by Roger Biermann
The 2019 Mini John Cooper Works Convertible is one of the best-handling compact four-seater drop-tops on the market today. Combining retro style with go-kart-like handling and an eager engine, the Mini JCW Convertible is the top trim in the range and makes the driving experience all the more fun with the roof down. A TwinPower 2.0-liter turbo four-pot sends 228 horsepower and 235 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels via your choice of either a six-speed manual or an equally-ratioed auto. Thanks to its dynamic poise and playful nature, the JCW is an enthusiast's car, but some may not appreciate the hard ride and the premium price. Luckily, a softer suspension setup can be optioned at no charge, but other options do exist from Abarth with the 500C, and Mini themselves, with the less hardcore Cooper S.
Thanks to new emissions regulations in Europe, a gasoline particulate filter is now added to the sports exhaust of the Mini JCW, but fortunately, this has no effect on the convertible's performance. Other updates for the 2019 model include a set of love-them-or-hate-them Union Jack-style LED taillights, and black accents around the front headlamps. The front bumper has also been lightly massaged and tweaked, while inside, the infotainment system has been updated with Apple CarPlay now available. Parent company BMW still refuses to include Android Auto.
|John Cooper Works||
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
The JCW Convertible features a folding soft-top rather than a hard-top to save weight, but other than that, looks almost identical to its regular hatch sibling. There are LED running lights forming a ring around the headlights, sculpted bumpers at the front adding air intakes, while the back features fake vents and a twin-exit exhaust. 17-inch wheels are standard, with 18's optional.
The Mini JCW Convertible is a compact little drop-top, measuring just 152.5 inches long. With a width of 68 inches, it's easy to squeeze into narrow parking spaces, too. The wheelbase of 98.2 inches contributes to its fun handling, although a 200-pound increase in curb weight over the hardtop means it tips the scales at 3,035 lbs, thanks to its folding roof mechanisms. Height is 55.7 inches.
One engine option is featured on the JCW, and it's a fiery little number. With 39 hp more than a Cooper S, the JCW Convertible's 2.0-liter TwinPower turbo four-pot makes a total of 228 hp and 235 lb-ft. Mini claims almost identical times from 0-60 mph for both the six-speed manual and the optional automatic, with 6.3 seconds for the row-your-own variant and 6.4 in the paddle-shift version. The auto has the edge in top speed, managing 150 mph, with the manual being 1mph slower. Thanks to low weight, the engine doesn't have to work particularly hard to get you into trouble, accelerating with enthusiasm at all speeds. In a car with such a happy-go-lucky demeanor and a bit of attitude, we prefer the manual box, engaging drivers with the fundamentals of driving involvement on the purest level.
This is the JCW Convertible's forte. The loss of structural rigidity inherent to chopping the roof off is not especially noticeable here, particularly thanks to its short wheelbase. The JCW attacks corners with gusto, and thanks to an electronic limited-slip diff, will only allow the front tires to give up front-end grip and surrender to understeer with the most moronic driving. Light and nimble, changing direction is swift, but this has been achieved with the aid of a stiff suspension setup, one that is harsher than in less-focused Minis. The ride isn't especially annoying on the motorway, but those that do not appreciate the finer details of maximum effort around a track will be frustrated by the transmission of almost all road imperfections to the seat. For enthusiastic drivers, though, the steering is sharp and light, and the upgraded brakes bring the car to a stop smoothly but quickly. Brake feel is great, too.
The JCW Convertible is fractionally less economical than its Hardtop counterpart on the freeway but is still impressive. EPA estimates mark the auto-equipped car with scores of 25/33/28 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles, translating to an estimated average range of 324.8 miles per full tank of gas. The standard manual manages 22/31/25 mpg on the same cycles and should return around 290 miles from its 11.6-gallon tank. The Abarth 500 does a little better, but the regular Cooper S convertible is almost identical.
The cabin of the JCW Convertible is surprisingly spacious in front, with the closed roof still allowing taller individuals to be well-accommodated. However, the rear is little more than decoration, and the two seats there will even feel cramped for some children. However, getting in and out is easy, and all-round visibility is excellent in every direction except rearward, even with the top down. A point is pulled back with the seats offering a good range of adjustment for a commanding driving position.
If hauling anything more than the occasional grocery necessities is imperative, this car is not for you. 7.6 cubic feet of trunk space shrinks even further to 5.7 with the roof down, and only a few small shopping bags will be stowed with ease. In the front, things aren't much better, with ultra-narrow door pockets and tiny spaces in the glove box and center armrest. You do get two cupholders in the front and another in the rear, but these too are small. The Hardtop's dash-mounted cubby is little more than a styling element here and does not open.
