Al fresco driv­ing fails to im­prove the flavour

Motor (Australia) - - FIRST FANG - by DANIEL DEGASPERI

Al­fresco take on Mini's hottest hatch to date could be the pick

EN­GINE 1998cc 4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbo / POWER 170kW @ 5200-6000rpm / TORQUE 320Nm @ 1250-4800rpm / WEIGHT 1320kg / 0-100KM/H 6.5sec (claimed) / PRICE $54,990

PICK­ING a favourite Mini is usu­ally an open and shut case – just lock in the fastest and far­ti­est John Cooper Works ver­sion. Pref­er­enc­ing the bodystyle that opens and shuts its lid, how­ever, is a far tougher bid for driv­ing en­thu­si­asts.

The lat­est third-gen­er­a­tion JCW Con­vert­ible asks $5000 more than its JCW hard-top sib­ling, at $54,990 for ei­ther six-speed man­ual or au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. Yet it’s 105kg heav­ier, (now 1320kg) thanks to those cloth­cloaked oc­to­pus ten­ta­cles of steel and alu­minium crouch­ing over­head that can ac­ro­bat be­tween wind­screen and bootlid in 18 sec­onds.

While oc­cu­pants can then be­come wind-swept, 0-100km/h per­for­mance is less likely to sweep driv­ers off their feet – the JCW Con­vert­ible auto be­comes four-tenths slower, with a 6.5-sec­ond claim, while the man­ual is now three-tenths slower at 6.6sec.

The up­rated 170kW/320Nm 2.0-litre turbo also loses its sprint ad­van­tage over the 141kW/280Nm Cooper S three-door that clocks triple dig­its in 6.7sec for $15,000 less.

This en­gine is also avail­able in the BMW 230i with 185kW and the Mini Club­man JCW with 350Nm, yet it’s wa­tered-down here. Although the crackly ex­hausts sound fruitier roof down and the trans­mis­sions are slick, the com­pany has clearly failed to note the Audi S1’s 370Nm.

The lat­est JCW has also suf­fered from in­creased re­fine­ment mea­sures that smother its per­son­al­ity. Where first- and sec­ond-gen JC-Dubs stood on their nose in bends, jig­gled man­boobs on lumpy sur­faces and darted edge­ways if be­yond a mil­lime­tre of steer­ing lock was ap­plied on cor­ner en­try thanks to a rack sharper than a samu­rai’s blade, the con­trast to the new one is vast.

Mini has fit­ted tour­ing Pirelli Cin­tu­rato P7 tyres to the JCW. The Cabrio un­der­steers ear­lier than it should, and yet at­tempt­ing to bal­ance it com­ing off the throt­tle re­veals a stead­fastly solid chas­sis that strug­gles to play be­tween its axles.

At medium pace the steer­ing is de­cently weighted and smoothly pro­gres­sive, but the darti­ness that made a Mini a Mini has gone. Load up the bul­bous-look­ing front end and lit­tle feed­back trick­les through.

The two-mode adap­tive sus­pen­sion pro­vides ex­cel­lent ride com­fort and tight body con­trol, par­tic­u­larly in Sport, and it doesn’t grind with the gas-axed body com­pared with pre­vi­ous ver­sions be­cause scut­tle shake is min­i­mal.

At least some of the JCW’s new­found ma­tu­rity ben­e­fits the Con­vert­ible in this way, and like­wise with the nicely fur­nished cabin and bol­stered seats. With a unique USP, the fastest open­top Mini could even be prefer­able to its sib­ling – although in ei­ther case the door has shut on any dis­tinct flavour for what has be­come a generic, brisk front driver.

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