One of the most stylish convertibles around is the cheeky MINI drop top. June Neary tries it for size.
Will It Suit Me?
Let's face it, I don't have a large family to cart about daily. My other half isn't even that big, so I don't really need a car with a whole lot of seats. Therefore something MINI-sized would suit me nicely and I'm a sucker for anything with a soft top. Once the MINI Convertible arrived at the office, I made sure I intercepted the driver, signed the forms and then surreptitiously sneaked the car to the end of the car park behind a Renault Master van. There was no way the boss was going to pull rank on me with this one, especially as it was Friday and the weather forecast for the weekend was uncharacteristically promising. Time to work on that tan.
Let's not get too hung up on the practicalities. This car is all about fun. The roof itself is a fully automatic fabric affair, MINI wisely choosing to reject the far more complex folding hard top fashion. Opting for this more complex engineering solution would not only have ruined the MINI's shape but also severely impinged on its luggage space. As it stands, the MINI retains a characteristic profile with the roof in place yet looks appealingly cheeky with the hood down.
Press a button once and the roof slides back by 40cm, creating a sunroof effect. Press it again and the hood retracts fully, folding down behind the rear seats. Clever use of space means the luggage capacity of this MK3 model car is considerably improved - 215-litres with the roof closed and 160-litres with it folded down. This allows for up to three typical airline cabin cases, so everyday practicality is much improved. That's enough for a couple of squashy bags but if you're planning a week away, you're going to need to pack light, pack cheap or else, schedule a trip to the Laundromat.
Behind the Wheel
The first thing that I would say about driving the MINI is that it is not a reproduction of Alec Issigonis's original dream, but more a synthetic repackaging. Unfortunately, the word synthetic fits pretty well - what at first looks like aluminium is in fact rather thin plastic. Still, these things are cosmetic - I could learn to live with them.
MINI claim their Convertible offers the same go-kart style handling as the hatch and this is testament to thorough bracing. Weight has crept up and as a result acceleration is a little blunted compared to the hard top sibling but even the base petrol Cooper version will sprint to 62mph in a very reasonable 8.8 seconds. At speeds of up to 18mph, the fabric top can be lowered or raised in 18 seconds, so when the British weather does what it does, you'll not be left out in the rain for too long.
Value For Money
MINI motoring isn't especially cheap. The basic petrol MINI Cooper Convertible starts at around £18,500 for the manual version, the diesel costs from just over £20,000 and the top of the range John Cooper Works model from a little over £28,000. All variants are available in Manual and Automatic transmissions.
Safety kit includes ABS brakes with EBD Electronic Brake Force Distribution to maximise their effectiveness, CBC Cornering Brake Control and Brake Assist to help in an emergency stop. Twin front and side airbags are of course standard too, as is DSC Dynamic Stability Control to help you out on slippery roads or if you enter a corner too fast.
All Coopers come with air conditioning which also keeps the glovebox cool to stop your chocolate getting sticky, rear parking sensors, MP3 compatability for the stereo and alloy wheels. It's a pity though that the wind blocker that makes roof-down motoring at speed so much more relaxing resides on the options list. One option of dubious value is what MINI are calling their 'Openometer'. This, believe it or not, records the amount of time spent by the owner driving with the top down. I've given it a lot of thought and I'm still not sure why you'd ever want to know that...
Could I Live With One?
I think I could live with MINI's Convertible, even in a country where the sun shines as infrequently as Britain. It's not quite as sharp a driver's tool as its hard top siblings but that's a small sacrifice to pay.
This third generation MINI Cooper Convertible continues to look appealing. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
It's pretty hard to take exception to MINI's improved MK3 model Convertible. It delivers surprising space for passengers and luggage, a stylish roadway demeanour and a customisable fabric roof. This current version has been usefully updated in recent years with fresh technology, smart connectivity, standard-fit front and rear LED lights across the range, plus an advanced dual-clutch automatic gearbox. As before, buyers can pick three cylinder, four cylinder and JCW performance versions.
When BMW re-booted the MINI brand in 2001, it took three years to add a convertible to the range. Once on sale, four people could enjoy the open-air adventures MINI promised, although the rear passengers had a tight squeeze getting into the back. Things were improved in the second generation version we saw in 2009, but the space was still very limited. Still, this drop-top model sold well, stealing sales not only from small cabriolets aimed at Kings Road cruising, but also grabbing a few from more focused open-topped sportscars.
This third generation convertible model, launched in 2016, grew in every dimension and MINI managed to do this without ruining this car's charm. Plus there are some innovative options over and above some high-tech standard equipment.
