From £23,7808
If you like Minis, going quickly and basking in the sun, then you're in luck; we've driven Mini's new John Cooper Works Convertible on foreign roads

What is it?

Cooper. Now there's a name with some clout. Today, of course, it's more commonly associated with wicked-up Minis, but the heritage is strong here. Essentially, us Brits wouldn't be able to grin and swagger nearly as much at the mention of motorsport without Charles and John to thank.

But do you think either ever paused to consider - while sipping a brew in Surbiton, covered in oil and standing over a single-seater, I'd like to imagine - that one day in 2016 their family name would be affixed to the back of a £26,000, near-1400kg, roofless Mini with 228bhp and capable of 0-62mph in 6.6sec? Well, it is, and we'd wager they didn't.

Regardless, given the huge success of Mini's Convertible model in the UK and the general affection here for fast Minis, the business case is very much there. Our positive experience of Mini's latest JCW hatchback - and more recently its new Cooper Convertible - means that this JCW open-top has a good chance of making us smile too.

What's it like?

The JCW's more aggressively turbocharged version of the Cooper S's 2.0-litre petrol engine remains a strong point, displaying decent throttle response and plenty of low-down urgency before a linear wave of acceleration takes over. Right foot flat, the steering wheel will squirm over uneven asphalt, but torque steer is largely well contained. Our (likely best-selling) manual car's long - at times stiff - shift, though, wasn't the most welcoming. 

That said, in Sport mode, the most aggressive of the JCW's three driving modes, you're encouraged to leave longer between shifts, such is the addictiveness of the JCW's bassy howl and the overrun crackle emitted from its model-specific sports pipe. In truth, it feels a little faster than its sprint time suggests.

And it's in Sport mode that the car's throttle is at its most responsive, the steering at its weightiest and our car's optional £375 adaptive dampers at their stiffest. The JCW's steering remains just a touch vague off centre and fairly aggressive in speed and weight just beyond, which together with its tidy body control and good front-end bite delivers trademark Mini agility. Of course, push its nose very hard into bends and the front wheels will gradually squeal and give up by sliding wide slightly sooner than would the JCW hatch's. Lean too hard on its sometimes inconsistent brakes, though, and the Convertible's rear axle will move about in a similar fashion. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the JCW Convertible's ride isn't the most forgiving, at least on our car's larger 18in alloys (a £140 option) with run-flats fitted. Even dialled back in the softer Mid and Green modes it's firm, although never outright uncontrolled, but switching to Sport gives the Convertible's inevitably less rigid body the biggest workout, felt most prominently as vibration through the steering column. Still, relatively speaking, this sportiest of Mini Convertibles is better than both its predecessor and its closest rivals in this respect.

Aside from the column judder, roof down (which takes 18sec at up to around 20mph) the front two occupants are well protected, especially if you're using Mini's optional (£235) wind deflector which, incidentally, renders the rear seats unusable for sitting in. Still, two adults will find it a real squeeze back there, so the back seats are best left for children or bags. The Mini's boot accepts 160 litres with the roof down, which is good enough for two or three soft weekend bags, although there's room for another bag in the 215 litres that are available with the roof up and the divider raised.

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The JCW's sports seats provide good adjustment but not quite as much support as you may imagine, although together with its generous steering wheel adjustment most drivers will settle on a positive position. Quality is typical Mini, which is to say there's the odd scratchy surface, but on the whole, the dashboard is solid with enough in the way of gloss and chrome accents to feel genuinely special. Our test car's £1400 BMW iDrive-based 8.8in-screen Media XL infotainment system remains one of the best money can buy. 

Should I buy one?

Mini's John Cooper Works Convertible is by no means the ultimate driver's car, but we'd assume that those buying it won't live or die by that - as those investigating Mini's JCW hatch might well do. In any case, viewed against likely rivals such as the open-top Abarth 595 and DS 3 Performance, the JCW is admittedly a lot more expensive but also both a better drive and a proper convertible.

Yet we can't help but feel that Mini's Cooper S Convertible will fulfil much of what the JCW is trying to do for less money. Sure, it doesn't sound quite as purposeful at full chat, but it accelerates, stops, turns and goes about its business as a convertible with similar aplomb. For many, the prowess of the JCW badge will be enough, but those with an eye on their budget will probably find better value there. 

Mini John Cooper Works Convertible manual

Location: Italy; On sale: Now; Price £26,630; Engine 4 cyls, 1998cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 228bhp at 5200-6000rpm; Torque 236lb ft at 1250-4800rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1385kg; Top speed 150mph; 0-62mph 6.6sec; Economy 43.5mpg; CO2 rating & BIK tax band 152g/km, 27%

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