There are two ways to make a summer sports car. There’s the Mini way which is to take a two door coupe and chop the roof off. Or there’s the Mazda way which is to start from the ground up with a convertible design and then add the hard top later on. But of the two, which way is better?
Engine – Between the two, the 2022 Mini JCW Cooper has the more powerful engine. It is a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 228 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque (170 kW & 319 Nm). The 2021 Mazda MX-5 is powered by a 2.0L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder that has to make due with 181 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque (135 kW & 205 Nm). The Mini has low-end torque from the turbocharged engine while the Mazda likes to be revved because that’s where all the power is. Interestingly, the Mazda MX-5 has a faster 0-100 km/h time. It can complete the sprint in just under 6 seconds while the Mini JCW Convertible takes just over 6 seconds. This is partially down to the RWD vs FWD layout of the cars but mainly due to the weight of both cars. The Mazda MX-5 Miata tips the scales at 1,066 kg (2,350 lbs) with the 6-speed manual transmission while the Mini Convertible weighs 1,415 kg (3,119 lbs). But over a long distance – say a quarter mile – the Mini would begin to catch up and overtake the Mazda.
As for fuel economy, the 2021 Mazda MX-5 GS-P with the manual transmission can achieve 9.0 L/100km (26.1 MPG) in a city and 7.0 L/100km (33.6 MPG) on a highway. The 2022 Mini John Cooper Works Convertible is not far off, however, as it is rated for 9.4 L/100km (25 MPG) in a city and 7.1 L/100km (33.1 MPG) on a highway.
Transmission – The MX-5 is available with both a 6-speed manual and a 6-speed automatic. The Mini JCW Convertible is only available with an 8-speed automatic. If you want a 6-speed manual, you have to opt for the hardtop JCW. But the 8-speed auto in the Mini Convertible is still a fantastic transmission. Smooth when you’re just traveling around town and responsive when you want to have fun.
The 6-speed manual in the Mazda is the best manual on sale today. You can quote me on that. The clutch is light but it has enough feedback to let you know when it bites. The shifter always goes into the correct gear and has a satisfying mechanical feeling to it that is missing on other manual transmissions, of which there aren’t that many left.
Braking – Both vehicles come equipped with Brembo brake calipers on the front axle. Optional on the Mazda, standard on the JCW Mini. Brake pedal feel is excellent in both cars with very little effort needed when driving on city streets. But both can stop on a dime when you’re on a winding road or on a racetrack. The MX-5 feels like it can stop a tiny bit quicker thanks to its lightweight but the Mini is not far off.
Handling – It’s no secret that most driving enthusiasts prefer a RWD platform to a FWD platform. The Mazda MX-5 is a sports car through & through. The steering response is quick and direct. It provides excellent feedback as to what the front tires are doing. The MX-5 responds well to smooth inputs from the driver but can be a hooligan’s dream toy when you’re being more aggressive. As in, it will easily drift around corners and it’s relatively easy to control. The MX-5 feels playful on winding roads, like a small lap dog with an abundance of energy.
By contrast, the 2022 Mini Cooper JCW feels like it wants to achieve the best lap time around a race track or autocross course. Just like in the Mazda, the steering is quick and precise but because the wheels have more to do, you can feel a bit of torque steer under hard acceleration. The steering also has a bit more heft to it than in the Mazda MX-5. Turn on the Dynamic traction & stability control and the computer will brake the rear wheels individually upon corner entry to try to rotate the car more. The Mini is easier to drive closer to its limits but the Mazda is more fun closer to its limits.
Ride Comfort – This particular Mazda MX-5 is the GS-P (Club trim in USA) which comes equipped with Bilstein shocks. These shocks allow for a bit of body roll as the weight transfers from one side to another but they resist bumps on the road quite aggressively. It’s not an unbearable ride but you’ll want to avoid manhole covers and bigger potholes. By comparison the 2022 Mini JCW is a bit more forgiving over bumps on city streets when in the Green or Mid (Normal) drive modes. This particular JCW Mini Cooper came equipped with adaptive dampers which change stiffness spending on the drive mode. In Sport mode, the ride is almost unbearable on city streets. This mode is best reserved for smooth mountain roads or race tracks.
Interior Space – Bad news first, I can’t comfortably fit in the Mazda MX-5. At 6’4”, my knees hit the dashboard every time I apply the brakes, leaving a small bruise after a couple of days that doesn’t really go away so long as I keep driving the car. Headroom though is good with or without the convertible top.
Good news is that the Mini Cooper Convertible offers more space for tall adults. My knees have plenty of space as does my head; again, both top up and down. The Mini also has rear seats but legroom is non-existent in them.
