Mini John Cooper Works Convertible Manual 2016 Review | Road Test
Mini John Cooper Works Convertible Manual 2016 Review | Road Test

Mini John Cooper Works Convertible Manual 2016 Review | Road Test


Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the new Mini John Cooper Works Convertible manual with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

A few weeks back I drove a Mini John Cooper works Convertible in automatic form and while I concluded it was a good car, I also thought it was a bit pricey and I wasn't sure who, if anyone, would actually buy it. Nice but pointless, like a Chanel coat for your dog.

Editor Flynn, possessed as he is with a powerful sense of humour, sent me out for a week in the manual version of Mini's fightiest drop-top to see if it makes any more sense than the limp-wristed auto. 

Do you know what? It just might.

Price and features

The JCW manual starts at the same price as the automatic, so depending on your point-of-view, that's either great value or you're subsidising laziness if you choose the one with the clutch. Normally an auto costs extra. For $54,900 you get 18-inch alloys, climate control, 12-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo with DAB, heads-up display, cloth upholstery, JCW bits and pieces in the interior, keyless start, LED headlights, auto wipers and headlights, sat nav, reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors.

The central 8.8-inch screen is run by a Mini-ised version of BMW's iDrive, which is to say it is very good indeed. The big, circular screen is crisp and clear and quite simply the best to use in any car, ever. A rotary dial does the pointing and clicking duties as well as carrying a touchpad for scribbling addresses. The stereo is excellent, perfect for annoying fellow road users with awful music cranked up with the roof cranked down.

It makes it all a bit cartoonish, like a Looney Toons character that's just seen a pretty lady Mini on the other side of the road.

Our car also had black bonnet stripes ($200), piano black interior bits ($250), heated front seats ($490) and the Control Package for $1500, which adds autonomous emergency braking, high beam assist and active cruise. AEB really should be standard, and free.

That lot took us to $57,340. 

Design

Mini styling is always a subject of hot debate and the JCW adds rocket fuel to the discussion. The basic Mini shape is pleasing enough but the JCW's over-bearing front and rear bumpers ruin that in a fairly spectacular way. It makes it all a bit cartoonish, like a Looney Toons character that's just seen a pretty lady Mini on the other side of the road, all popping-out eyes and exaggerated body shapes.

In contrast to the automatic Mini, this one went without the snazzy Union Jack roof which, as these things go, wasn't too bad, but the basic black is a better (and cheaper) idea.

Inside it's pretty much standard, although someone was let loose on the central screen surrounds with a box of nail polish, with colours etched on the outside, I guess to make it look racier. It isn't helped by the cheesy multi-colour LED light surround.

Circles dominate the interior and are, again, polarising. The main thing is, it's all very functional and most of the materials are good, although the separators on the toggle switches are a bit wobbly.

The cloth seats are grippy and suit the car's purpose better than the leather ones of the automatic we tested, and they look great, too.

The Mini's fabric roof actually maintains the hatch's roofline to reasonable effect and seals quickly and tightly. Retracting it forms a concertina on the back shelf, knocking out most of your rear visibility but exposing your head to the fresh air.

Practicality

It won't come as any surprise (especially if you read the previous review) that the rear seats are, fundamentally, not really seats at all. Anyone with actual legs will find it heavy going back there and along with a vertical backrest, there is little to commend it. Good for the dog or, as we discovered, the optional wind deflector. There is a cupholder back there, though, nestled between the front seats.

With the roof up, front passengers have very good head and leg room, an armrest that gets in the way of gear changes, two cupholders and a glove box. The doors have tiny pockets - a bottle holder is a dream, so stick to a packet of Wizz Fizz.

The boot has an old-school Mini drop down lid and will contain between 165 and 210 litres depending on the roof position. 

Engine and transmission

BMW's 2.0-litre modular turbo four hides under the clamshell bonnet, tuned up from the Cooper S spec to 170kW and 320Nm. Power and tarmac meet via a six-speed manual gearbox and it all goes through the front wheels. The 1284kg (tare) JCW will streak to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds.

Fuel consumption

BMW says the Mini JCW will use fuel at the rate of 6.2L/100km. In a week with the car that saw it given a bit of a pasting, we averaged 8.6L/100km, mostly around the city. BMW has fitted stop-start to help quell thirst, but the air-con ran overtime in the humidity, so there wasn't a lot we could do to reduce consumption.

Driving

Obviously, things are different in the Convertible and the edge, by necessity, has come off the hatch version of the JCW. It weighs more and that mass is higher up as well, while there is also some extra bracing  underneath to try and regain some of the rigidity of the hatch. It hasn't worked. 

Surprisingly, that’s actually a good thing. The hatch is a pretty stiff machine and the newfound flex (and we're talking minute amounts here, it's not a Saab 900) knocks the edge off what is a hard ride when you have a metal roof over your head. Of course, the trade-off means this isn't as razor-sharp as the hatch. But the Convertible has that one obvious advantage, and that's the ability to crank the roof back and hear the sounds and smell the fresh air when you're off on a drive. On the right day, on the right road, it can be heavenly.

The Mini Convertible is in its element tearing along rural or coastal roads, the exhaust popping and banging when you're in Sport (or \"maximum go-kart\") mode, working the reasonably slick gearbox. You'll have to move the armrest to do that, because it gets in the way when it's deployed, but you can't have everything, I guess. These are the kind of issues louche-elbowed auto buyers don’t have to worry about.

The manual is far more fun than the auto, what you gain is a bit more control, and input, while less of your brain is taken up thinking about the car’s faults. You don't worry that it understeers earlier, is less playful or isn't as quick in a straight line. With the wind in your face and bugs in your hair, you're getting a feeling of speed and fun you can't hope for in the standard cars. It even  has auto rev-matching (like an M2!) if you've got the traction control switched on. Great fun.

The tyres are a noisy lot when you're pushing the chassis, letting you know well in advance how much stick you have left before it starts slipping into mild understeer. You can control that with the throttle. Commendably, there is little in the way of torque steer and the rear end, despite being laden down with all those motors and roofs, can get a bit skatey if you feel like it.

Safety

Four airbags (nowhere for a curtain airbag to go), ABS, stability and traction controls, rollover protection, brake-force distribution.

The Control package added advanced features like AEB and collision warning but when you're slapping down 60 large to put one of those on the road, it should all be standard.

Ownership

Mini offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Like BMW-badged cars, the JCW tells you when it needs a service. You can purchase five years of scheduled servicing for a startlingly reasonable $1080, which covers labour, standard items like filters, oil and brake fluid, but won't cover brake pads, discs or wiper blades. If you want those items included, that's an argument to have with your dealer.

You can also purchase roadside assist and again, that's a negotiation with your dealer.


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