 inches. Because of a bigger engine and more solid suspension, the JCW is 55 lbs heavier than a Cooper S at a curb weight of 3,946 lbs.
The same BMW-sourced B48 engine as the Cooper S lies under the clamshell hood of the JCW Convertible, although in this guise, Mini extrudes 228 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque - up 39 hp and 29 lb-ft respectively - from a 2.0-liter displacement. Power reaches the asphalt via the front wheels of the JCW, but unlike years gone by, there's no longer a manual gearbox on offer. Instead, you have to rely on an eight-speed automatic with paddle-shifters, which, while adept at its job, takes much of the fun out of the JCW. Look past this, however, and the turbo four-cylinder operates flawlessly, with a solid low-down punch of torque, a 'revability' often missing from modern turbocharged motors, and a broad powerband that makes overtaking a cinch, while the 0-60 mph sprint takes just 6.3 seconds. Quicker times can be attained on other JCW derivatives like the Countryman and Clubman, thanks to a more potent 301-hp engine fitted for 2020, but without AWD, the JCW Convertible and Hardtop miss out on this upgrade.
Throughout Mini's history, the hallmark of the JCW derivatives has always been their focused performance rather than comfort and the whimsicality of lesser models. The current JCW Convertible stays true to this with a hardened sports suspension, Brembo brakes, and an electronic locking differential on the front axle to help put the extra power down. It largely succeeds at the latter, and despite the convertible losing a noticeable chunk of rigidity, there's loads of grip from the FWD chassis. There's noticeable body flex, but the short wheelbase and stiff suspension mean there's a limit to the flex and even tighter tolerances on body roll. This poses another problem, though, as the stiff suspension and large wheels make the JCW crashy over less than perfect surfaces. The brakes are potent though, and in true Mini form, the steering is sharp and direct. Still, this is no go-kart anymore.
There's extra power on tap in the JCW, but that BMW-sourced motor is good for more than just its punch: it's frugal too. The EPA claims estimates of 25/33/28 mpg city/highway/combined, just a single digit behind the hardtop version, and if we're to go by the history of BMW's real-world performances, these figures are more than likely achievable out on the streets. The downside is that the B48 motor requires premium unleaded gasoline to perform at its best, although with only 11.6 gallons to fill, topping up every 325 miles doesn't seem so bad.
The exterior dimensions of Mini's latest artworks may have swollen to accommodate crash-safety tests, but the interior stays true to the original in a number of ways. The spec-sheet claims the JCW Convertible can seat four adults, but with just 30.9 inches of legroom in the rear to the 41.4 up front, the only way adults won't complain back there is if they're double-leg amputees. The headroom only takes a knock of 0.8 inches moving from front to rear, and the power-operated soft-top opens up headroom for even the tallest of amputees at the touch of a button. For the two up front, the JCW Sport Seats add extra bolstering and loads of support, with power adjustment as standard, while the likes of leather upholstery and heating can only be equipped on upper sub-trims.
While the hardtop version of the JCW manages an acceptable 8.7 cubic feet of trunk space and 34 cubic feet if you fold the back seats, the convertible roof mechanism on the JCW drop-top severely inhibits practicality. Just 5.7 cubic feet is made available, while folding the 50/50-split rear seats unlocks only 1.9 cubes extra. Making matters worse is that the traditional tailgate is replaced by a low-mounted hatch with a tiny aperture, making loading anything more than a duffel bag a soul-destroying endeavor. Internal storage fares better: not only are the rear seats better off used as storage, but there are two large storage pockets in the rear, two cupholders up front, an armrest storage bin, and a semi-practical glovebox. The Mini JCW Convertible is hardly an ideal road trip vehicle.
Mini now spreads the standard equipment on the JCW Convertible across three sub-trims, with some personalization available in between. Standard features from the base Classic are fairly bare, however, with manual climate control, dynamic cruise control, selectable drive modes, a rearview camera, rear park sensor, and the Active Driving Assistant including forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking. This complement is upgraded to include dual-zone automatic climate control and heated seats at the Signature level, along with the addition of keyless entry and a foldable wind deflector. The Iconic sub-trim equips the most, with leather upholstery, a head-up display, wireless device charging and auto-dimming mirrors. Little is left available as an optional extra, with only automated parking assist, adaptive cruise control, front park sensors, and a HomeLink garage door opener left to the options list, while on the Signature and Iconic models, Dynamic Damper Control is also available.
Where a round speedometer once sat proudly on the center of the dash, Mini now equips a 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen which can also be controlled via the rotary controller between the front seats. The standard system is equipped with a six-speaker sound system, AM/FM Radio, and Bluetooth connectivity, which isn't really much in the grand scheme of things. However, from the mid-spec Signature, your JCW can be equipped with an 8.8-inch touchscreen with navigation, Apple CarPlay, voice control, remote service, and Connected Drive services, while further optioning will add SiriusXM satellite radio and a premium Harman Kardon sound system. If you're the owner of an Android device, though, you're out of luck as Android Auto isn't available.
