Last week was extremely bittersweet for me. On the bitter side of things, I was forced to part with my beloved (and problem-free!) 2005 Mini Cooper. Despite having brand new cars in my garage every single week, my own vehicle is part of my identity. It may have been slow as molasses and lacking the cool sound of greater Minis, but it was mine. Purely by chance, I had a rather interesting test car during the time I was dealing with taking all of my possessions out of my Mini. Complete with one of the longest names in the auto industry, I was driving the 2013 Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works Convertible. To add insult to injury, the John Cooper ragtop was painted a very similar shade of blue with identical black hood stripes as my little friend.
The colour (Kite Blue Metallic) is about where the similarities ended. The John Cooper Convertible comes ready to fight anybody who challenges its manhood or capabilities. Though small, it packs an alarming amount of punch; even moreso than the regular Cooper S. The performance exhaust lets out a throaty snarl that quite surprisingly, does not get annoying at highway speeds even with the convertible top open. My main complaint with these 4-cylinder “hot rods” is the amount of exhaust drone while cruising in top gear, but the presence of a sixth gear definitely helps. My former far-more-basic Mini was a 5-speed manual that enjoyed doing 3800-4000 rpm at highway speeds, so I enjoyed the presence of the additional gear.
Inside this Mini is a turbocharged 1.6L 4-cylinder that pumps out 208-horsepower and propels the little blue roller skate to 100 km/h in 6.9 seconds. It definitely feels quick, and sounds even quicker. The John Cooper Works package wakes up the 1.6L in ways I would have previously considered unimaginable. The car goes like a little rocketship. The 6-speed manual transmission is an absolute blast to row through; it’s one of my favourites on the market. Slightly shorter throws would help it surpass nearly every other shifter out there. Even though all Minis require premium fuel (yes, the gas cap on my regular 2005 1.6L indicated 91 octane), this quick little ragtop managed to return a very manageable 8L/100km in combined driving.
John Cooper’s legendary little car may have grown substantially over the years, but is still unmistakably a Mini both by looks and driving characteristics. Being a convertible, this little puppy feels a little bit floppier than even the most basic hardtop Coopers. Nonetheless, the handling is unmistakably Mini. It corners like its on rails, and therefore I’ll say that the hardtop version is definitely my favourite front-wheel-drive car on the market. Even on the ragtop, the steering is so predictable that it makes your head spin.
My tester came with a bunch of option boxes ticked off, taking the as-tested price to just under $50,000. That’s steep for a Mini, but it does come loaded to the gills. The Wired Package is $1,800 and includes gizmos such as navigation (via an awesome screen built right into the center of the speedometer), smartphone integration, and voice recognition. I guess I could live without it for a purist driving experience, but one of the reasons the Mini appeals to me is because it’s anything but Spartan. It has always come with toys; the panoramic two-pane sunroof on my dearly departed 2005 got compliments until the day it left me. In traditional Mini fashion, the speedometer is in the center of the dash, which is fine with me. However, there’s an utterly useless gauge on the pod above the steering wheel that actually counts the number of hours/minutes you’ve driven with the top down. Though unique in a gimmicky sort of way, I would much rather see a boost gauge in that location instead.
One of the main reasons Minis have been taking hell from long-term ownership reviews is the questionable reliability. From my personal experience, my car lasted because I took more care of it than the average customer. Mini asks you to change your oil once a year or every 24,000km. I changed the oil every 8,000km. I always used premium fuel, and synthetic oil. My car didn’t rust because I undercoated it; something everybody living in the rustbelt should take into consideration. Also, being a German vehicle, it’s important to note that yes, it will be a bit more expensive to get parts for than your grandmother’s Yaris.
The Mini Convertible doesn’t really have too many competitors in its class. I suppose the Fiat 500C Abarth counts, even though it isn’t as refined. Even though it’s rear-wheel-drive, I would count the BMW 128i Cabriolet as a serious competitor. It’s nowhere near as cool though, and doesn’t have the charm of the Mini. I’ve long since coined the theory that the true test for a press car is how upset the driver is when it’s time to turn over the keys at the end of the week. The John Cooper Works Convertible made me feel a little bit better about the fact that my Mini is never coming home with me again, but saying goodbye to the quick, loud little ragtop was almost just as hard. I think I need to stop grieving and buy another one.
2013 Mini Cooper S “John Cooper Works” Convertible Gallery