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Mini Cabrio John Cooper Works auto convertible 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
7
Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2016 Mini JCW Convertible with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2016 Mini JCW Convertible with specs, fuel consumption and verdict. 

The Mini JCW convertible (it stands for John Cooper Works and is meant to represent Supreme Sportiness) is a whopping $9500 more than the Cooper S drop top, costing a stout $54,900. There, I said it. That's a stack of money for what looks like a three-letter addition to the Mini's moniker as well as an outlandish front bumper. Thing is, there is genuinely more to it than that, with more power, better handling and some JCW-specific cleverness.

There are a couple of big questions to answer here, though, like can the JCW treatment really work on a convertible? And is it a "proper" Mini?

Price and features

As already mentioned, the JCW starts at $54,900 which, to be fair, is a few grand cheaper than the car it replaced. It's got more fruit, too, so there's probably a press release somewhere saying it's slightly cheaper but turns out to be several thousand dollars better value for money.

That sum will see your posterior parked on cloth trim in a car with 18-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, adaptive dampers, head-up display, (very good) sports seats, keyless start, automatic LED headlights, auto wipers, reversing camera, parking sensors all round, the Mini Excitement package (a few cosmetic bits and bobs) and lots of JCW badging.

Minis are not so mini these days, but they look pretty good and are one of the more individual and loveable designs on our roads.

The Harmon Kardon 12-speaker stereo is run by a Mini-fied BMW iDrive system, which is a shortcut to saying it's very good indeed. It comes with BMW's up-spec sat-nav, the big rotary dial controller on the console all on an 8.8-inch display in the big, funky dinner-plate sized central dial. It's got the requisite USB and Bluetooth.

Being a Mini, there's a long list of options available and the Mini press fleet speccer has gone to town: black bonnet stripes ($200), metallic paint ($800), leather trim ($1950), fibre alloy dash inserts ($450), Nappa leather steering wheel ($200), seat heating (should be standard in a drop-top but isn't, costs $490), Union Jack motif on the soft top ($900), wind deflector (also should be standard, isn't, $400) and a safety package called Control, which includes forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, high-beam assist, active cruise, tyre-pressure monitoring and adaptive LED headlights, all for a not unreasonable $1500.

This took the total of our test car to $61,790.

Design

Minis are not so mini these days, but they look pretty good and are one of the more individual and loveable designs on our roads. The convertible is also unique, although possibly not for the all the right reasons.

The soft-top roof opens in two stages - the forward section slides back like a sunroof (you can leave it in this setting if you like) and then the whole lot folds itself neatly behind the rear seat. And above it. The old "pram handle" descriptor is often applied but it looks more like a baby's bonnet strapped to the back. Or a huge doof-doof wing. Either way, the roof's off and you've got as much headroom as an astronaut on a spacewalk.

The interior is pure Mini up front, which means lots of circles, often within other circles.

The JCW additions are... not all great, sadly. The front bumper extensions are overdone and ugly and just don't fit with the smooth lines of the car. Some of the other bits are okay - like the red flash in the grille and the blacked-out honeycomb - but even the wheels are a bit daggy, although they aren't try hard Minilites, for which we should all be thankful.

The interior is pure Mini up front, which means lots of circles, often within other circles. The heads-up display is a little blade of glass that pops up behind the steering wheel and when deployed looks amusingly like a top hat on the dashboard. On the plus side, it works a treat - another piece of technological BMW parts-bin raiding.

There are a couple of slightly dire quality moments, though; the separators between the ultra-cool toggle switches wobble, and the plastic paddles on the steering wheel look and feel super-cheap, which this car is not.

Practicality

You may laugh, and you should, because this is a properly impractical car. The rear seats are basically useless for anything but short trips taken by very patient people, preferably with numb legs. A six-footer can squeeze in the back but will be monstrously uncomfortable after an indecently small amount of time.

To make things worse, the rear backrest is almost dead vertical and squeezes you into a very uncomfortable posture.

The boot - with its cool retro drop-down opening to make way for the roof - is surprisingly big considering what's going on at the rear end.

The front passengers get on okay, with good leg and head room with the roof on, and there's an armrest, two cupholders (along with two in the back, if your (small) dog needs a water bottle) and a glovebox. The doors hold the slimmest of documents and/or Skittles packets, but don't expect a bottle to fit.

