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Drawing on a rich racing history, the 2017 Mini JCW Convertible has quite a reputation to live up to. John Cooper Works was originally started by Michael Cooper, the son of racing car royalty and original Mini Cooper creator, John Cooper, and is now owned by Mini's parent company, BMW. The JCW Convertible is the pinnacle of the new Mini Convertible range that also includes the Cooper and Cooper S, both of which launched in Australia earlier this year.
It was always going to be a niche product from a relatively small volume seller in Australia, combining the fun of a four-seat Mini drop-top with the JCW performance pedigree. It won't be everyone's idea of a good time, but that's not the point. JCW is the ultimate representation of Mini go-kart driving feel and if that's what's you're looking for and you appreciate a bit of alfresco cruising, then the Mini JCW Convertible could be right up your alley.
The Mini JCW Convertible was launched in Australia this week at the Sunshine Coast with an opportunity to drive both the manual and automatic versions on some fabulously twisty roads through the hinterland.
The John Cooper Works range consists of the JCW three-door hatch, JCW Countryman and now the JCW Convertible. When it comes to sales of the three-door hatch, JCW makes up 23 per cent of the mix, while Cooper S and JCW variants combined make up 53 per cent of three-door sales.
The recently launched Mini Convertible – that arrived here in winter – handed Mini its best winter sales result since 2007. The 2017 Mini JCW Convertible is listed at $54,900 before on-road costs which is almost $6000 cheaper than the previous model and it includes $6000 more worth of features. However, despite being a convertible a wind deflector isn't included and will set you back an extra $520.
We've recently reviewed both the Cooper Convertible and Cooper S Convertible, and the price jump between variants is certainly something to consider. The Cooper Convertible is $37,900 with a 1.5-litre three cylinder turbocharged engine that produces 100kW and 22oNm, while the Cooper S has a turbocharged 2.0-litre four cylinder engine that puts out 141kW and 280Nm and is priced at $45,400.
The JCW Convertible has a 2.0-litre four cylinder twin-scroll turbocharged petrol engine, it's the most powerful yet in a production Mini and produces 170kW between 5200 and 6000rpm and 320Nm from 1250 to 4800rpm. That's 10 per cent more power and 23 per cent more torque than the previous JCW Convertible. It's teamed with six-speed sports automatic transmission but, if you prefer, a six-speed manual transmission is available as a no-cost option.
Over the Cooper S Convertible variant, the JCW gets Brembo sports brakes, JCW sports exhaust, performance control, driving modes, run flat safety tyres, a 12 speaker Hardon/Kardon sound system, rear-view camera, LED headlights and daytime running lights.
Over the previous JCW Cabrio (and the Cooper S) it scores a six-speed sports automatic transmission with paddle shifters, new 18-inch JCW alloy wheels, dynamic damper control, tacho and gear information in the head-up display, an 8.8-inch display with navigation, digital radio, front parking sensors and park assist (it previously only had rear) and combination cloth/Dinamica sports seats with integrated head rests.
It's 3874mm long, 1727mm wide and 1415mm high with a wheelbase of 2495mm and a track width of 1485mm. There are new aerodynamic elements integrated into the exterior styling including air-intakes where the fog lights should be, and they blend with the honeycomb design of the grille that also features a red signature horizontal line.
Being a convertible, the roof functionality is an important factor and it opens and closes in 18 seconds at speeds of up to 30km/h and there's also a sliding roof function that opens 40cm, pretty much to the point of a standard sunroof, and operates at any speed.
The roll-over protection hoops at the back of the rear seats have been ditched in favour of an 'invisible' active rollover protection system that deploys in around 150 milliseconds out of oval shaped extrusions that look a lot like speakers. The windscreen frame has also been reinforced to help protect the occupants in the event of a rollover and there are four airbags.
Inside, the Mini circular theme is evident, and there are numerous nods to the JCW heritage in the cabin, from subtle touches like chequered detail around the infotainment system to JCW badging. The door sills feature the John Cooper Works logo too, the sports pedals are stainless steel and the steering wheel has perforated leather and red contrast stitching.