With an electric folding soft-top, the JCW Convertible does not make use of a sunroof, but it does allow you to partially open the aperture at any speed, which creates a space that is similar. A rearview camera is a valuable aid, as are the standard rear park sensors. A head-up display is available on mid and top sub-trims, while heated seats are optional on the base model and standard on the other two variants. Keyless entry, adaptive cruise control, a parking assistant, dual-zone climate control, and Mini's remote services are also available. Forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and dynamic dampers can also be specced, while LED headlights with cornering are standard across all variants.
The 2019 model's updates included an improved infotainment system, which now offers Apple CarPlay functionality. Android Auto is absent as with all current BMW products. The system includes Bluetooth with steering-mounted controls, and optional satellite radio, wireless charging, and HD Radio. The updated infotainment also features various digital services and in top-spec Iconic flavor, gets navigation as standard. The base Classic does not have access to this, but it is optional in the mid-range Signature version. Other available features include a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system upgrade and a hard drive for media storage. The base system will be familiar to BMW drivers, using a variation of their iDrive controller.
The 2019 Mini JCW Convertible has scored an overall rating of 80/100 on the J.D. Power index, and has not been subjected to any recalls for the 2019 model year - its mechanically-similar hardtop counterpart, however, did get a recall in mid-2018 for a crankshaft sensor firmware update. A four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty and four-year roadside coverage are included with purchase. In addition, Mini offers free comprehensive scheduled maintenance for the first three years or 36,000 miles of ownership, whichever comes first.
Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS have yet rated the convertible, but the hardtop two-door Cooper did receive the best overall evaluation of Good from the latter agency. Unusually for a car with good overall feedback from the IIHS, the hardtop only scored four stars out of five from the NHTSA. Key available safety features include forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and a parking assistant. A rearview camera with rear park sensors is included as standard.
Practically speaking, there is no reason that anyone should want to buy this car. Trunk space is minimal and is further reduced when the roof is down. The features list is not comprehensive for standard models, and options cost a pretty packet. There is also virtually no space in the rear, and - being a special edition - the JCW costs a considerable amount more than a regular Cooper S. The ride is also firm, even with the optional adaptive dampers, and the infotainment system is not fully equipped with smartphone integration for Android users. This car is not a rational buy; it's a choice made with the heart. In terms of open-top motoring without so much horsepower that acceleration has to be carefully calculated, very few cars can provide the joy that this one does, and having the option to put the top down adds to the lighthearted and playful experience that this little car provides. If your heart is set on a small drop-top with enough enhancement to give bigger cars a run for their money around the track, this is a great car. For almost anyone else, it's a pointless and expensive white elephant.
The JCW Convertible starts at $36,900 before its $850 destination charge, taxes, and other fees are added. This buys you the base Classic sub-trim. More options are available with the Signature variant, adding three grand to the list price to take its MSRP to $39,900, while the most expensive version is dubbed Iconic, and sets you back $44,900. This variant includes nearly all of the Signature's options as standard. Be warned, though, the price can escalate further with customizable bits and pieces and performance add-ons.
If you must have a small British drop-top performance car, the Signature sub-trim is probably the best choice. We'd spec it with the Touchscreen Navigation package, which obviously adds navigation, but also Apple CarPlay, wireless charging, and Mini Connected Services. Avoid the Premium package, even if the Harman Kardon sound system seems appealing - this package adds 18-inch wheels too, which further harshens the already jarring ride. If you must have leather, an upholstery package is available in your choice of colors. The automatic gearbox costs more and detracts slightly from the driving experience, so stick with the manual for the most fun. All in, the price will be close to a top-tier Iconic variant, but at least it'll be the most comfortable choice.
A similarly retro performance car with a missing roof, the Abarth 500C is technically not a convertible, as its fabric roof folds away with the surrounding pillar structure remaining in place. However, it's worth considering, despite the fact that it also does not have a lot of standard features. Just as impractical as the Mini, perhaps more so, the Abarth is not a people carrier. Its dash controls and layout are also very much behind the latest offerings. But it does have a trump card: its price. The Abarth 500C starts below $30,000, and even if you go crazy with the optional extras, you can have Apple CarPlay, an upgraded audio system, leather interior, navigation, SiriusXM, heated seats, and of course, a pocket rocket with open-air breeziness for less than the Mini's starting price. It's a no-brainer - Abarth all the way.
The rationale behind this comparison is simple: why spend extra on a car that is less comfortable and despite more power, not a huge leap forward over the car it's based on? Buying a convertible means that serious track attacks are most likely out of the question. The cheaper Cooper S offers many of the same features as the JCW, but without taking itself so seriously. The ride is more compliant, and despite a power deficit, the Cooper S is still a joyous car to chuck about and have fun in. We simply can't justify spending at least $6,000 more on a car with a barely noticeable bump in power and a harsher ride, when its drop-top compromises its ability anyway. Cooper S for us, please.
Check out some informative Mini John Cooper Works Convertible video reviews below.