2009 MINI Cooper Convertible JCW

Loving a car like the John Cooper Works Convertible means accepting its flaws

2009 MINI Cooper Convertible JCW

When we drove the standard Cooper Convertible we were torn. How can it be such an enthusiasts car but also be so girly, we asked?

Well, almost double the horsepower for the John Cooper Works (JCW) model and that bit about being girly is all gone. This thing moves, carves corners and actually sounds pretty darn mean. You could paint it pink with purple polka dots and it still wouldn’t be a girl’s car.

FAST FACTS

1. The JCW Convertible is powered by a turbocharged 1.6L 4-cylinder with 208-hp and 192 ft-lbs of torque that can hit 60 mph in 6.6 seconds.

2. Other standard JCW equipment includes larger front brake rotors, 17-inch wheels, a six-speed manual transmission, as well as DTC and DSC that can be turned off in stages for different levels of performance driving.

3. The Convertible JCW model starts at $34,700 ($44,400 CAD).

There is still one issue though. Who’s going to buy the thing? Traditionally, the convertible market is dominated by automatic transmissions. The JCW models, however, can only be had with a six-speed manual. And anyone who truly appreciates the car’s hard-core attitude will most likely prefer the more serious coupe model. On top of that, there’s the price. At $34,700 ($44,400 CAD), it’s $10,000 more than the standard convertible and about 7 Gs more than the Cooper S Convertible. And it’s a solid $5,000 premium over the JCW coupe.

We’re not saying it’s not worth it; but only a select few people will think it is. Oh well, for that small group (Miata, Elise and S2000 drivers, were looking at you…), who prefer amazing handling, great power and the wind in their hair… your chariot has arrived.

LIKE NO OHER PRODUCTION CAR ON THE ROAD

The best thing about the JCW Convertible is that it doesn’t drive like any other car on the road. In fact, it’s more like a tuner car – and we mean that in the nicest way possible. And to a certain extent, that’s exactly what it is, with all sorts of race inspired JCW parts tossed on a street car to make a barely legal toy.

Being front-wheel drive, with a stiff ride, an incredible six-speed short throw shifter and a loud exhaust system, the closest thing we’ve driven to it might be a souped-up Honda Civic or Acura Integra. Again, we mean that in the nicest way possible.

There aren’t too many (if any) cars on the road that have exhaust systems that pop and bang quite like this.

It’s even a treat to take in the sounds of the turbo and blow off valve as you plant your foot at low rpm in a high gear just to hear the pressure build and then release in a “pshhhhht” as you lift your foot. Trust us, it’s seriously addicting.

But if it’s a little more demanding driving that you have in mind, the little MINI will deliver. Like all MINIs, it’s an apex junkie, with ultra direct steering and wheels that follow through. And while it might be a convertible, the chassis doesn’t flex and complain in the corners like you might expect – which is particularly impressive considering how tightly sprung the car is.

And what’s even more shocking is that our tester only had the standard suspension setup, not the “Sports Suspension” or the even more hardcore JCW suspension. That being said, we’ll have to attribute the rough ride quality to the car’s low profile 45 series tires, wrapped around the larger 17-inch Challenge wheels.

We won’t bother with warnings about how uncomfortable some might find the car’s setup, as a brief test drive is sure to send all but the most dedicated performance aficionados running to sit on an inflatable donut, on a lazy boy… floating in a pool.

Do you feel every little crack in the road? Yes. But is the car’s handling good enough to excuse that? Absolutely!

TURBOCHARGED FOUR-CYLINDER DELIVERS THRILLS

As for acceleration, it’s hard to believe the car is only rated at 6.6 seconds to 60 mph. That does make some sense, however, as all MINIs feel faster than they are.

Power comes from a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 208 ponies coming on strong at 6000 rpm and 192 ft-lbs of torque available from 1850 to 5600 rpm.

The short throw six-speed manual really gives you access to every bit of that power and it even helps to deliver moderate fuel economy. Very few cars offer this level of performance as well as a 25 mpg city, 35 mpg highway rating.

