► Flagship Mini JCW drop-top tested
► Not cheap at £27k for a manual version
► Charismatic, but £4k more than a Cooper S
Sitting at the top of the Mini performance tree is the new John Cooper Works, which is a tweaked Cooper S with more grilles than a barbecue shop.
The JCW hatchback is a hard-charging, darty little roller skate with a junior racecar-alike soundtrack – and now Mini has introduced a soft-top version to help boost the appeal of the third-generation Convertible range, which features a fabric roof that folds down in 18 seconds.
It’ll please Union Flag lovers for a start, as you can now have one stitched into the soft-top. On the more practical front, the optional Mini Connected XL pack features a weather monitor that can send you a text if there’s rain on the horizon and you’ve left the roof down.
Does the open top dent its performance?
The steering, suspension and engine are the same as the JCW hatchback – so you get the same 2.0-litre TwinPower Turbo that punches out 228bhp and 236lb ft. Compared to the 189bhp Cooper S, upgrades include a better turbocharger, uprated pistons, a different ECU map and better cooling from those extra holes in the front bumper.
Nail the launch and it should sprint from 0-62mph time in 6.6 seconds, which is a couple of tenths behind the regular hatch due to the cabrio’s extra weight. Top speed remains the same at 150mph.
Slowing things down is a set of Brembo-designed brakes, which bite hard and have plenty of stamina, even in the heat of our Italian test drive. The middle pedal isn’t brimming with feel, though.
As standard you get a six-speed manual transmission, and we wouldn’t bother upgrading to the optional automatic. The self-swapper has a rev matching function for jerk-free downshifts and its short ratios keep you pleasingly busy, so it matches the character of the car perfectly.
Annoyingly the gear lever is a little too long and set back an inch too far, too, while the easily removed armrest gets in the way when lowered.
Talk to me about standard equipment
As you’d imagine there are a lots of sporty branded additions, from the John Cooper Works seats to the 17-inch alloys masking logo-adorned brake calipers.
More pragmatically you get rear parking sensors plus Bluetooth connectivity for the big-screen Mini media system. Thankfully a reversing camera is free – rear visibility with the roof up is not good.
Extras include larger 18-inch wheels, front parking sensors, active cruise control and the 8.8-inch Navigation XL package. Bin the standard air-con and you can have two-zone automatic climate control that adjusts the airstream when the roof is down.
To help your JCW to stand out, Mini offers a range of personalisation options – including coloured door mirrors with Mini logos projectors, bonnet stripes and that monotone flag for the roof.
For this money there are better cars to drive (Mazda MX-5) or to look good in (BMW 2-series) but few offer both style and performance like the JCW.
Is it really worth £4000 more than a Cooper S? We expect that decision will largely come down to how enthusiastic you are about outright performance and the John Cooper Works badge.