The JCW sports seats feel amazing, with great shape and support and are manually adjustable. Dinamica is Mini's take on Alcantara and it adds a touch of luxury, though the sides are cloth trimmed which is an odd pairing. I previously had trouble getting comfortable in the Cooper Convertible and positioning the seat so that the steering wheel was in the right position and I could clearly see the head up display. The sports seats seem to have solved this conundrum.
When it comes to comfort and convenience, it has cruise control, dual-zone climate control, rain sensing wipers, LED interior lighting, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming and an 8.8-inch monitor with touchpad controller. The head-up display shows speed, navigation information, phone and audio details, as well as engine revs, the gear you're in and shift point. It has park assist and auto start/stop too.
The four-seat convertible now offers more room in the rear than it's predecessor, with 36mm more shoulder room, 112mm more elbow room and 36mm more knee room. The rear seats split to allow for extra cargo space – there's 215-litres which is up from 160-litres in the previous model – and there are three cup holders in the back, with one positioned at the back of the centre armrest.
But you're not going to care how much space (or how little) there is in the back when you're behind the wheel. To try and combat what has historically been a consistently firm ride, the new JCW Convertible has dynamic damper control suspension as standard. Changing between driving modes alters throttle response, gear changes, steering feel and suspension, however with the dynamic damper control you can choose to separate the drivetrain and suspension settings. Fixed sport suspension is still an option if you prefer that over adaptive.
The suspension set up is a single-joint spring-strut front axle and multi-link rear axle and the ride is firm in sports mode, no doubt about it. But it isn't jarring and couldn't be described as unrefined. It glides over smooth surfaces, softens smaller undulations and though it bumps over larger imperfections, the structural rigidity is pretty good and is a credit to the extra torsional rigidity provided by improved underbody bracing. Though body control is solid, there is a bit of scuttle-shake through the windscreen, evident in the movement of the rear-vision mirror, but it isn't nauseating.
The steering is heavy, but weights up intuitively as the speedometre climbs. Given the generous availability of torque low in the rev range, torque steer was occasionally evident, particularly through sections of road that inspired spirited driving.
The Brembo sports brake system with red calipers clamp a 335mm ventilated disc at the front and do a good job of either pulling the front-wheel drive up promptly, or shaving off some speed coming into a tight corner.
One of the car's best features is the JCW specific sports exhaust with twin chrome exhaust tips positioned at the centre of the rear of the car. It snaps, crackles and pops away and you can't help but smile. The soundtrack is particularly raucous in the six-speed manual.
Despite Mini now selling more cars with automatic rather than manual transmissions, the manual was the pick at the launch though gearing was a bit off between second and third. In second you run out of gear quickly and when you shift to third it drops into a hole and it's a fairly long climb out. The automatic was intuitive and smooth, however the manual offered a more characterful experience.
As we wound our way through the Sunshine Coast Hinterland back towards Brisbane, it started to rain a little so the roof had to go up. The folded roof impedes visibility in the rear-view mirror and you can't see what is directly behind you which isn't ideal. With the roof up you can notice a bit of road noise and wind noise, and of course the exhaust noise which isn't something I'd complain about! Given that it is a soft-top, it's just something that you'd need to accept.
The JCW Convertible has a claimed 0-100km/hr sprint time of 6.5 seconds – 0.3 seconds faster than before, and fuel consumption is a claimed 6.2-litres per 100km which is an improvement of 13 per cent.
Being a Mini there is a range of optional packages and customisation options available. JCW specific colours are Luxury Lapis Blue and Rebel Green, you choose different interior colours and trims, a Union Jack design for the soft-top, and can pretty much go nuts on making your Mini, your Mini. When it comes to ownership costs, Mini offer a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with a five-year or 80,000km servicing plan at a one-off cost of $1080.
Ultimately, the JCW Convertible was a lot of fun and packs the punch you expect from the performance moniker. However, it comes at a price, $9500 more than the Cooper S which is still an incredible amount of fun.
The entry level Cooper Convertible with its three-cylinder engine still captures the go-kart feeling Mini hopes to inspire, at a far lower cost. You'd have to really want the JCW to justify the outlay, but if you do you won't be disappointed.