It’s the only premium convertible in the small car segment, says BMW, which owns MINI, designs the new models in Munich but still builds them in Oxfordshire. And it’s truly hard to think of any direct rivals. Volkswagen Beetle or DS3 Cabrio or, at a longer stretch, the Golf or Mazda MX-5?
Now, there’s an all-new MINI Convertible that promises both to excite existing owners and be better placed to attract newcomers to the MINI fold. We went to Los Angeles to try it out.
The third generation of BMW’s MINI has been available as a hatchback for a couple of years now, but 2016 is the first time that the convertible has been offered on this platform. On paper it has lots going for it. More space, bigger boot, better electric roof and a host of electronics in keeping with the time.
Offered as a Cooper, Cooper D, Cooper S and John Cooper Works, prices start at £18,475 and rise to £28,205. The Cooper S driven here is £22,340, or £24,055 with the six-speed automatic transmission.
As always, there is a telephone directory of options that let you customise a MINI Convertible to your personal taste. It’s smart marketing by MINI, giving buyers undeniable fun designing a MINI to suit their whim.
On the road
The Cooper S gets a turbocharged 192hp 2.0-litre engine that promises much in a small car. It’s quick, certainly, though not rip-rortingly so. 0-62mph is reached in just over 7 seconds, which is fast on one level, but not so much for those looking for solid thrills. It just never feels as quick off the mark as you expect.
The Cooper S is more impressive when you exploit its turbo-charging to boost the in-gear acceleration. The manual gearbox is easy and quick, but it’s hard not to be seduced by the automatic. Here there are several modes to play with, plus paddles shifts for even more control. It makes the Cooper S seriously enjoyable on a winding road that demands lots of gearchanging.
This new model has a sports setting that stiffens up the suspension and improves throttle response. Yet you end up wondering if there is much point, unless you are on a race track.
Instead, the standard suspension setting produces a ride that is a genuine surprise, comfortable with good bump absorption, while at the same time providing all the limpet-like grip and agility you’d expect from any quick MINI.
On the inside
What MINI is saying when it talks about “small premium convertibles” boils down to its proposition that the MINI stands apart from potential rivals, even Volkswagens. And that statement does stand up. There’s a real sense of BMW about the fit and finish of the interior, the multiple facets of the design, the material quality, all a little unexpected at this price point.
Of course the test cars we drove were optioned up to the nines, with electronics, fancy trim and sports seats, but the basic building blocks are still obviously extremely sound. It’s a comfortable place to sit, the front of the MINI, with decent adjustment to the seats and steering wheel. It’s been designed so that large Germans as well as petite British women can fit equally well.
A trade-off with all those clever electronics is that there are a hell of a lot of buttons, levers and switches. It’s quite possible to walk out of the car after a couple of hours to find that there are yet more functions that you hadn’t unearthed.
Perhaps the answer is to keep it simple. A MINI Convertible will be no less fun to drive.
You do now get a reversing camera as standard, an acknowledgment of the appalling rearward visibility, roof up or down. And there’s more room for luggage – up 25% – with some clever ways (more levers) of flipping up the rear of the hood to get better access to the boot space.
For some, the biggest improvement will be the extra space in the rear seats. You can, admittedly with a degree of compromise all round, get four adults into the MINI Convertible. That’s a first.
The electric roof now completes its manoeuvres in just 18 seconds, and on the move too. You can even get a Union Jack woven into the roof fabric.
The cost of upgrading a MINI Cooper S Hatch to the Convertible is substantial: £3,590. But £22,430 is still not a fortune to spend on a stylish car, even if it is small. Resale values are stronger than most and there’s the MINI TLC servicing package that runs for five years, which represents good value.
Fuel economy of this powerful Cooper S is 47mpg, or closer to 50mpg with the automatic transmission. In the reality of the real world, that figure quickly drops to 25mpg after some spirited driving.
The CO2 figure for the Cooper S is 139g/km, or 131g/km for the auto. The very best emission figures for the new MINI Convertible are for the 1.5-litre diesel, at 100/104g/km, manual/auto.
Logic tends to pay only a minor part in buying a car like this. No one needs a convertible, but if they want one, it had better look good. The new MINI Convertible certainly hits that target. It may be indistinguishable to some from the earlier versions, but that’s no bad thing. The design is timeless.
And there is lots more to entice buyers who want just a bit of logic in their decision. The additional space for passengers and luggage is very welcome, there’s plenty of pleasing touchy-feeliness about the MINI, and as always, it’s great fun to drive.
So yes, the new MINI Convertible is better than ever.
2016 MINI Convertible: the best rivals
As mentioned earlier, there’s nothing that competes directly with the MINI here. The DS3 and Fiat 500 convertibles don’t off the full drop top solution, other cars are bigger or have only two seats. However, there are some other ways to spend your money and fresh air motoring; here are our favourites.
- VW Beetle Convertible
- VW Golf Convertible
- Mazda MX-5
- Citroen DS3 Cabrio
2016 MINI Cooper S Convertible: specifications
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo
Top speed: 144mph
Fuel economy: 47.0mpg
CO2 emissions: 139g/km