2020 has seen one recall for the JCW Hardtop which fortunately doesn't extend to the convertible, although in 2019 the JCW was part of a larger BMW recall for faulty crankshaft sensor firmware that could result in the engine stalling. Mini's warranty coverage of the JCW Convertible includes a four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty with unlimited mileage roadside assistance for the first four years, and the brand also covers scheduled maintenance for three years/36,000 miles.
The Mini Convertible family hasn't been thoroughly evaluated for their crash safety. In fact, the NHTSA has only evaluated the Hardtop variant (four stars overall), while the IIHS only evaluated the Convertible's headlights (scores of Acceptable on the JCW) and front crash prevention tech, awarding the latter a middling score of Advanced. These worrying results are amplified by a fairly limited selection of safety features, and while the JCW gets uprated Brembo brakes and advanced stability control systems, there are only six airbags (dual front, side and front knee) with rollover protection catered to by hidden roll bars. At least for 2020, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking are standard, but there's no option for blind-spot monitoring, with the options list only availing a head-up display and front and rear parking sensors.
The subcompact performance segment has dwindled to the point that Mini is the only brand to still offer anything vaguely 'hot', charging a fair premium for the privilege of owning the British heritage, despite the brand's current German stewardship. The BMW backing means some things are exceptional, though, like a potent-yet-frugal turbocharged engine, lively handling dynamics, and an upscale interior. But there's very little space, even fewer standard safety features, and the specification at the base price is disgustingly sparse. We love the JCW Convertible for its punchy performance and unashamed retro-cool design, but for the money Mini asks and the equipment they give you, the sale of a JCW Convertible is better categorized as daylight robbery than automotive sales. For the same money, you could have a fully-specced Miata or a decently specced BMW 2 Series Convertible, and either one is a better prospect in our eyes.
It's been a long time since the Mini brand could be classified as budget-friendly, but with a price increase of $1,500 for the 2020 model year, the current iteration couldn't be further from it. $38,400 is what it costs to get behind the wheel of the most basic John Cooper Works Convertible in Classic guise, excluding an $850 destination charge. Asking for anything of a decent specification level will see the MSRP rise to $39,900 for the Signature sub-trim, while a top-spec Iconic model requires a $44,900 outlay - more than the asking price of a BMW 230i Convertible.
|John Cooper Works||
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
The JCW is the top of the pile when it comes to Mini Convertible models, but with three sub-trims to choose from, it can be a tricky and expensive affair deciding which to buy. We're not exactly advocating you buy one at all - but if you insist on dropping big money on a cutesy convertible with a bit of a kick, the mid-spec Signature sub-trim is probably your best shot at attaining any value for money. With heated seats, keyless entry, cruise control, rear park sensors, and an available larger 8.8-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay, wireless charging, and navigation, it's a fairly comprehensive package, and while you miss out on leather upholstery, you can still add extra convenience with the $1,000 Driver Assistance Package and upgraded sound with the $1,750 Premium Package. We'd throw in the Union Jack soft top ($500), spec Thunder Grey paint with Chili Red mirror caps, and stick to the stock wheels. Inside, we'd give the illuminated Union Jack dash a miss for the sake of sanity, taking the total asking price to an even $44,000. Hardly justifiable, is it?
With the Mini JCW Convertible asking an exorbitant price of up to $44,900 before options, one could quite easily save $3,800 on a base-spec BMW 230i Convertible. For the money, you get the same 228-hp 2.0-liter turbo engine and a quicker 5.6-second 0-60 mph sprint thanks to the 230i's RWD system. You also get far larger rear seats and a much bigger, more usable trunk. The BMW's base infotainment system may be lacking, quickly remedied by ticking a couple of options boxes, but it gets a greater array of standard safety features and vastly better handling dynamics with improved levels of comfort. But what do you miss out on? Well, the 2 Series is larger and less nimble in tight spaces, doesn't have the brand cachet associated with the JCW brand, and won't look as good on Instagram - but in every other conceivable way, the 2 Series is a vastly better option and the one we'd pick every time!
They're not exactly classic rivals, but when you're shopping for a small, stylish convertible, the Mazda MX-5 Miata can't be ignored. It's a vastly different package, though, equipped with a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine developing 181 hp and 151 lb-ft to the turbo JCW's 228 hp and 236 lb-ft outputs. It sends these figures to the rear wheels, though, and offers a choice between a manual or automatic gearbox whereas the JCW only has an auto. With a deficit in power, the MX-5 Miata will get to 60 mph a little slower, but at every corner thereafter it'll leave you with a bigger smile on your face, and it won't leave you with the same crushed fillings thanks to its softer suspension. In terms of specification, neither offers an abundance of driver aids, but the Mazda has a more comprehensive suite of convenience and comfort features, and it boasts Android Auto support which is absent from the JCW. The JCW seats up to four, though, and the soft-top is power-operated unlike the Mazda, but it's when one looks at the price that the choice becomes glaringly obvious as to which is better value for money. A fully loaded MX-5 will cost you less than $36,000 and you can't even pick up a base JCW for that money. It would be ludicrous to choose the Mini over a Miata.