by Deiondre van der Merwe
The Mini John Cooper Works Convertible is a quirky subcompact that proves dynamite really does come in small packages. The JCW-tuned drop-top enlists the help of a 228-horsepower four-pot to get the front wheels turning, and it does a fine job. The convertible follows the classic Mini styling formula and adds an extra bit of aggression to the mix. Simply put, the JCW is a cool little car. But how much cool can you get for nearly $40,000? The Mini puts in a valiant effort to keep the subcompact convertible segment alive, but it may fall just short of the mark because of its premium price tag and limited safety features. As for rivals, technically there are none in the USA, but performance-oriented droptops that could be compared include the Mazda MX-5 Miata or the more expensive Audi TT Roadster.
The John Cooper Works convertible was extensively upgraded in 2019 and improved further in 2020, so the 2021 lineup rolls over unchanged aside from a new package for the Signature sub-trim package that adds navigation, Apple CarPlay, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen. This same sub-trim can be specced with a new digital gauge cluster.
See trim levels and configurations:
|John Cooper Works||
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
The JCW recipe goes as follows; add a dash of red to the grille and calipers, jazz up the front and rear lower fascia, and slap some sporty JCW badges on the nose and tail. Simple enough, but the result is a sassy-looking cabrio that sits on 17-inch wheels in base form and an 18-inch set in top-tier form. The front end stays true to Mini with round LED headlights on either side of a black honeycomb grille. The rear is home to a set of classic oblong LED taillights with the Union Jack integrated into the design and centrally-positioned dual-exhaust openings poke out from between the honeycomb-accented diffuser. A black fabric top is standard.
The Mini JCW convertible is the Daniel Radcliffe of drop-tops in that it's handsome but it's small. It's 152.5 inches long with a 98.2-inch wheelbase and stands 55.7 inches from the ground up. It measures 76.1 inches from side to side including the mirrors. The JCW convertible's added sass and power in comparison to regular models results in a heavier curb weight of 3,120 pounds.
The JCW convertible uses a peppy turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 228 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. It is coupled with an eight-speed automatic transmission as standard and much to the disappointment of performance enthusiasts, the six-speed manual available for the hardtop model isn't offered for the Cooper Works convertible. The eight-speed gets the job done, but a manual 'box would have been the more entertaining option. Nevertheless, the 2.0-liter turbo sends power to the front wheels briskly enough, resulting in a run from 0-60 mph in 6.3 seconds.
The 2021 Mini John Cooper Works is good at a lot of things but being comfortable is not one of them. The firm suspension means that it's highly entertaining to drive, and it's certainly chuckable through the corners. This results in a harsh ride quality even on surfaces with not many flaws, but if you can look past having to put your name on the waiting list for a couple of organs, this car is a little knockout. Brembo brakes allow for an adequate amount of stopping power after you've fallen under the spell of the JCW's punchy acceleration and the FWD system's impressive ability to stick to the tar like glue. Body roll is nearly non-existent and the little auto does well at inspiring confidence in its driver. You can rifle through the gears yourself if need be thanks to steering-mounted paddle shifters.
The peppy 2.0-liter turbo in the 2021 Mini JCW convertible is not only feisty, it's frugal. The little cabrio returns EPA estimates of 25/33/28 mpg city/highway/combined. These figures are only slightly worse than the much more affordable and less powerful Fiat 124 Spider's 25/36/29 mpg estimates when that car is equipped with an automatic transmission. When the 11.6-gallon fuel tank is at full capacity, the Mini will allow for around 325 miles of driving before a stop at the gas station is necessary.
Mini says that the JCW convertible can seat up to four adult occupants and Americans flipped the Brits off by dumping 342 chests of imported tea into the Boston Harbor in 1773. One of those statements is true. Seriously, no full-grown adult should attempt to make the 30.9 inches of rear legroom work. It won't. Luckily, the interior space upfront is decent enough for taller adults to find a comfortable spot. An unlimited amount of headroom becomes available when the roof is dropped, and front occupants enjoy standard JCW Sport Seats with multi-way adjustability.
We know by now that the JCW convertible was not built with practicality in mind. The bite-size drop-top offers a diminutive 5.7 cubic feet behind the rear seats, but Mini attempted to make a peace offering in the way of 50/50-folding rear seats to free some extra space up if necessary. Taking them up on that offer allows for just 1.9 extra cubes. Once you've dealt with the lack of space, you have to face the awkward lower hatch opening that'll make the experience of getting a large bag in the trunk much like angrily stuffing a turkey on Thanksgiving.
In-cabin cargo space partially soothes the ache though, thanks to a decent-sized glove compartment and a storage bin in the center console. Two cupholders are standard for the front. And, while the rear seats are awful at offering adults a place to sit, they can at least be used as extra packing space.
