Small but perfectly formed

<strong>THE FACTS:</strong><br />MINI JCW CONVERTIBLE<br />6-SPEED<br />MANUAL<br /><br /><strong>PRICE:</strong> &pound;23,470<br /><strong>0-62MPH:</strong> 6.9secs<br /><strong>TOP SPEED:</strong> 146mph (limited)<br /><strong>CO2 G/KM:</strong> 169g/km<br /><strong>MPG COMBINED: </strong>39.8<br /><br />THE Met office came in for flak last week after admitting its forecast for a &ldquo;barbecue summer&rdquo; was just a little wide of the mark. Darn that jet stream. <br /><br />Well, I&rsquo;ve come to learn during my road-testing years that waiting for the summer months to test convertibles is no guarantee of good weather &ndash; you&rsquo;re as likely to get wet as at any other time. <br /><br />So it came as no surprise when a phone call from BMW to confirm the delivery of this car included the following words: &ldquo;With this convertible comes a change in weather &ndash; the heatwave has come to an end&rdquo;.<br /><br />But who am I to complain? The UK is the number one market for convertibles in Europe, despite the fact that we have the most unreliable weather. But we go out in it, regardless, stoic to a fault. And so that was the spirit in which I went out in this pedigree Mini.<br /><br />I drove the hardtop John Cooper Works Mini a few months ago and couldn&rsquo;t get enough of it. It is such a great drive for steering, handling, performance, grip and fuel consumption. I gave the car back having covered much of the south of England in a week on the same tank and without any sign of the fuel light coming on. Does it get any better than that?<br /><br />This latest convertible weighs slightly less than the older model, but unsurprisingly more than the hatchback given this car&rsquo;s roof and all the hardware it involves. But the supercharged 1.6 litre engine is so punchy with its new, larger turbo, increasing power from 173bhp at Cooper S level to 211bhp here. It&rsquo;s also five seconds faster than the Cooper S on the 0-62mph sprint &ndash; using all that torque to get there is pure fun.<br /><br /><strong>VERY INVOLVED</strong><br />There is so much grip that you feel supremely confident that the car will cope with everything you throw at it, as if it&rsquo;s velcroed to the road. The steering is really well weighted, offering lots of feedback, and because this is a small car and you sit so close to its four wheels, it offers a very involved drive. There&rsquo;s also some slightly stiffer suspension with this car, which enhances the Mini&rsquo;s overall dynamics. On top of all this, it sounds fantastic, popping and banging as you go through the smooth-as-anything gearbox, with a good throaty exhaust note. <br /><br />Rear visibility has improved &ndash; it really wasn&rsquo;t all that good in the last version, so BMW has sunk the roll bars which now sit a fair way lower and only come up in a roll situation. There was a little scuttle-shake &ndash; this is where the roof and its components vibrate due to the car&rsquo;s structural rigidity &ndash; but nothing too bothersome that it became irritating.<br /><br />It seems the most popular Minis are always the red and yellow ones, though I&rsquo;m not such a fan myself. Nevertheless, it looks good, and air-intakes, spoilers, bonnet stripes &ndash; and anything else that can be lobbed on it for added kudos &ndash; has been.<br /><br />All of this comes at a price though &ndash; this may be a very confident and sporty car, but it&rsquo;s too costly. Knock three grand off it and I&rsquo;d say it would be about right.