2006 Mini Cooper S Convertible John Cooper Works Review
Habeñero Chili Mini
While the regular Mini Cooper is set to be replaced by an all-new 2007 model, the original drop-top version soldiers on for at least another year. It’s unlikely that anyone will complain, though, as customers continue to line up for both mild Cooper and spicy Cooper S flavors. For Mini shoppers looking for a little Habeñero kick, the dealer-installed John Cooper Works package ratchets power up to 207 horsepower and 180 pounds-feet of torque from the regular supercharged S engine’s 168 and 162 respectively. In a car this small, that’s quite a lot of thrust, which makes the Mini Convertible even more deliriously fun.
The added power simply explodes past 3000 rpm and is attained mostly by increasing the stock supercharger’s boost from 11.6 psi to 14.0, and upgrading the exhaust system to reduce back pressure. This equals an engine and exhaust that is far smoother and more free-flowing than the gruff and somewhat unrefined character of the regular Cooper S. This power is put to the pavement by the same wonderfully direct and mechanical 6-speed gearbox featured on the S. Upgraded sport brakes and a limited slip differential are also included in the $6,500 JCW package.
The rest of the car is practically identical to the Cooper S Convertible. The handling is still giddiness causing, with tight steering that recalls fond memories of childhood go-karts—albeit one with 207 horsepower. The Mini is so small and agile that zinging through canyon roads at 50 mph is not only easy, but seems kind of slow. Looking down at the apple pie-sized central speedometer provides the only indication of how fast you’re zipping through long winding curves and sharp corners.
Our Chili Red tester came with the sport package that adds xenon headlights, dynamic stability control and 17” alloy wheels. In the hard-top Cooper, these larger wheels can make the ride sciatica-inducing, particularly on Los Angeles’ uneven and pock-marked freeways. The ride is still rough in the convertible, but it seemed that the lost stiffness caused by lopping off the roof actually made the ride a little more forgiving.
Despite the eye-watering price of $35,300 (it was ten grand more than our 2004 Cooper S test car), our tester was missing the premium package that adds automatic climate control, steering wheel buttons and a trip computer. The grey cloth seats also stained easily (not that we were dumping coffee on them to find out), and the jury is still out on the accompanying checkered floor mats. Stick with the optional leather, red cloth or standard leatherette. Everything else inside is classic Mini quirkiness, with exterior-matching red panels, chrome toggle switches and cue-ball-sized shift knob. It looks wonderful and it drips with enough character to make you forget about its many ergonomic foibles and rattles that outnumber those found in Babies “R” Us.
As for the convertible roof, it’s a near-miracle of engineering considering this car is derived from a hatchback. The unique sunroof function slides half of the roof back, keeping the interior cooler and your skin less burnt, while still giving the illusion of top-down motoring. With the top completely down, the Cooper challenges the Mazda MX-5 Miata for topless small car fun—in fact, you could consider it a roadster with an emergency back seat. The roof, whether up or down, does cause problems when driving and parking. Even with the canvas top neatly stacked atop the tiny trunk (only 5 cubic feet), visibility is extremely poor, requiring rear parking assist to be standard equipment. With the top up, the C-pillar blind spot is enormous and there’s really no point in looking over your shoulder when changing lanes, since you couldn’t see anything any way.
Although undeniably fun, the JCW package’s staggering price is a little hard to swallow considering the base S is by no means slow. Skipping it is perfectly acceptable, because regardless of engine flavor, the Cooper Convertible provides enough zest to spice up any garage.
Warranty/Service: 4-year/48,000-mile basic warranty; 4-year/48,000-mile powertrain warranty; 12-year/unlimited-mile rust protection.