The rowdy – and retractable – Cooper
THE GOOD
  • Tight, light driving demeanour
  • Solidly built, intuitive cabin
  • Fun exhaust noise
THE BAD
  • Expensive for what it is
  • Rearward visibility
  • Cramped rear seat and cargo area

Until Mini reintroduces its hotted-up Grand Prix variants, the John Cooper Works (JCW) suffix currently represents the spiciest versions of its models.

A step above the popular S models, JCWs are more powerful, look more aggressive, and are even more hunkered down than their lesser (and less expensive) siblings. The 2022 Mini John Cooper Works Convertible takes that concept and chops the roof off, making it one of the most entertaining cars on premise alone.

A freakin’ Mini with two doors, a retractable roof, the big engine, loud exhaust, and highlighter paint? I know it’s best not to judge a person by the car they drive, but I’d have to assume that anyone who opts for one of these knows how to enjoy themselves.

Styling: 8/10

When it comes to style, you know what you’re getting with a Mini. Along with the rest of the Cooper lineup, this convertible version gets a mild facelift for 2022. JCW-specific enhancements include a sporty rear diffuser with the obligatory centre-mounted dual exhaust tips, and a unique front bumper that gives the Cooper’s already bulldog-like appearance an even more swollen jaw. In this shade of what the automaker calls “Zesty Yellow,” the drop-top JCW looks bold, more than a little silly, and certifiably zesty.

Inside, the Works convertible isn’t styled all that differently from lesser models with the exception of a JCW logo printed on the bottom of the steering wheel and a pair of more purposeful seats. In typical Mini fashion, some of the plastics feel lower rent and harsher than they should be for a car of this price but build quality – as in how those plastics fit together – is great.

Safety: 7/10

Part of the $950 Driver Assistance package, the adaptive cruise control system worked well during testing at giving my right foot a break in the middle of rush-hour traffic on Ontario’s Highway 401. As part of the Premier+ line, this tester came with an auto-dimming rearview mirror, forward collision warning, speed limit recognition, automatic high-beam headlights, and lane departure warning (but no lane-keep assist).

Disappointingly, blind-spot monitoring was absent. It’s particularly troubling considering rearward visibility isn’t great when the top is up or down, with the view significantly obstructed because of how high the folded soft top sits when it’s stowed.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2022 Mini Convertible’s headlights an “Acceptable” rating and a score of “Advanced” for the car’s front-crash prevention, leaving room for improvement in both areas. The car didn’t receive one of the not-for-profit’s coveted safety awards.

Features: 8/10

As tested, the JCW Convertible came with the essentially required $7,300 Premier+ package that includes 18-inch wheels, a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, a detachable wind deflector that keeps open-top driving from getting too blustery, automatic climate control, and satellite radio. The pack also encompasses Apple CarPlay, wireless charging, digital instrumentation, and a head-up display that projects onto a transparent piece of plastic that rises up out of the dash but feels a little redundant given how close it is to said instrumentation. An alright-sounding $750 optional stereo was also present here.

User Friendliness: 8/10

The JCW’s cabin – and, transitively, that of pretty much every other Mini – is a fairly easy cockpit to learn. The infotainment is basically a restyled version of parent company BMW’s very solid system. All the knobs and buttons controlling the HVAC and audio are intuitively placed despite this interior’s relatively unconventional and very circular design. One control placement I would change, however, is the heated steering wheel button that’s weirdly hidden on the side of the steering column.

Practicality: 6/10

A two-door made by a brand called Mini is never going to score high marks in the practicality department and, unsurprisingly, the presence of that bulky convertible top has not helped at all. For starters, you can’t seat people in the back while the removable wind deflector is attached, and even when it isn’t, the seats themselves are scarcely usable. The cargo area is very small, too. During testing, it was merely big enough for one carry-on suitcase and even then, the piece of luggage could only be inserted at a certain angle in order to fit.

Comfort: 7/10

The JCW is the most hardcore Mini Cooper Convertible model available, which is evident in the way it rides. While it’s not what I’d call egregiously rigid, it’s definitely on the stiff side and something I’d recommend testing for yourself before buying this car as a daily driver. The seats, however, are quite comfortable and nicely shaped to the body. They’re heated, too, as is the steering wheel; and both get mighty hot, even with the seat heater in its lowest setting.

This being a soft-top convertible that attempts to keep its weight low, top-up wind noise was never going to be nonexistent, but it does an OK job of keeping it relatively low even at highway speeds. Top-down cruising can be acceptably serene as well, as long as the windows and wind deflector are up.

