Review: The Mini JCW Convertible Is Whatever Works For You

Is the worst feeling having no feeling towards something at all?

Not to at all have a “this job of driving different new cars all the time is rough” moment, but what does actually make it difficult is getting out of a car, sitting down at the keyboard and having to look out the window to remember what you just got out of.

That isn’t at all the case with the Mini John Cooper Works Convertible. From first sight, it stirs some kind of emotions, and continues to long after you leave it. It’s a difficult to quantify, but impossible not to have feelings about. And that’s often the recipe for something you love. Is that the case here, too?

Last year, we examined what the latest iteration of the Mini Convertible was like and concluded it was more of the same: a Top 40 song with wheels. Even without aquamarine paint or a Union Jack printed on the folding fabric roof, it’s the automotive equivalent of a bubbly teenager who’s high on life. So high, in fact, the Mini can correct even the deepest scowl on someone’s face.

Adding the “John Cooper Works” badge to any Mini, however, is supposed to transfer the bubbliness into a terrier-like charge for the road and corners. That’s a tall order in the convertible, which didn’t like corners very much when I drove it – even in sporty Cooper S form. The Works turns the S’s wick up meaningfully with a 29-horsepower bump to the 2.0-liter turbo four, for a total of 228, and the same increase for torque to 237.

That makes for a quick little car, even with the convertible’s weight gain due to the complex folding top mechanism and structural bracing. The Works gets even more bracing to combat the flexy body, but also rides on stiffer springs and gets bigger brakes with the intent you’ll track it.

And it could be fun as a hardtop, or the all-wheel drive Clubman JCW. But in the convertible, the Works package just places it at the top of the tree more than anything else. This car’s six-speed automatic worked well enough with the paddle shifters, or even flipping through the various driving modes. The standard six-speed manual is the better bet, not because I’ve ever been a fan of Mini’s manual shift quality, but because it saves you a hefty $1,500.

It’s certainly fun, even feisty, when you’re barely pushing the right pedal down. In typical Mini fashion, the Works Convertible feels most at home around 90 mph, which is great unless you’re driving with the top down through a school zone and a motorcycle cop is glaring at you not only speeding, but singing along to something by Selena Gomez. This car just brings things out in you.

Being a convertible, the Works is fun with the roof down, even if it isn’t the most wind-free convertible you can buy. It also works in its sunroof mode with the top up and a little opening above the front passengers to let some air and sun in. But close the roof and it becomes just like a Mini, but heavier and less fun. And once the fun is gone, you’re faced with the reality the Mini Convertible is the most bizarrely packaged vehicle you’ve ever seen.

The Mini shape is perhaps the least conducive thing to a convertible. You sit very upright, the windshield nearly vertical and very far away from you, which also means the rearview mirror is so far away, it’s as if it were mounted on the car in front of you.

The interior, despite being finished here with lovely Malt Brown leather upholstery in concert with the gotta-have JCW Rebel Green paint, is nice enough but isn’t up to the same quality as the Mini Clubman and the newly announced Countryman. Cheap plastics and the loopy control layout get to you after a while.

The trunk is also humorous. A rolling suitcase will fit, but the procedure to get it is hilarious to watch and frustrating for whoever’s actually trying to get the object in the mail slot-sized opening. You might as well just put large objects in the rear seats, because even modestly sized humans will struggle to get comfortable back there.

Does this mean the Works Convertible is worth the $47,100, as the well-equipped one I drove cost (and that was without the Union Jack option)? That depends on what you value. It’s more of a novelty than transportation, but then Mini has always charged a little extra, an emotional surcharge, if you will. Those seeking purely an open-topped experience in an adorable car might as well stick with the base three-cylinder Cooper Convertible, especially if you only plan on going parade speeds.

Then the fun of the Works Convertible is not necessarily in driving it day to day, but in the looks and finger-pointing aimed at the car all the time. Little kids love the way it snarls in Sport mode. It looks like you’re having a good time in it, even if you’re having a crappy day.

Try to rationalize the Works Convertible and you’ll just hurt your head, even if you pare the options list down closer to the $36,450 base price. It’s a relationship full of twists, like a roller coaster summer fling. You either love it or you don’t, but you’ll never feel nothing towards it.

Photos: Keith Moore/Carscoops

Photo Gallery