The timing couldn’t have been better.
With the weatherman predicting a week of sunny skies and the first warm breezes of spring, MINI came through with a convertible.
And not just any convertible but the top of the line John Cooper Works that just begs to be driven with gusto.
The John Cooper Works name comes from John Cooper, the man who did not invent the rear-engine racecar but made it work.
While winning the F1 crown twice, he also took the lowly Morris Mini-Minor or Mini as it came to be called and, with wizard tweaks, turned it into a giant killer on the tracks.
When BMW bought British Leyland in 1994, Mini came with it. It was not a match made in heaven (or Munich or Coventry for that matter) and BMW closed Rover down in 2000 but retained MINI (now all upper case) bringing out the first new model in 2001.
Today there are seven spinoffs starting with the original three-door hatch followed by the Coupe, Convertible, Clubman (wagon), Roadster, Countryman (minivan/CUV) and Paceman.
I don’t know how they do it, but each one has its own impish personality.
There are three convertible trim levels – Copper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works (JCW) as tested here.
Like all MINIs, they are equipped with a 1.6-litre, DOHC inline four-cylinder. The Cooper has a normally aspirated version producing 121 hp and 114 lb/ft of torque. The Cooper S and JCW both have a twin-scroll turbocharger producing 181 hp and 177 lb/ft of torque and 208 hp and 192 lb/ft respectively. There is an “overboost” function that, on the JCW, increases torque to 207 lb/ft.
The convertibles are front-wheel-drive and all are available with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.
Running on premium fuel, the JCW is quick with a 0-100 km/h time of 6.9/7.1 seconds manual/automatic and a top speed of 235/233 mph manual/automatic. Fuel consumption for the manual is listed at 7.8/5.6/6.8L/100 km city/highway/combined and 8.1/5.8/7.1 city/highway/combined for the automatic.
People describe MINI handling as being like a go-kart and with a turning circle of 10.7 meters it’s pretty tight for a front-driver.
Suspension is MacStruts at front and an independent multi-link at the rear but this is beefed up in the JCW as are the four-wheel disc brakes, which are larger with bright red JCW calipers.
I drove a six-speed manual with straight up and down shift pattern with reverse a dogleg to the left. The shift knob itself is a nice, round ball as it should be.
With spring-loaded actuation, the shift down from fifth to fourth or third to second sees the lever slot right in without fumbling or having to look down. You can miss a shift but you have to be pretty ham-handed to do so.
At the same time the clutch feel is nicely modulated with the faceplate bite coming just about halfway through the pedal travel, which suits most people but I like it near the top because I still know how to heel-and-toe.
Equipped with a short throw manual, the smaller the car and the smaller the engine, the more I like it.
I come from an age where, because the engines were so anemic, the higher you keep the revs, the better your pace using the gearbox to make sure the revs didn’t fall away while gearing down to save wear on the brakes, which were pretty marginal compared to what we have today.
You would think that slapping on a turbo would rob the engine of power and hobble the rev range — and that used to be true back in the day.
Today’s turbos let the engines rev like they aren’t even there but are also surprising fuel-efficient.
The place to start up the JCW is in a garage. There’s a nice little rasp from the twin exhausts that gets better if you’ve already punched the “Sport” button just in front of the shifter.
What Sport does is change the engine mapping and tightens up the steering for a more sporting feel, which is already pretty good without Sport engaged.
But what it also does is free up baffles in the exhaust, resulting in satisfying burbles as you let up on the throttle or shift down.
Then you just go and have fun.
The beauty of the JCW is you can throw it around, clip apexes and feel the wind in your hair while never exceeding the speed limit.
And while you’re having all that fun, you’re doing so in a very interesting cockpit.
MINI interiors are unlike any in the business, starting with the main instrument cluster that is in the shape of a dinner-plate sized gauge with the speed indicator not a needle but a pointer that revolves around the outside of the circular instrument. At the centre is a screen that, depending on trim level, displays more information than you expect. Get the $1,850 Wired Package (as fitted to tester) and you’ve got voice recognition, navigation, smart phone integration and more,
The $750 Harman Kardon sound system sees speakers in just about every nook and cranny. I noted on each front door there are two speakers not counting the tweeter on the inner A-pillar and a sub-woofer and mid-range in each inside back seat wall.
A wonderful extra is a gauge called the Always Open Timer just to the left of the steering wheel mounted tach that clocks the number of hours and minutes the top is down so you know much sun/EV you’ve taken in your drive.
The JCW is no super econobox like the original Mini but a luxury car in every sense of the word from the supple leather seating to the nicely fitted leather boot on the shifter.
Pricing starts at $42,900 and topped out as tested at $48,995, not counting the $1,655 shipping fee.
If that’s too rich, the convertible Cooper starts at $29,500 and the Cooper S at $34,150 and you don’t need the Sport button to have the same amount of pleasurable driving.
But the JCW as tested with its “Kite” blue paint and black racing strips, the 17-inch “Black Star” alloy wheels with blood red brake calipers and that cheeky stance makes it look positively sinful.
Mix in clear skies, balmy spring breezes and open roads and it doesn’t get any better.
MINI John Cooper Works Convertible 2013
Body Style: Sub compact convertible
Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel-drive.
Engine: 1.6-litre DOHC twin scroll turbo inline four-cylinder (208 hp, 192 lb/ft, overboost 207 lb/ft)
Fuel Economy: Premium, six-speed manual 7.8/5.6/6.8L/100 km city/highway/combined; six-speed automatic 8.1/5.8/7.1 city/highway/combined.
Cargo Volume: 170 litres, 660 litres with rear seats folded
Tow Rating: Not recommended
PRICE: Base, $42,000; as tested price including options, $48,995 not including $1,655 shipping fee