Power: 7.5/10

228 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque out of a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder may not win many internet spec sheet battles, but because the Mini JCW isn’t that heavy – even with the added weight and complexity of its convertible top – it’s a decently quick car out on the open road. The motor here is, at its core, a BMW unit and it delivers its power quite smoothly (as a BMW engine should). The JCW exhaust makes a cool and slightly addicting ripping sound that gives the powertrain an enjoyably scrappy demeanour, and I love the subtle noises that happen with upshifts and upon throttle release. This being the special, high-performance powertrain, though, throttle response wasn’t as sharp as I expected, even in this car’s sport driving mode.

An eight-speed automatic is the only transmission available with the JCW Convertible (a manual is available with the fixed roof JCW two-door). Left in its default drive setting, this gearbox often picks a gear that’s one higher than I personally would, almost to the point of lugging at low speeds. Undoubtedly done for the sake of fuel economy, this can be solved by putting the car in that aforementioned sport mode or flicking the transmission over to its sport setting. You can, of course, opt to shift for yourself via paddles, which work fairly responsively.

Driving Feel: 9/10

For all of the compromises the Mini JCW Convertible makes on ride quality, refinement, and overall space, all of it would be for naught if it weren’t a hoot to chuck through corners; but thankfully, it delivers. It’s ultra nimble, immensely tossable, a markedly superior handler than the Cooper S, and just feels really great to drive. The steering is heavily precise and the suspension is taut, making the JCW’s intentions known.

The driving position is well-judged and the brakes work fine, while the chassis feels appropriately tiny and light, making the entire vehicle feel like an overgrown Power Wheels ride-along in all of the best ways. The open-top experience admittedly lends quite a bit to this feeling, and it’s really quite enjoyable.

As for limiting factors, the biggest one here would probably be the Goodyear Eagle F1 tires that seemed to squeal earlier and easier than the Pirelli P Zeros that came on the lower-powered Cooper S. Other than that, I can’t come up with many complaints when it comes to how the JCW handles.

Fuel Economy: 7/10

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has yet to publish the official fuel consumption ratings for the 2022 JCW Convertible at the time of this writing, but the 2021 equivalent, which used the same engine, was good for 9.4 L/100 km in the city, 7.1 on the highway, and 8.3 combined. After around 580 km of mixed, real-world testing, the car’s trip computer showed 9.3 L/100 km. Premium-grade 91 octane fuel is recommended, with mid-grade 89 as a minimum requirement.

Value: 6/10

Including its $2,245 freight charge, the 2022 Mini JCW Convertible technically starts at $45,885 before tax, but after adding in the Premier+ line of equipment, the Driver Assistance pack, and a couple of cosmetic add-ons, the car tested came out to $58,775 (the non-negotiable freight charge varies slightly between provinces). Objectively, that’s not a small amount of money to pay for a 228-hp front-wheel drive convertible with not a lot of room, and an equipment-set that’s not especially luxurious.

That’s about the as-tested price of the four-cylinder, High Performance Pack-equipped Ford Mustang Convertible I tested last year. And I can undoubtedly say that the Ford is simply more car in all of the ways that matter. As for a convertible that’s quantifiably less car than the JCW, a Mazda MX-5 only seats two and makes less power, but can be considerably less expensive and subjectively more fun to drive.

Keeping it within the corporate family, that price is also awfully close to that of the brand-new BMW M240i, which offers 382 hp, rear-biased all-wheel drive, more usable space, an actual luxury-grade interior, and starts at a little over $60,000. No, it’s not available as a convertible, but its price frankly feels like a bit of a bargain in comparison to this Mini. (If you’re gonna go this route, by the way, get a purple one.)

The Verdict

If for whatever reason you absolutely must have a fun drop-top that seats four and is front-wheel-drive, the 2022 Mini John Cooper Works Convertible is kind of in a class of its own. More likely, however, those who are into the Mini aesthetic and signature Mini handling are already sold on this car no matter how much a Mustang, Miata, or BMW may make more sense on paper.

Fortunately for those folks, the JCW delivers on its promise as a Mini’s that’s slightly quicker and rowdier than the Cooper S. It’s chuckable, fun to drive, and spits out cool noises out of the back. And sometimes that’s all you really want out of a car.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2022 Mini JCW Convertible
Engine Cylinders Turbo I4   Base Price $43,640
Peak Horsepower 228 hp @ 5,200–6,200 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 235 lb-ft   Destination Fee $2,245
Fuel Economy 9.4 / 7.1 / 8.3 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $58,875
Cargo Space 147 L  
Optional Equipment
$12,890 – Premier+, $7,300; Dinamica/leather combination Carbon Black, $2,250; Driver Assistance Package, $950; Dynamic Damper Control, $500; Piano Black Exterior Trim, $350; Aluminum Interior Trim, $200; Harman Kardon Sound System, $750; Zesty Yellow paint, $590