For added excitement MINI included a Sport button, which is supposed to deliver heavier and more direct steering, as well as better throttle response. It doesn’t make a big difference, however, and feels like more of a gimmick. This was the case with early BMW setups, which have since gotten much better to deliver more noticeable differences. We can only hope future MINI products follow this path and make better use of the technology

JCW IS ALL ABOUT DSC-OFF

We decided to put the whole package to the test on a little homemade autocross course, which allowed us to really evaluate the car’s traction and stability control programs. After all, the ability to switch these systems off, (along with the added horsepower) is pretty much the basis of what a JCW model is.

The JCW models come with DTC (Dynamic Traction Control), which is built into the car’s DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) program. Pushing the button will active a sport mode that will allow for some slip, but will also engage the stability control program if a more severe loss of traction is detected. Push and hold the button and DSC will shut off completely, which is ideal for track driving where you often need to use the car’s power to get out of a corner.

At the limits of adhesion it’s actually quite easy to tell the difference between the two settings, as a complete loss of control in the sport model will render the throttle useless.

With DSC off, another program is switched on to assist in performance driving. Called Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC) this system uses the car’s stability control program to engage the brakes on the inside tire when cornering, essentially acting like limited slip differential but without the added mechanical weight.

It does work, although we really do wish MINI could find a way to have the system constantly active. All JCW models are desperately (desperately!) in need of an LSD.

Apart from that flaw, the MINI JCW Convertible combines impressive performance and is an absolute hoot to drive.

PERFORMANCE ASIDE, THE CAR HAS NUMEROUS DRAWBACKS

As for the rest of the car, well, we can’t say as much. While the JCW version of the MINI Convertible takes all the car’s best traits and then pumps them up on steroids, little to nothing has been done to the rest of the car.

We still aren’t overly fond of the vehicle’s look, although we can see why some folks would be. It’s excessively cute, although the hood scoop, blacked out grille, larger 17-inch wheels with the big red brake calipers shining out from behind the mesh spokes, do help a little.

Inside it’s so ugly it wouldn’t get a date to prom and the toggle switches may look cool but are as user-friendly as helicopter controls. And why, oh why, is the dial closest to the audio system not the one that controls the volume?

On top of this, we noted that the weather striping around the passenger side door had already come loose on our tester, preventing the door from closing properly.

Put these factors aside and what might be the biggest affront is that at the already lofty asking price you have to pay $1,500 extra for leather.

What you do get as standard equipment is a leather tilt and telescopic steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, remote keyless entry and power locks, as well as power windows with one-touch up and down, push-button ignition, stainless steel pedals and an info computer. There’s also MINI’s new Openometer, which measures the amount of time you’ve spent driving with the top down. Unfortunately, during our test it was either pouring rain or so unseasonably cold we only managed an hour total. We did get slightly more use from the retractable roof – an innovative feature we particularly like.

Standard safety equipment includes 4 airbags (driver and passenger front and side), which is all you need because human beings can’t fit in the rear seat area. All MINI convertible models also get a new hidden rollover bar that pops up when necessary. There’s ABS, and EBD attached to a set of oversized brakes and, as already discussed, traction and stability control programs that make the car a real scream when you shut them off.

Cargo room, like the rear seat area, is also a complete joke.

Our tester tacked on several thousand in goodies, including a $750 Harmon Kardon audio upgrade that really sounded quite awful at higher volumes. Add all this up and the total retail price came to $39,050 ($48,350 CAD) – which is almost enough to get you a BMW 335i – not that you’d ever buy one of those without thousands in options either though.

THE VERDICT

We really do love what the MINI Cooper Convertible JCW has to offer, with an incredibly unique driving experience that’s as raw as they come these days. Still, at a $5,000 premium over the coupe it’s a tough sell and we’re sure MINI has a tough time selling them. For the price, we’d suggest the coupe, and spend the extra 5 Gs on a set of R Compound tires and some track time.

We honestly can’t recall a car we found so much at fault with, but loved so much.

RELATED READING

2009 MINI Cooper S Convertible
2009 MINI Cooper Convertible Review
2009 MINI Cooper JCW

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