MINI Convertible review
The MINI Convertible is fun to drive on a summer’s day and has space for four, and is our pick of the small convertibles
The third-generation MINI hatchback is better than ever, and it’s the same story with the MINI Convertible version. It’s good to drive, with an upmarket interior and a great range of engines under the bonnet as well. It was also named Convertible of the Year at our 2016 New Car Awards.
It’s fairly expensive, but there aren’t many rivals that offer open-top thrills in a supermini-sized package. There are a lot of personalisation options, including a Union Jack roof, that can drive up the price - but keep your wits about you and you could snag a good deal.
There’s a hot MINI Cooper S Convertible model, plus an even hotter John Cooper Works (JCW) version, but even the cheaper Cooper and Cooper D flavours have plenty of power and manage decent economy as well. There’s very little space in the back, however, and even though you may expect the boot to be small, it is still worth emphasising that this isn’t a particularly practical car.
The MINI Convertible is now three models in, with the latest version being the best yet. This model is bigger and more upmarket than before, and features a range of turbocharged engines that offer better economy and power than ever.
Its rivals are few. You could include the Fiat 500C and DS 3 Cabrio as alternatives but neither has a full folding roof like the MINI, instead they offer large fabric sunroofs. That means the MINI feels more like a proper convertible than the alternatives and on a warm day you’ll appreciate the difference.
There’s more tech on board than previous MINI Convertible models too, which means it’s safer and better suited to modern life than before. The interior feels well built, and the funky design inside and out will continue to mean this little cabriolet is a desirable car for younger buyers.
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There are a few engine and trim variants to choose from, with the Cooper being the entry-level car followed by the diesel Cooper D, the spicy Cooper S and the full-on hot hatch John Cooper Works (JCW) version. All have plenty going for them, from the frugal diesel to the quick Cooper S.
All are also available with a six speed manual or automatic gearbox, and because the Cooper is the entry-level car there’s a decent amount of standard kit as well. Boot space of 215 litres and limited legroom in the back do hurt its practicality as a supermini, however.
Engines, performance and drive
Despite some extra weight from the strengthening needed to reinforce the convertible version of the MINI, it’s still great fun to drive. It has well-weighted steering, a grippy chassis, a slick gear change and feels nimble around corners.
The driving position is comfortable and feels sporty, but some may find the ride on the stiff side. The vibrations you often get as a result of a convertible losing the extra bracing of a fixed roof aren't too bad. You'd still notice them if you drove it back to back with a hard-top supermini (and especially the MINI hatch), but it feels more rigid than a DS3 Cabrio despite having a proper convertible roof (unlike its rival).
The Cooper S is stiffer but not overly harsh in terms of ride quality, but the JCW might be a bit too firm for some. It's fine in the hatch, but the rock-solid suspension reveals some rattles and shimmys on poor roads. Given the JCW is more of a serious driver's car anyway, we'd say the Cooper S is enough for the droptop.
On certain models there are adaptive dampers which can alter the suspension settings between driving modes, which means you can decide on the fly between driving fun and ride comfort. It makes more sense on the fast Cooper S and JCW models, which have plenty of performance to exploit on a twisty road.
On the motorway and in slower-speed driving the MINI is well behaved - commuting wouldn’t pose too much of a problem, as there’s little wind noise with the roof up. Get it down and there’s quite a bit of buffeting, but a removable wind deflector over the rear seats can help sort out the worst of it.
The engine noise is more audible with the roof down, and in Cooper S models that means the pops and bangs from the tailpipe are louder, which can be good fun if you’re in the mood. You can hear a whistle from the turbo wastegate, too.
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The entry-level MINI Cooper gets a 134bhp 1.5-litre three-cylinder, while the Cooper S has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with 189bhp. The JCW bumps that same engine up to 228bhp, making it one of the fastest supermini hot hatches around. The Cooper D is the only diesel model, and its three-cylinder 1.5-litre unit has 115bhp.
Even the Cooper model has 230Nm of torque thanks to its turbocharger, which means 0-62mph takes only 8.8 seconds. The Cooper D is a little less impressive, with the sprint taking 9.9 seconds, but the Cooper S model caters to speed freaks as it does 0-62mph in just 7.2 seconds. The JCW is fastest of all, taking only 6.6 seconds.
The Cooper’s three-cylinder turbo is our pick of the range, plenty of punch for overtaking and enjoying the chassis at a more reasonable price and with decent fuel economy. There’s a choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox and we’d choose the manual, as the auto isn’t the best at selecting the right gear to be in at the right moment.
The Cooper S is the sweet spot for drivers after a bit of performance, feeling genuinely brisk and sounding good in the process. It's quite thirsty as a result, though, and a touch unnecessary in a convertible that's all about posing and nipping around town. The JCW takes that further still - it can be seriously exciting on the right road, but is again expensive and a bit over-indulgent.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
With its new range of turbocharged engines, the new MINI Convertible is reasonably cheap to run. Extra weight means the figures drop from the equivalent hatchback model but the difference alone shouldn’t be enough to dissuade you from buying.