The boot - with its cool retro drop-down opening to make way for the roof - is surprisingly big considering what's going on at the rear end, swallowing between 165 and 210 litres depending on where the roof is. It's a clever bit of design.

Engine and transmission

The JCW is powered by the Cooper S's 2.0-litre turbo, but power is boosted to 170kW and 320Nm, up 29kW and 40Nm respectively, a very handy bit of John Cooper work.

In our car, power found the road via a six-speed ZF automatic transmission (manual is also available) driving the front wheels. The 1294kg (tare) JCW will zoom from rest to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds.

Fuel consumption

Mini claims the JCW will deliver 6.2L/100km on the combined cycle. Our week of mixed use returned a creditable 8.3L/100km, which included some highway work, some thrashing and lots of messing about during filming. Some of the highway work used the Green mode, but the readout said it only gained 3km, so all-in-all, it seems like a reasonably frugal machine considering the available power and sporty intent.

Driving

Anyone who buys a JCW convertible thinking it's going to handle like the hatchback probably thinks the world is genuinely flat and is unlikely to be reading this because the internet is Evil. The extra weight to reinforce the chassis - a lot of high-strength metal goes west when the roof goes - goes some way to explaining the blunting of the chassis, but some blame must be laid at the higher centre of gravity enforced by the roof mechanism.

Many - including me - would say that the payback is the roof-down fun and wind-in-your-hair feeling you don't get from the hatch.

The good news is, it's still a lot of fun. Shod with 215 tyres, this Mini is more about adjustability than scalpel-sharp corner carving. The round-shouldered rubber is used to full effect, the tyres telling you well in advance that you're about to find the limits of grip. There's a lot more to come, even though the tyres are protesting, so you'll have no excuse for tipping it into the scenery on a dry road.

Many - including me - would say that the payback is the roof-down fun and wind-in-your-hair feeling you don't get from the hatch. It's a slightly more liveable car, and the movement in the chassis knocks the edges off the firm ride no matter what driving mode you're in.

There are three of those - Eco, Normal and Sport. When you switch to Sport, the big screen slightly self-consciously announces you now have "Maximum go-kart feel", which is vaguely ridiculous because you're a foot higher off the ground for a start. It does, however, make a real difference, with a terrific throttle response, quicker shifts and better-weighted steering. The engine makes some childish popping noises, too, which is always welcome. It sounds terrific and the exit points - the big twin bazookas poking out from the rear valance - look just as good.

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 at this price level, it seems a bit churlish not to have included all that in the base price.

Ownership

Mini offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and servicing, like its BMW brethren, is condition-based - the car will tell you when it wants 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.

Verdict

The JCW Convertible is just enough fun, and just silly enough, to be classed as a "proper" Mini, but with the price and looks, that's pushing it a bit. The purists obviously hate it because it doesn't have sliding windows and the crashworthiness of a takeaway coffee cup, but you just can't please people like that.

If you want a Mini Convertible, most will be perfectly willing to sacrifice the extra speed and stick with the Cooper S - $9500 buys you a tonne of options and you can have even more if you're happy to potter along in the three-cylinder turbo Cooper.

If you want a JCW Mini, you probably don't want the Convertible, because it corrupts the driving experience. One imagines, however, there are enough people out there who want a JCW Convertible and are happy to pay the money. Whoever you are, I salute you and you'll no doubt have a ball in it.

Would you prefer a JCW Convertible to a Cooper S? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Mini Cooper pricing and spec info.

Pricing Guides

$32,230
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$22,330
Highest Price
$42,130

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Cooper 1.6L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $28,380 – 34,210 2016 Mini Cabrio 2016 Cooper Pricing and Specs
Cooper JCW 1.6L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $33,660 – 40,040 2016 Mini Cabrio 2016 Cooper JCW Pricing and Specs
Cooper S 1.6L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $29,040 – 34,980 2016 Mini Cabrio 2016 Cooper S Pricing and Specs
Cooper S Highgate 1.6L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $33,770 – 40,260 2016 Mini Cabrio 2016 Cooper S Highgate Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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Pricing Guide

$33,660

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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