The Convertible MINI has a slightly different remit from the hatchback - being all about style - but the fact that it invokes the Cooper name across all variants hints at the potential for driving thrills. The base 136hp MINI Cooper Convertible will accelerate from 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds and hit 129mph. There's also a pokier 192hp Cooper S petrol version and a flagship 231hp John Cooper Works derivative. High performance though, hardly seems relevant in a four seat soft-top: what is important is the operation of the newly-designed roof. At speeds of up to 18mph, this fabric top can be lowered or raised in 18 seconds, so when the British weather does what it does, you'll not be left out in the rain for too long. If you just want to open the small portion over the front seats, it can slide back 40cm, automatically, at any speed.
In the current range we're looking at here, nothing's fundamentally changed engine-wise, though MINI says that minor changes have been made in recent years to its TwinPower Turbo Technology across the board, improving engine electronics, oil supply, intake air ducting, the cooling set-up and the exhaust system. Perhaps most significant though is the news that the brand has at last got around to fitting in a proper dual-clutch auto gearbox for those wanting a self-shifter, this now a 7-speed unit.
Design and Build
The styling of this revised MK3 model doesn't look all that different, but close inspection will reveal a range of subtle updates. The front-view is dominated by a larger radiator grille with a black, hexagonal surround, flanked by the hallmark round MINI headlights. The position lights have been replaced by vertical air inlets to optimise aerodynamics and the central bumper strip is now in body colour, rather than black. The wheel arch has new contours, the side indicators have been redesigned to feature LED technology and at the back of the car, the fog light is now integrated into the rear apron as a narrow LED unit.
Otherwise, this third generation MINI Cooper Convertible retains the basic overall body shape that we all know and love, with each of its key dimensions just a little larger than those of its earlier pre-2016 MK2 model predecessor. This addresses the main criticisms of the older design in two key areas: the back seats and the boot. Rear passengers get more legroom, making access the second row easier.
When the folded fabric roof is down, it forms a wrap-around collar around the back seats, rather than disappearing completely. It encroaches slightly into the boot area but despite this, the luggage capacity is these days a reasonably acceptable 215-litres with the roof closed and 160-litres with it folded down. The roof is customisable and retracts in 18 seconds. Optional is a woven Union Flag option.
Interior updates include the standardisation of MINI's largest 8.8-inch centre touchscreen display and Piano Black high-gloss surfacing. Chrome elements have been significantly reduced throughout the interior with the two outer air outlets framed by black panels. The internal air vents have been completely redesigned and are now embedded to be flush with the interior surface. Plus the sports leather steering wheel has been redesigned and conventional analogue instrument dials have been replaced with a digital display.
Market and Model
As part of the BMW group, MINI has become a premium brand in the small car sector and as such can command a higher price than would be expected for a car that started life as a cheap and cheerful runabout. There's a choice of 'Classic', 'Sport' or 'Exclusive' trim levels. The basic petrol MINI Cooper Convertible starts at around £21,500 for the manual Cooper version, the Cooper S costs from just over £25,000 and the top of the range John Cooper Works model from around £30,000. All variants are available in Manual and Automatic transmissions
Strong competition comes from the much cheaper Fiat 500C or the more pricey Audi A3 Cabriolet and BMW 3 Series Convertible models. For its price, the MINI doesn't have the most impressive list of standard features but it does have parking sensors, reversing camera, Bluetooth and 'MINI Connected'. This is a system that integrates your MINI with your smartphone, for infotainment, communication and driving experience apps. An XL version of the Connected app is available as an option and among its enhanced features is a useful rain-warning sensor. Plus it can alert a driver who has left the car open-topped that rain is on its way.
Cost of Ownership
Like all new cars, this MINI has improved in this area. Let's get to the WLTP figures. The standard Cooper Convertible petrol model in manual form returns up to 47.9mpg on the combined cycle and up to 134g/km. The sporty Cooper S Convertible consumes a lot more, returning up to 43.5mpg and up to 148g/km. All of these figures would, at one time, have been considered exceptional for a car of the MINI's size, but they are equalled and bettered by the rivals from brands like Fiat. MINI's 'TLC Pack' is a five year/ 500,000 mile service package that costs around £350.
Good residual values can be expected, especially as this car addresses many of the problems of the old car and should remain a desirable option for many years. Expect the MINI Cooper Convertible mostly to fall into insurance groups 17-20, depending on the variant.
So, this third generation MINI Convertible looks great, is brilliantly designed, cheap to run and holds its value. It's even a bit more practical than you might be expecting. OK, you could perhaps complain about the premium pricing but in truth, there's not really much more than that to put off would-be Convertible purchasers who need a more involving drive than one of those hairdessers' cabriolets but don't want a sports roadster either.
This car has so much more street-cred than obvious rivals and is far-less gender-specific (all right, female-orientated), which will matter to male buyers nearly as much as the fact that it's huge fun to drive. A MINI adventure then, that could see you living happily ever after.