The most economical model is the Cooper D diesel, which returns 74.3mpg and emits just 100g/km of CO2. Go for the automatic version and that drops to 72.5 and 104g/km, however. The petrol Cooper model returns 57.6mpg and emits 114g/km of CO2 with the manual ‘box, or 55.4mpg and 119g/km with the auto.
Considering the performance on offer, the Cooper S’ 47.1mpg and 139g/km figures are decent, with the JCW model only managing 43.5mpg and 152g/km of CO2. Neither will do much better than 35mpg in the real-world, however.
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An optional MINI Driving Mode system is available that lets you choose between Sport, Mid and Green settings. Switching it to Green mode will change the throttle, steering and air conditioning to optimise the car for fuel saving, which could add a few extra miles providing your driving is smooth enough.
The cheapest model to insure in the range is the Cooper D, which sits in group 16. The Cooper model is a little higher in group 19, and both are higher than their hatchback equivalents. The Cooper S, being quite a bit faster, is in insurance group 29, though this drops to 25 if you go for the automatic version.
Interior, design and technology
At a glance there’s not too much difference between the current MINI Convertible and the previous-generation model. It still has that modern MINI look, with the retro-inspired grille and roofline giving it a cute and stylish appearance.
The folding roof folds all the way down, unlike rivals like the Fiat 500C, which means with the windows down the whole cabin is exposed. The boot space takes a hit with the roof down, dropping from 215 litres to 150 litres, however.
You can specify your roof with a Union Jack design, for an extra stylish look, plus there are plenty of other paint colours and other customisation options you can choose from when buying.
The MINI’s cabin is just as quirky and retro-inspired as the exterior look, with oversized dials, a circular display screen in the centre of the dash and lots of funky design cues. For instance, the driving mode selector switch is part of the gearstick assembly - rather than just being a button on the dash.
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Many owners will go for the Chili or Pepper packs, which add options like floor mats, bigger alloy wheels, passenger seat height adjustment, sports seats, air conditioning and Bluetooth. Both are a decent deal if you think you need most or all of the options included.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The infotainment and sat-nav system in the MINI convertible is all part of the large central section in the middle of the dashboard. It’s a cool feature, and has a backlit ring around the outside that matches the colour of the speedometer lighting.
The sat-nav system itself is based on BMW’s iDrive set-up, using a slightly awkwardly-placed dial controller behind the gear lever. The stereo isn’t fantastic either, which means overall the in-car tech leaves a bit to be desired considering the quality of the rest of the cabin.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The latest MINI Convertible is bigger than before, and in the front there’s plenty of room for two. However in the back seats it’s a different story, as you’ll need to have the front seats set quite far forward to get any adults in the back. Even kids will be within their rights to complain about legroom if they are behind a taller driver.
Still, it’s easier to get into the back than in the hatch, since you can get the roof off and hop in easily enough. The seats aren’t uncomfortable either, so it’s just a case of limited space inside.
That’s also true of the interior storage, as the small glovebox and centre console storage don’t offer much space either. You could always use the back seats as a makeshift storage shelf until you need to use them.
The driving position means forward visibility is good, but with the roof up it’s a bit harder to see out of the back for parking. Clearly it’s a different story with the top down, but that’s not always practical - parking in the rain, for example.
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The MINI has been getting bigger through the years, and this new Convertible is no exception. At 3.8m long, 1.7m wide and 1.4m high, which means it’s close to superminis like the popular Ford Fiesta and Fiat 500 in size. The folding roof means the body has to be strengthened, so the Convertible weighs 1,280kg compared to the hatch’s 1,160kg.
The MINI has never had a big boot, and at 215 litres the Convertible’s is as small as ever. That reduces to 150 litres with the roof down too, so you’ll have very limited space for bags if you decide to get the roof down on a summer holiday. There are always the rear seats, however, which provide a bit of extra space if you don’t have any passengers back there.
Reliability and Safety
The MINI Convertible hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP yet, but four stars for the hatchback model gives a decent indication of the car’s safety. That car scored 79 per cent for adult occupants and 73 per cent for child occupants, but the relatively low 56 per cent for safety kit is disappointing.
That score is likely because things like lane departure warning aren’t available, and kit like city autonomous braking is optional. The MINI does have two ISOFIX points as standard, however.
The hatch also dropped 88 places down the charts in our annual Driver Power customer satisfaction survey in 2016, with a very low score in the reliability category. It also scored badly for practicality, ride quality and build quality. It doesn’t bode well for the car, although it’s worth bearing in mind that in terms of overall score it was within 10 per cent of the top-ranked car.
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The MINI Convertible comes with an industry standard three-year warranty, so you’re covered for the initial period of ownership. There’s also the MINI Insured Warranty for after that, which covers cars under 100,000 miles. It covers several different aspects of the car, so check what you’re buying when you sign up.
MINI’s servicing pack is called TLC and covers servicing for five years or 50,000 miles. MINI says that the service covers labour and repair costs. For a further three years thereafter, or 30,000 miles, the MINI TLC XL package can keep you topped up. Both these payments can be bundled in with the cost of the car or bought separately.