Mini JCW Convertible

Miniís hot drop-top gets a little softer

TONY OíKANE

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

MINIíS latest addition to its stove-hot John Cooper Works range is a classic case of two steps forward and one step back.

Hugely improved interior with more standard equipment than ever: a profound step forward.

Grunty 2.0-litre with proper hot-hatch performance and respectable 170kW/320Nm numbers: another forward stride.

More approachable handling: now weíre going backwards.

The JCW hallmark of agile, sometimes spiky handling set the previous-generation Convertible apart from most other fashionable drop-tops. Its go-kartish chassis would slap a broad smile on any driving enthusiast. A secretaryís car it was not.

But in the search for more sales, Mini has naturally endeavoured to make its topless range-topper a little more civilised. So itís not bone-rattlingly firm anymore, and the steering is no longer as tactile and involving as it once was.

Donít get me wrong, the JCW Convertible is still a pointy and precise little thing and itís still got an entertaining and sometimes tail-happy chassis; itís just that it might not satisfy the keener drivers out there in the same way its predecessor did.

Having said that, keen drivers are not expected to be this carís core demographic. Those punters are better served by the cheaper, lighter and fiestier JCW hatch.

But if you want to be seen, the JCW Convertible makes for appealing topless transport. It may have slightly less zing to the steering, but thereís a more powerful and torque-laden 2.0 turbo up front thatís less stressed around town than the previousgen JCW drop-top, and more driveable as a result.

Itís also a joy to push the engine hard. Itís responsive at seemingly any point in its rev range, with peak torque occurring from 1250-4800rpm before power apexes between 5200 and 6000rpm. Itíll happily rev right to its 6500rpm redline, all while emitting a rousing turbo four-pot soundtrack punctuated by plenty of pops and crackles from its twin tailpipes on the over-run.

And, thanks to the folding roof, that soundtrack is more audible Ė and thus more enjoyable Ė than it is in the hatch.

Like the hatch, the JCW Convertible also gains dual-mode adjustable dampers. Theyíre firm in either setting, but at their slackest theyíre at least a lot more pliant than the rock-hard non-adjustable suspension of the previous R57 version.

And the interior not only boasts more equipment Ė Mini somehow managed to jam a head-up display and 12-speaker sound system in there Ė it also has space for four and a bigger boot than before.

A few more steps forward, then. ts w ay

PLUS & MINUS

Heated seats not standard; interior squeaks; less engaging than before Playful chassis; improved standard spec; willing engine; bigger interior Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Mini JCW Convertible 1998cc 4cyl, dohc, 20v, turbo 170kW @ 5200-6000rpm 320Nm @ 1250-4800rpm 6-speed automatic 1395kg 6.5sec (claimed) 6.2/100km $54,900 Now

Big where it counts

The latest JCW Convertible has a substantially bigger interior than its predecessor. This is especially noticeable in the back seat where thereís 36mm more shoulder room, along with 112mm more elbow room and 36mm more knee room. The deletion of the old modelís dorky fixed rollbars also makes the back seat feel a lot less confined, and two adults can now sit there in reasonable comfort. Thereís 45 litres more boot space as well, for a total of 215L (with the roof up).