Ask most people to describe Minis and it’s likely adjectives such as “cute”, “quirky” and “fun” will likely pop up.
Safe to say “mean”, “aggressive” and the like wouldn’t really get a mention, but it’s apt for the Mini JCW Convertible.
As you can see, it’s still tiny with bug-eyed exuberance and fitted with a funky, youthful interior just like the rest of the Mini range.
But don’t be fooled: much like a baby with a bulging nappy, this a cutie with genuine menace lurking beneath the surface.
Under the bonnet lies a 2.0-litre turbo four-pot packing 170kW and 320Nm. At 1385kg for the manual test car, the JCW Convertible is heavier than you may expect but it’s still a fair wallop for a car this size and will see it do the 0-100km/h dash in a rapid 6.5 seconds.
But it’s the way it goes about its business that’s so satiating. The exhaust note is absolutely satisfying, a meaty, deep burble which almost forces you to drop a gear and back off the throttle to hear it gurgle and pop.
External noise intruding into the cabin can be a sore point with soft-top convertibles but this is one car you’re happy to enjoy the aural soundtrack of and noise, vibration and harshness levels were admirably minimal.
Speaking of the roof, it’s an electric number which goes up or down in 18 seconds — not the quickest out there but it didn’t prove annoying in practice.
The six-speed manual is a no-cost option and we loved every minute of it. Throws between gears aren’t the shortest but it’s still slick enough — as is the clutch, which is stiffer than most but easy to use.
Like all Minis, handling plays an important part in the enjoyment you get from them and the convertible didn’t suffer for not having a fixed roof. It felt stiff and flat in corners and aided by an electronic differential lock.
It’s great about town also, with sports mode still comfortable enough, green mode still feisty enough and normal mode a happy middle ground between the two.
It’s well equipped, with digital radio, 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, head-up display, LED headlights, sat nav, myriad JCW branding and more.
The test car had some mainly cosmetic options but even the $1500 Control Package, which added auto braking, active cruise control, tyre pressure monitoring and high beam assist, wasn’t a must-have. One side note: this was one of the very few cars in which you can have the cruise control on without it being adaptive. Please, car makers, give us this choice more often.
All up, the JCW Convertible is a unique package: a little car with genuine performance thrills and a distinct personality not found elsewhere. And yet, the more time I spent in the JCW convertible, the more I had the nagging feeling the cutesy exterior and bubbly fluorescent disco interior undersold it a tad.
Sure, many people adore Mini’s interior design and things like this are always subjective but it felt a tad immature and juvenile for a car with such impressive refinement and performance ability costing about $60,000.
There were some ergonomic issues, such as an armrest which is always in the way no matter what you do with it and the steering wheel’s reach needing to be more adjustable.
Also, the back seats are for kids and stowage only, and the 215-litre boot isn’t big enough for a decent shop, but no one is buying this car for practicality.
This allows you to stand out from the crowd in typical Mini style but also get genuine grunt and performance thrills. A headturner in more ways than one.
Model John Cooper Works
Price $54,900 ($57,340 as tested)
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
Transmission Six-speed manual