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Mini's 155kW JCW blowdryer driven

2009-10-02 07:27

Lance Branquinho

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Mini
Model JCW Convertible
Engine 1.6l turbo
Power 155kW @ 6 000r/min
Torque 260Nm @ 1 850-5700r/min
Transmission Six-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 6.9 sec
Top Speed 235km/h
Weight 1 230kg
ABS with CBC, EBFD and DTC
Tyres 205/45 R17
Front Suspension Single-joint McPherson spring strut axle with anti-dive
Rear Suspension Longitudinal arms with centrally guided track arms, Z-axle
Any Mini with a JCW moniker on its tailgate is going to be properly quick. Do you really want one with a soft-top, though?

Born of a lifelong friendship between Mini creator, Alec Issigonis, and John Cooper predating the original road-going Mini, John Cooper Works (JCW) models have always been outrageous little cars.

Before the launch of the MK1 Golf GTi and the term hot hatch, John Cooper-fettled Minis were dominating circuit and rally racing across Europe. The local range has now been fleshed out with a convertible JCW, which would appear a very niche product indeed.

Soft-top, street-racer styling?

Honestly, how the cutesy Mini soft-top styling and its beachfront cruising predisposition is commensurate with the villainous JCW performance potential is beyond me. This is not to say it’s not an outrageously fun (and well sorted) car to drive though.

South African JCW models get an aerodynamics package as standard featuring side scuttles and a trimmed front air intake.

Mini’s second generation soft-top is slightly roomier and more dynamically resolved.

Enthusiasts of the brand with a keen eye for detail will notice the Mini JCW’s larger side-windows (compared with the first generation soft-top), and, with the canvas retracted, the lack of a cumbersome rear roll-bar.

In an effort to blend the rear styling elements more seamlessly (and improve rearward visibility) the roll-over protection is now integrated into the chassis behind the rear seats.

Inside the JCW soft-top you get an extra toggle switch (as if there were not enough of them already) to actuate the electro-hydraulic canvas roof, which retracts in only 15 seconds.

The remainder of the cabin is standard Mini, which means it’s essentially a two-person car with negligible luggage space (125l with the roof folded) and plenty of fidgety controls mounted too low down on the centre console in the name of retro design.

Rounding off the design details are 205/45 run-flat tyres rolling on 17-inch cross-spoke mags, which at 10kg, are allegedly the lightest wheels on any hot hatch – if such things are of significant value to you.

Same capacity, stonking output

Let’s not be coy - Alec Issigonis and John Cooper’s original performance car for the people was far removed from the current Mini brand’s fashion accessory status.

In a similar vein the JCW package is nearly at odds with the overly fashion conscious Mini image. When applied to the soft-top Mini, a JCW package would almost seem diametrically opposed to the customer profile.

In performance terms though, the JCW convertible, much like its hatch and Clubman siblings, will permanently suspend all your preconceived notions of the Mini being, well, a girlie car.

It features a dimensionally similar over-square, 1.6l, four-cylinder engine found in the rest of the range. Technically though, it’s gone mad.

Thanks to a revised twin-scroll turbocharger, trick pistons, new exhaust and boost turned up from 0.9- to 1.3-bar, this is a 1.6-litre engine with serious kick.

If the 155kW peak power output does not grab you in absolute terms perhaps the 97kW/l specific output might. Rotational force maxes out at 260Nm (280Nm on full throttle overboost) across a generous engine speed range of 1 850 - 5 700r/min.

In a car weighing only 1230kg (25kg more than the hatch) performance is epic. If you’re a robot-to-robot racer the 0-100km/h time of 6.9 seconds is particularly keen, only 0.4 seconds slower than the hatchback.

Responsive, nimble, but nervous

JCW convertible performance engineering mirrors the rest of the range.

Standard Cooper suspension has been slightly revised with a 10mm drop, modified anti-roll bars and new dampers on offer as part of the JCW range’s comprehensive options package.

The net result of all this a 155kW fashion icon with an overriding urge to go everywhere quickly – really quickly.

Perhaps the most pleasurable design parameter of the JCW is found in the hooliganesque nature of its driver aids. The dynamic stability control (DSC) features dynamic traction control (DTC) as a sub-function, which can be partially disabled for a bit of fun, or completely disabled for track work.

Disabling the DTC completely brings the electronic front differential lock into play – similar to the system found on the rear-wheel drive BMW 135i – which electronically reacts to differentiated traction and wheelspeed movements on the front axle. Reining in the wheel with least grip ensures safe traction and lateral force management and generates maximum accelerative verve out of corners.

This is an indecently rapid little car, nowhere better illustrated than its 80-120km/h fifth-gear time of 6.2 seconds (lagging only 0.2 of a second behind an M3…) If you bought your daughter one she’d never have an excuse for missing her curfew.

Around the Zwartkops racetrack we sampled all three JCW models back-to-back. Clubman is, predictably, the most stable, exhibiting less of the hatch and convertible’s lift-off oversteer characteristics.

The Mini JCW range still rewards keen driver inputs like few other cars.

To novice drivers they may appear nervous at the limit, yet the chassis balance is brilliant and handling fluidity commendable, even when the any of these JCWs are chucked about with abandon.

Conventional wisdom dictates the soft-top JCW would trail its fixed roof sibling around the track, yet boasting a strengthened A-pillar and side sills, not to mention a chassis that is 10% more rigid, scuttle shake is simply not an issue.

With the roof open, the JCW would make a very compelling case for itself on Clarence Drive (between Gordon’s Bay and Rooiels) on a flawless Cape summer’s day – if you are an enthusiastic enough driver to exploit the performance potential. There are few ways to go quicker for less if you want a canvas roof…

How many traditional Mini convertible buyers have the requisite dose of hooligan in them to do this, is the question.

Mini’s JCW convertible is bound to be a very niche offering. Especially considering Clubman is the best JCW car in the range…


JCW Hatch  -  R321 850
JCW Clubman  -  R339 950
JCW Convertible  -  R378 850


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