Long may summer last, and top-down driving is the ideal way to enjoy it.
Confession time. I have always been a sucker for a convertible. When the temperature goes up, it’s great to be able to put the top down. On a country road in mid-summer, the smiling driver is usually the one with no roof overhead, enjoying the liberating gap between the driving seat and the fluffy white cumulonimbus above in a bright blue sky.
I have loved convertibles for as long as I can remember. Being a drop-top fan used to come with some inconvenient handicaps, though. Such as worrying that the sun would go in before you’d managed to lower the complex roof assembly. Then scouring the road in front for an overhead bridge to stop under when rain clouds suddenly threatened.
Either that or you knew you’d be soaked by the time you finished wrestling with the unwilling metal bars and canvas that an old-style convertible’s roof used to comprise.
Then, hallelujah, the electrically operated soft-top hood was devised. A wonderful development, except that early ones were still painfully slow to complete the shutting process, and you knew you’d probably be drenched before the finish. Plus the need to awkwardly engage and secure the fat metal latches that held the front of the roof to the top of the windscreen.
So a big hooray for modern convertible hoods, that motor open or shut again with a speed and convenience unimagined when today’s classics were new cars. Take this modern MINI for example. Its beautifully tailored, tightly fitting hood motors either down or up in 18 seconds. When sealed, it is utterly watertight and weatherproof, which is not something that could be said of the convertibles of my youth.
The old pram-style bulge of the folded hood that used to be a distinguishing feature of older convertibles is long gone too. This hood concertinas back into a gulley behind the rear seats, where it does protrude just a little, but not much, so it is almost a flat-deck look with the roof down.
With the top lowered, you have to wonder what would happen in an accident extreme enough to roll the car, with apparently no roll-over bar to protect the occupants. Ah, but there is one. It only rises into protective position, instantly and automatically, if sensors built into the car detect the imminent risk of a roll-over.
Spirit of John Cooper
Our test car is near the pinnacle of the MINI Convertible range: the John Cooper Works version. It takes its name from the brilliant engineer who was a racing car legend with a particular talent for making original Minis go very fast. His tuning company, John Cooper Works, was eventually taken over by modern MINI manufacturer BMW.
As befits the badges, the JCW Convertible is rapid with sports car performance, including a 0-62 acceleration time of around six and a half seconds. It has the same two-litre petrol engine as a MINI Cooper S Convertible, but using aggressive turbocharging to extract a lot more power. It boasts 228 bhp compared with 190 bhp for an already-quick Cooper S.
MINIs are known for their go-kart handling, and it’s evident in the Convertible, although in a slightly diluted form. Body integrity isn’t as taut as it is in the hatch model, and the drop-top doesn’t have quite the same poise, while ride quality is a bit on the firm side for some. It still feels agile and fun-to-drive, though, and has a glamour unmatched by anything else in the MINI range.
A good thing about this sports car performance MINI Convertible is that it’s a four-seater. Well, just about. Candidly, room in the back is pretty cramped, although small kids probably wouldn’t mind being shoehorned in there. Most owners would probably use the rear seats as a shelf for any bags you want to have with you in the car – especially as the boot is rather meagre at 215 litres, and shrinks to 160 litres when the roof goes down!
MINI JCW Convertible Stats Review
Model tested: John Cooper Works Convertible manual
Top speed: 150 mph
0-62 mph: 6.6 secs
Economy: 43.5 mpg
CO2: 152 g/km
All Images: Sue Baker