First, allow me to state the obvious: $35,000 is a silly amount of money to pay for a front-wheel-drive convertible with two usable seats and few luxury options (no leather, no nav, no automatic climate control). If someone were to ask me to recommend some smart ways to spend $35,000, the MINI Cooper JCW convertible would fall somewhere between “patent leather suit” and “old General Motors Corp stock.” And yet, if I wanted some wind in my hair, I’d probably give the Mini some consideration. Why? One word: Fun.
Part of the fun comes from dynamic excellence. The steering is quicker than anything I’ve experienced outside of a Mitsubishi Evo. The six-speed manual gearbox is slick, precise, and has a satisfyingly mechanical shift action. Provided you’re not on the throttle, the hunkered-down JCW also displays BMW-like poise in corners, and is commendably solid and rattle free for a convertible. When you are on the throttle, you can forget about turning anywhere, as you’ll have enough trouble simply keeping the steering wheel straight, but the engine’s crazy turbo character does have its merits.
Then, there’s that whole Mini thing. I keep expecting to tire of the brand and its overweening cheekiness, but that hasn’t happened yet. What it does here is relieve some of the self-important seriousness that often plagues performance cars. To the left of the big tachometer (which on occasion reflects the sun directly into your eyes) there’s an “Openmeter” that tells you how long you’ve had the roof down. The side-view mirrors have checkerboard covers. And some middle-aged woman in a last-gen Cooper gleefully waved at me at a stoplight this morning. No one waves at you when you’re in a Nissan 370Z convertible.
Ultimately, what would keep me from buying this particular car isn’t so much the other sporty convertibles on offer at this price range — including the 370Z and the Ford Mustang GT — but rather, a cheaper Mini. If you want the unique open motoring experience that this British/German marque has to offer, the Cooper S convertible is every bit as much fun on a day-to-day basis and starts at a more reasonable $27,850. That’ll leave you with several thousand dollars to spend on something else that’s clearly not worth the money, but makes you happy all the same.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Is it yellow? Or green? Or yellowy green? Regardless, this John Cooper Works Mini is difficult to miss. Unfortunately, when the turbo kicks in, it’s also difficult to keep the wheels pointed straight. Add in the stiff suspension and a wildly nonlinear turbocharged engine that puts out over 200 horsepower, and you get a serious handful in a seriously small and adorable package.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
After driving the Ford Fiesta over the weekend, it became abundantly clear that certain cars don’t need endless amounts of power in order to be fun. One of my recent favorites, and a testament to twisties-over-drag-strip holistic performance, is the Mini Cooper. But the John Cooper Works package might be the first option I’d delete in our $35,000 test car.
I’ve never experienced torque steer in third gear before. Third. That means, after a gentle launch, and an upshift at nonthreatening levels of rpm, it’s still possible for the front-wheel drive to take control at speeds of over 40 mph at the push of the throttle. Once you’re pushing 200 horsepower in a lightweight, turbocharged car, you’re likely going to have to put up a fight.
Perhaps the most ironic aspect of the convertible is that rearward visibility is nil, even with the top down. It sits, classic VW Beetle-style, atop the rear deck, obscuring all but semis. But driving a Mini is all about making a statement, isn’t it? As if yellow paint and racing-flag mirror caps weren’t enough.
The add-ons of the JCW package, unfortunately, detract from the fun of driving a car as sweet as the Cooper S.
Jeffrey Jablansky, Associate Editor
Lots of fun, lots of cheekiness, lots of style here; also lots of money. No, thanks, to the John Cooper Works package in the Mini convertible; as Zenlea says, get the Cooper S convertible, choose your options wisely, and keep the price below $30,000.
That’s not to say that our loaded and expensive test car wasn’t appealing. With its fuchsia paint job, blacked-out wheels, and $204 checkered-flag decals on the rearview mirror exterior housings, this thing got noticed on the streets of Ann Arbor. Like Jablansky, I was bothered by the poor rear visibility, but one learns to compensate. What really impressed me was how quickly the fully automatic top goes down and back up: less than 20 seconds, I believe. And the way you can first retract the front part of the roof, then decide whether you want the entire roof to go down, is brilliant.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
My Mini experience is more limited than others in the office, but I too agree that the JCW option actually detracts from the total package and driving experience. This car, with more power to accelerate at speed, is (marginally) better on the open highway than the “normal” Mini, but around town the torque steer is ridiculous — and since you’re shifting, the wrestling with the wheel is invariably one-handed.
I’d still love to own a Mini, and recently talked a friend into buying one, but for me, the greatest appeal to the car after the fun factor is getting out the door as cheaply as possible. At $35K-plus, the fun/cost ratio is seriously out of whack.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
2010 MINI Cooper JCW Convertible
Base price (with destination): $34,700
Price as tested: $36,038
1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine
6-speed manual transmission
17-inch alloy wheels
Tire pressure monitoring system
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Red Brembo front brake calipers
Dynamic traction control
Remote keyless entry
CD audio system with AM/FM radio
Auxiliary audio input
Tilt/telescoping steering wheel
Leather three-spoke steering wheel
Options on this vehicle:
Driving lamps — $534
Bluetooth/USB/iPod adaptor — $500
Checkered flag mirror caps — $204
Black bonnet stripes — $100
Key options not on vehicle:
Navigation — $2000
Premium package — $1750
Harman/kardon sound system
Chrome mirror caps/interior trim
Automatic air conditioning
Value package— $1500
Cold weather package
Convenience package — $1250
Auto-dimming rearview mirror
Auto wipers and headlamps
Comfort access system
6-disc CD player — $810
Cold weather package — $500
Power heated mirrors
Heated front seats
Sport suspension — $500
HID headlamps — $500
Sirius satellite radio — $500
HD radio — $500
25 / 33 / 28 mpg
Size: 1.6L turbocharged I-4
Horsepower: 208 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 192 lb-ft @ 1850-5600 rpm
Curb weight: 2877 lb
Wheels/tires: 17 x 7.0 alloy wheels
205/45R17 Continental ContiSportContact3 run-flat performance tires