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The 2022 Mini John Cooper Works.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Ten years ago, they were coveted by college students everywhere, but Mini’s cars, and indeed small cars in general, have fallen out of fashion.

To breathe new life into the famous 62-year-old British marque, Mini’s plan is to lean into electrification, becoming the first BMW Group brand to go fully electric.

Mini’s last new gas-powered car will arrive in 2025, and early in the next decade, every Mini will be all-electric, according to a recent statement by Oliver Zipse, chairman of the board of management at BMW AG. Mini’s only current electric vehicle – the Cooper SE – is, arguably, the best car in the lineup and also the one that feels most true to the classic Mini.

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In Canada, the brand’s sales peaked in 2017 and, as of 2019, had fallen by 16 per cent to 5,978 vehicles. Last year, pandemic-era sales dropped a further 26.8 per cent, underperforming against an overall 20 per cent drop in the market. In the United States, Mini’s sales decline is even worse. If there’s one bit of good news for the company, it’s that its old rival, Fiat, is practically an endangered species, having sold just 228 vehicles in Canada last year.

“Our product lineup doesn’t necessarily cater to the growing popularity of the SUV,” says Patrick Lalewicz, product manager for Mini Canada. The company is well aware of the issue, he added, saying buyers can expect to see some larger vehicles in new segments that appeal to a wider audience – in addition to the upcoming electric models. So Mini is hedging its bet on electric city cars with bigger, crowd-pleasing vehicles.

As is the case with the bold electrification plans of most automakers, details on Mini’s transformation are scarce. Rumour has it the next-generation Mini will shrink in size and finally be worthy of the Mini name. With the electric BMW i3 fading into history, a next-generation electric Mini Cooper could pick up where the i3 left off.

The company confirmed there will be an all-electric successor to the Mini Countryman SUV in the coming years, and we’re hoping to see a chunky little microvan like last year’s electric Urbanaut concept vehicle, too.

Until Mini’s exciting electric future arrives, however, the brand appears to be treading water, staying afloat by releasing only refreshed models and special editions that appeal to the remaining Mini faithful. Last year, for example, there was the frighteningly loud and absurdly fun John Cooper Works GP, a pocket-sized race car for the road. This year, much of the brand’s lineup is getting upgraded infotainment systems and new interior trim, but the fact remains the Mini Cooper in showrooms today is largely the same as the one that made its debut in 2013.

The JCW comes in flashy new colours, like Zesty Yellow.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

By this point, it should be clear that the refreshed 2022 Mini John Cooper Works (JCW) convertible under review is not going to dramatically improve Mini’s fortunes. The updated drop-top is meant to tempt Mini’s most loyal and enthusiastic customers back into showrooms this summer. To that end, the JCW comes in flashy new colours – like Zesty Yellow, seen here – which Mini customers tend to prefer over the more sombre hues frequently chosen by BMW drivers, Lalewicz says.

The exhaust fizzles and crackles, like the sound in your head when you eat Pop Rocks candy. Put pedal to metal and the front tires scramble for grip. The traction control light appears to blink Morse-code for “mercy.” A rush of air fills the open cabin, you look down at the speedo and – you’re not even doing the speed limit. With only 228 horsepower, it’s a refreshing change of pace compared to the wildly overpowered sports cars that are the norm these days.

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There’s an all-around softness to the JCW. New adaptive dampers for 2022 are said to offer up a more comfortable ride, and they are indeed plush over potholes compared with the rock-hard, razor-sharp Minis of old. The steering feels mushy, with a delay from when you turn the wheel to when the car reacts. The eight-speed automatic transmission is similarly unhurried; a six-speed manual is available on the JCW hard top, or the less expensive Cooper S convertible, but not this JCW convertible.

It may look and sound like a mean little machine, but in truth this new JCW is a comfortable, mildly entertaining cruiser, which is surely what Mini convertible fans are looking for. And, yes, you’ve got to be a serious superfan to fork over $43,000 for this thing. If you’re not already a brand loyalist, the minor updates to the new Cooper models aren’t going to win you over, but check back in a couple of years, when the bigger new models and smaller electric city cars start to materialize.

Tech specs

2022 Mini John Cooper Works Convertible

Base price/as tested: $43,640/$56,530

Engine: 2.0-litre turbo inline four

Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic/front-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 kilometres): 9.4 city/7.1 highway

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Alternatives: Mazda MX-5, Fiat 124 Spider, Ford Mustang convertible, Chevrolet Camaro convertible, BMW 2 Series Cabriolet

Looks

Same as ever. New wheels and subtly redesigned bumpers will only be noticed by diehard fans.

Interior

Plan to carry either cargo or rear-seat passengers, not both.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

It’s spacious for a car called Mini. The new steering wheel design and cabin materials feel good, but they’d better be for the price. I managed to wedge myself into the rear seats, but it’s tight.

Performance

The four-cylinder turbo motor makes 228 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, getting the car from zero to 100 kilometres an hour in 6.5 seconds. It feels quicker than it really is. The less expensive, less powerful Cooper S with a six-speed manual would likely be more fun to drive.

Technology

The 8.8-inch touch screen is sharp and fast to respond. Advanced driver-assist systems, heated seats and other quality-of-life tech features are unfortunately part of the expensive $7,300 premier-plus trim package, which brings the price into “Wait, how much?” territory.

The 8.8-inch touch screen is sharp and fast to respond.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Cargo

With the top-down, the trunk is more like an airplane’s overhead bin. Plan to carry either cargo or rear-seat passengers, not both. But it’s better than small convertibles from Mazda and Fiat, which don’t have rear seats at all.

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Verdict

All bark, no bite, but a fun summer convertible to drive while waiting for Mini’s electric future to arrive.

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

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