A Mini will bring a smile to your face no matter which one of the many variants you get into, but the convertible in the spiciest John Cooper Works trim takes this little icon to another level of fun.
While Minis aren’t so mini anymore, they are still some of the smallest cars you can buy, but don’t think for a second that it feels like some discount, disposable conveyance.
There’s a solid feel to the chassis and a reassuring heft to the controls that have been inherited directly from parent company BMW, imbuing these pint-size autos with a premium feel not typically found in cars of this stature.
They feel grounded, but also agile and light on their feet. Lose the roof and none of that seems to change, which is a very good thing by convertible standards.
For the ’22 model year, the JCW gets a refreshed front end with a larger grille and bigger openings for improved cooling. A new rear bumper with a faux diffuser frames the centre-mounted exhaust pipes which can be heard much more clearly with the roof stowed. LED lighting is now standard as well as the Union Jack taillights.
Power output remains the same, which is to say, plenty. The 2.0-L turbocharged four-cylinder pumps out 228 hp and 231 lb-ft of torque fed through a quick-shifting 8-speed automatic and out to the front wheels. The manual transmission has been dropped on the convertibles but you can still get it on the hardtop.
There is no all-wheel drive option and you don’t need it.
Retracting the roof is done electrically via a toggle switch on the overhead console. The operation takes 18 seconds and the folded roof has a cool vintage look to it. There’s a halfway mode if you don’t want it open all the way too, sorta like a large sunroof, and the roof can be opened and closed on the move up till about 30 km/h.
A wind deflector can be installed over the rear seats and it does a good job at reducing some of the wind turbulence in the cabin.
Like all 3-door Minis, the rear seating area is tiny and best reserved for kids. A small tailgate section in the back pops down revealing a cargo area that’ll accommodate a couple of small duffle bags and little else.
With a starting MSRP of $43,640, this isn’t a cheap car and prices rise quickly after adding a few options. The “Premier+” pack for $7300 brings with it heated seats and steering wheel, comfort access, head-up display, driving assistant, wireless charging, connected navigation, 18-inch JCW wheels, and more.
All said and done, my tester with most of the option boxes ticked, including the dynamic dampers, and Zesty Yellow paint rang in at $56,530.
It’s a lot of money for a car that has its roots based on affordable no-frills transportation and if you’re just looking for an open-air experience, I’d direct you the to nearest Mazda MX-5.
But Mini customers are a loyal bunch; they’ve bought into a niche product that offers up more personality than just about anything this side of a Lamborghini. You’ll never be bored with the way it looks or the way it drives.
It’s also a much more refined and polished experience than just about any other small car out there. The quirky cabin with its giant light ring and chrome toggle switches feels unnecessary but super cool at the same time.
JCW logos on the steering wheel and instrument cluster serve as a reminder that you’re in the hot version and body hugging seats wrapped in a combination of leather, micro-suede, and red stitching keep you secured but can be a little stiff initially.
Press the starter switch and the JCW’s engine barks to life with more verve than you expect. Provided you have the top down, running through the gears is a thoroughly enjoyable experience with the aggressive buzz from the exhaust reverberating off buildings and walls.
A pair of paddles behind the steering wheel can be used to shift manually, but I left the Mini to its own devices for most of my time with it.
With 228 hp on tap, the Mini JCW has enough power to make you grin but not so much as to make it unusable on public roads.
The ride is acceptably firm and not uncomfortable. New adaptive frequency-selective dampers are designed to smooth out rough, uneven pavement, which I could really feel working on the battle-worn asphalt in Toronto.
The JCW works like a charm in the city with its tidy turning radius and park-anywhere footprint, but it still begs for a twisty two lane. With such a short wheelbase it can be easy to dial in too much steering but once you sort this out the Mini can be turned on a proverbial “dime”.
Understeer is well managed, as is torque steer, and traversing through a series of corners with the roof stowed and the burbly exhaust punctuating the warm summer air is a sublime experience and one that’ll have you longing for the dry weather to stay forever.
With the VW Beetle and Fiat 500 gone, the Mini soldiers on with virtually no competition to challenge it in the premium small car segment and even when it comes to convertibles, most just aren’t as much fun.
If you can get over the high price of entry, the Mini JCW convertible offers up an experience few others can. It will have you going on drives without any real destination in mind. And any car that can do that is a good one in my books.