The standard features across the new Mini JCW convertible models are decent enough, but there should be more at this price point. The entry-level Classic models boast Dinamica/cloth upholstery, a multifunction leather-clad steering wheel, and cruise control as well as manual climate control. The Signature sub-trim adds keyless entry and dual-zone climate control. The Iconic sub-trim comes standard with premium leather upholstery, a digital instrument cluster, and power-folding exterior mirrors. Additionally available features include adaptive cruise control and dynamic damper control on the two upper trims.
Safety features on all trim levels are inclusive of a rearview camera, rear park sensors, automatic emergency braking, and forward-collision warning.
The standard infotainment set-up on the entry-level spec is inclusive of a 6.5-inch color screen that enables AM/FM radio and Bluetooth streaming. The infotainment screen can be controlled via the dial in the center console and a six-speaker sound system is standard. The Signature sub-trim greatly improves the tech offering with the availability of a 6.5-inch touchscreen that enables Apple CarPlay but, sadly, no Android Auto is available. With this upgrade, a digital instrument cluster is added as well. Voice control and SiriusXM are optionally available. Audiophiles can opt for a Harman Kardon sound system for the Signature sub-trim, although this sound system comes as standard on the Iconic, which also enjoys navigation and a larger 8.8-inch media display.
The new Mini JCW convertible hasn't been recalled yet for 2021, and the 2020 model wasn't recalled either. This year's hardtop model suffered a single recall for an issue related to airbags not deploying properly, but the problem appears not to have affected the drop-top. To quell any concerns, Mini offers a four-year or 50,000-mile basic warranty as well as a drivetrain warranty that is valid for the same time period. Roadside assistance is standard for four years.
Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has given the 2021 John Cooper Works Convertible a review in terms of safety yet in the US, although the non-JCW 2020 model was partially evaluated by the IIHS for its headlights (where it scored a best score of Acceptable) and front crash prevention (for which it attained an Advanced rating). All models come standard with a rearview camera, rear park sensors, an active driving assistant, and electronic stability control. These should be enough to keep you out of harm's way, and all models come with a six-airbag system that includes dual-front, side and knee airbags. Front parking sensors, active cruise control, and a parking assistant are available.
The 2021 John Cooper Works convertible is certainly unique, but is it worth buying? Its 2.0-liter turbo produces decent power outputs, it handles like a pro, and it also comes with decent features inside, provided you're willing to pay extra for them. The Mini also has years of history behind it and JCW-tuned models are definitely way more fun than the average trims. But there's a reason the Mini doesn't have any true competitors in the USA, and that's because its segment is dying. Shoppers no longer prioritize performance over everything. The modern go-fast car needs to check a lot of boxes, including practicality and some form of comfort, both of which are lacking in the JCW convertible. The Brit also carries a heavy price tag, making it even harder to justify. Still, die-hard fans will no doubt spend their hard-earned money on the old-school icon. But you could get your hands on better for less.
Buying a car from Mini is never a frugal affair, much less so for pinnacle JCW models. The entry-level Classic trim starts with an MSRP of $38,400 while the Signature trim bumps the cost up to $39,900. The most premium trim, the Iconic, costs around $44,900 to purchase. That's quite the price tag, considering you can buy a Fiat 124 Spider in the USA for nearly half the price. The mentioned prices for the JCW convertible models are exclusive of the $850 destination charge.
The best model to go for in the lineup would be the Signature, at least in terms of value for money. The mid-level spec has notable upgrades like keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, and a foldable wind deflector. It also offers more exterior colors to choose from. Of course, if budget isn't an issue, the Iconic trim would be the one to go for as it adds navigation and full smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay as well as premium leather upholstery, though we don't know if the $5,000 price jump is worth it when you look at the minimal features it adds.
These two little rockets bear a resemblance so similar to one another that if you look too fast, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. There are a few things that set them apart, though. From the outside, the JCW convertible has significantly sportier styling in comparison, but you have to pay attention to detail to truly notice the small changes. The 2.0-liter turbo in the Cooper S produces 189 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque, while the JCW version puts out slightly higher figures of 228 hp and 236 lb-ft. Notably, the Cooper S allows for the choice of a six-speed manual transmission and the JCW comes exclusively with an eight-speed automatic 'box. On the inside, they have the same foundation, but the JCW adds pops of red color and some sporty bits that the Cooper S doesn't have. In terms of value for money, we'd opt for the Cooper S convertible.
The Audi TT Roadster is quite a bit more expensive than the JCW convertible at base level, but they are worlds apart in nearly every measure. The Audi has a slightly higher torque figure of 258 lb-ft and quattro all-wheel drive, enabling it to reach 60 mph almost a second before the Mini does. The TT is also considerably larger than the Mini in terms of size, endowing it with a larger trunk and a less cramped cabin, and the Audi smartly doesn't bother with unusable rear seats. Ride quality is more comfortable in the TT, but the Mini is nippier in and out of corners thanks to its firm suspension and smaller size. Ultimately, the TT is the better car if you want an all-rounder, but you do have to pay for the privilege.
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