The iconic MINI Cooper has always managed to find a way to win over even the most skeptical of skeptics thanks to its combination of quirky good looks and deceptive amounts of driving fun. JCW models enhance this feeling with their mixture of style and inner substance. But can the JCW lineup still stand out as a top-tier performance bargain? Or has it lost some of its luster?
JCW Exterior Styling Still Shines
To find out, MINI allowed us to spend some quality time with the JCW convertible, which serves as the droptop member of the JCW family. The exterior styling of our tester exuded British charm with the white paint contrasted with black graphics and even splashes of red accents. The front fascia features a more prominent front grille and bigger air intakes that help channel cold air into the engine bay. The side profile benefits from bigger side skirts and prominent fender-mounted John Cooper Works badging. JCW models even add red-accented mirror caps and 18-inch JCW Circuit Style alloy wheels.
The look extends to the rear, with the convertible top and the tweaked trunk lid being the fundamental changes here. The overall look is unique, and it helped give our tester some instant street presence when viewed by casual observers. The compact dimensions also allowed our tester to easily park in a wide range of driving situations, especially in urban commuting. However, we’ll also admit that the Mini’s current suit of clothes also provides a glimpse into how big the lineup as a whole has grown in recent years due to the infusion of new safety technology and design language. While the look is still compact, it’s a far cry from older MINI models and their compact proportions.
Half-Baked JCW Interior Offers Compromised Interpretation Of Luxury
Slip inside the MINI JCW Convertible interior, and it’s the classic case of the cabin having a split personality. The cabin certainly does an excellent job of promoting a premium experience with the tactile toggle switches being accented by more soft-touch materials and even a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The 8.8-inch infotainment screen houses BMW’s i-Drive software, and while the screen’s layout does make accessing some menus a bit awkward, the screen itself still delivers crips colors and clarity. As a bonus, MINI’s multi-purpose light ring makes its return. It covers a wide range of functions, including a tachometer, a volume indicator, and even an indicator for the parking sensors.
A favorite feature of ours, though, is the digital instrument cluster, but not for the reason that you might think. In many convertible offerings, screen glare is a common problem, and while this issue is usually seen with infotainment screens, it can also extend to digital instrument clusters. MINI engineers were aware of this and have equipped the convertible with a matte-infused screen which did a good job reducing glare and allows all the essential readouts to be visible even in bright sunny weather.
As mentioned, the interior has a split personality, and it appears in all the compromises that are prevalent throughout the cabin. The convertible can technically seat four passengers, but most average-sized adults will quickly protest at the sheer lack of legroom unless they are small children. The front sport seats are comfortable and supportive, but having total manual adjustments for a vehicle that surpasses $45,000 is a very interesting state of affairs. The convertible top also contributes its share of compromise on drivers. When it’s folded down, it not only cuts into rear visibility but also trunk space with the convertible using a tailgate-style trunk lid versus the liftgate seen in the standard Cooper.
Spirited Engine Clashes With Brittle Ride Quality
With all the compromises that exist in the interior, it’s a pity that the performance hardware also comes bundled with its own share of unique tradeoffs. Like all JCWs, the convertible is motivated by BMW’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which produces 228 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque. Unlike other JCW versions, which can also be equipped with a standard manual transmission, the convertible is the only one in the main Cooper family that pitches it for a standard eight-speed automatic.
This combination allowed our tester to make the sprint to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. When placed into sport mode, the transmission really comes into its element, with upshifts and downshifts becoming sharper. The center-exit exhaust even lets out spirited barks and pops when driven hard. The rowdy MINI’s soundtrack attracted its fair share of admirers on the road, including a Challenger R/T owner that rolled up for a closer look.
But while the engine and the transmission do their best to live up to the JCW’s brand mission, it seems that the handling is not going all-in on delivering its part of the bargain. Our tester did have a commendable amount of grip in sharp turns. Still, it’s in these same turns where you also feel the heavier weight of the convertible and even instances of body flex and cowl shake when you encounter pockmarked pavement. The result is a lackluster affair despite the optional adaptive dampers that were equipped for our example. Yes, it’s still fun, but this iteration of JCW is not nearly as refined as its $45,000 sticker price would lead you to believe.
That’s a shame since some of its rivals like the Mazda MX-5 Miata and Hyundai Veloster N offer better canyon carving ability. In contrast, the Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, and Chevrolet Camaro offer more power which can often be had for a far lower price point. That latter point dings the MINI’s value factor, and the convertible in particular compounds it with its unique quirks and trade-offs. That said, we’ll give the MINI a few bonus points for serving as a photo subject for part of our wedding photos during its visit.
As mentioned, value is the biggest weakness of the 2022 MINI JCW Convertible. A base JCW Convertible has a base price of $38,900, which is already higher than some rivals. Our tester arrived with the $6,000 Iconic Trim and the Touchscreen Plus Package, which helped the final sticker rise to a total of $45,850 before taxes are factored in. That’s very close to $50,000, and while MINIs have had a reputation for price bloat when it comes to tacking on optional equipment, our tester’s high price makes it a very tricky proposition in the performance vehicle segment.
Rivals like the Dodge Challenger and the Ford Mustang have more power and can deliver the handling that’s on par with the MINI for a lower price point depending on trim and configuration. While the MINI might not have as much luster as it once had in this regard, it does make up for it in personality, with small touches like the union jacks in the taillights and other British references being scattered throughout. Plus, if you have a Dr. Who cosplayer in your family (like I do), it makes the perfect complement to those efforts.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.