As for storage, Mazda’s engineers had to be clever with cabin storage due to the car’s small dimensions. The glove box is actually between the seats and the center console is big enough for maybe a small wallet and some change. It does have clever cup holders that can change placement to either next to the passenger’s knee or between the occupants. Trunk space in the MX-5 soft-top is 130 L (4.59 cu-ft). The JCW Mini has a more traditional cabin for storage with a proper glove box, cup holders in front of the shifter, and small item storage in the small center console and the door panels. The trunk offers 170 L (6 cu-ft) of cargo capacity but the roof eats up some of it when it’s folded. You can make loading the trunk a bit easier with two latches on either side of the roof that will raise it a bit to have a bigger trunk opening.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – Both vehicles have their fair share of wind noise. It’s hard to say which one is worse than the other but in the Mini, you get a bit of exhaust note mixed in with the wind noise. The JCW receives a sports exhaust system that makes some pretty nice pops and crackles under full throttle applications. You can also hear the turbocharger spool up with the top down. The Mazda MX-5 makes a bit of induction noise but it’s not as pleasing to the ears.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – The 2021 Mazda MX-5 GS-P starts at $37,200 CAD ($30,290 USD) and this demo vehicle is equipped with the Sport Package which adds the Brembo brakes, black alloy wheels, and Recaro seats. The as tested price is $43,650 CAD ($35,255 USD). Ironically, the 2022 Mini John Cooper Works Convertible has a starting price of where this MX-5 ends; $43,640 CAD ($38,900 USD). But this is not a standard JCW Mini and as such it has quite a few options on it. The total as tested price is $56,530 CAD ($45,650 USD).
Between the two cars, the Mini is available with more features but of course, at a higher price point. The Mazda MX-5 GS-P is equipped with heated seats, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto, blind spot sensors, backup camera, Bluetooth, A/C, power windows, keyless entry & push button start. Basically all you would ever need. This demo vehicle also came equipped with the Sport package which adds the Brembo brakes and Recaro sport seats – which are very comfortable by the way.
The Mini Cooper JCW does not come as well equipped in base form. You have to add the Premier+ package for $7,300 CAD in order to get a lot of the same features and then some. In the United States, there’s the Signature & Iconic trim levels to choose from. As for features, the JCW Mini Cooper Convertible comes equipped with navigation, an 8.8” touchscreen, backup camera, parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, forward collision alert, head-up display, wireless phone charging, heated seats, heated steering wheel, power operated roof, Apple CarPlay (but no Android Auto), and automatic climate control to name but a few.
Interior Design – The MX-5’s interior hasn’t seen any significant changes since this current generation was introduced in 2016. It has a minimalistic design that doesn’t distract from the job of driving. All the controls are either physical buttons or knobs with the touchscreen only operating while stopped. While on the move, you have to use the rotary knob on the center console to control the infotainment. Speaking of which, the MX-5 has not received the updated Mazda infotainment of the current Mazda 3. As for the roof, it’s a manual folding top but it can be quickly taken up or down in about 5 seconds. With the top up, over-the-shoulder visibility is hampered a bit but the MX-5 is equipped with blind spot sensors as standard. With the top down, visibility is excellent.
In the Mini Cooper, the interior has a bit more “flashiness”. It has the big, round center dash ring that is reminiscent of the classic Mini. Back then it used to be a speedometer but now it houses the touchscreen & a few quick access media controls. The driver display is one unit that moves with the steering column but under direct sunlight at certain angles, it can be difficult to see due to the glare. The rest of the cabin looks nice and has a premium feel. I also like the toggle switches under the climate controls and on top of the windshield. As for the roof, it is power operated and has two positions. One pull of the switch retracts a portion of the roof so that you have a sunroof. Pull on the toggle switch again and the roof folds in the back. However, when it is in the down position, it blocks about half of the rearward visibility so that all you see is the roofs of SUVs; never mind cars. Outward shoulder visibility with the roof up is better than that of the Mazda.
Exterior Design – The Mini JCW Convertible got a bit of a refresh for the 2022 model year with a new front fascia design and Union Jack tail lights. Overall, it is still instantly recognizable as a Mini Cooper but with the refreshed styling, it looks a bit more sporty.
The Mazda MX-5 has remained the same since 2016 with no changes to the styling. With this 4th generation, Mazda tried to make it a bit more masculine with angry looking headlights and sharp lines in the front bumper. The side and rear though have smoother flowing lines with the rear taillights mimicking the center mounted air vents on the inside. Overall, I like the design and to me, it doesn’t look like it’s a “girls car”.
Warranty – Mini vehicles are covered by a 4 year / 80,000 km new vehicle and powertrain warranty with a 12 year rust perforation warranty. For more information on Canadian warranty, click here. For USA Warranty information, click here.
Mazda, on the other hand, offers a very unique auto industry warranty. The MX-5 is covered by a 3 year / unlimited km basic warranty and a 5 year / unlimited powertrain warranty. Unfortunately this unlimited km warranty is not available in the United States. In the U.S.A, the warranty is more “normal” at 3 year / 36,000 mile basic & 5 year / 60,000 mile powertrain warranties. For more info on Canadian warranty, click here. For more info on U.S.A. warranty, click here.
So which one is the better summer sports car? The 2021 Mazda MX-5 feels much more like a driver’s car. It has sharp steering and paired with its lightweight chassis, it’s a blast to drive on twisty roads. Predictably, the 2022 Mini John Cooper Works Convertible is much more practical. It still is a sporty & fun car to drive but just not quite as sharp as the Mazda. But for everyday practicality and a fun-to-drive nature, the Mini is overall the more logical choice.
Thank you to Mazda Canada for providing the MX-5. www.Mazda.ca
Thank you to Mini Canada for providing the Cooper Convertible. www.Mini.ca