MINI Convertible review
The MINI Convertible is our favourite small rag-top thanks to its practicality, fun and premium feel
Now into its third generation, and in facelifted format, the ‘new’ MINI Convertible is easily the best yet. Like the latest hatchback models, the MINI Convertible for sale today is the biggest and most spacious ever, but it’s also more upmarket and has a terrific range of turbocharged power units that have improved both power and economy.
The 2018 facelift brought standard LED headlights, Union Flag rear lights, new daytime running lights, fresh paint and wheel options and an improved sat-nav screen. Owners can also order customisable, 3D-printed doorsills, dashboards panels, puddle lights and inserts for the side indicators
Direct rivals for the sporty MINI are few and far between, but there are quite a few contenders for sporty open-air enthusiasts that arguably range from two-seaters like the Mazda MX-5, through fashionable style-led models like the Fiat 500C convertible, to more grown-up rivals like the Audi A3 Cabriolet. The Fiat only has roll-back roof panels of course, while the MINI and others are full convertibles, which are definitely more fun on a warm day – for those who enjoy such things, at least.
The MINI Convertible comes in three versions – Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works. As with the MINI hatchback range, the standard Cooper is powered by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine with 134bhp, while the Cooper S and JCW use a 2.0-litre four-cylinder with 189bhp and 228bhp respectively. All come with a choice of manual or automatic gearboxes.
Car group tests
Cooper and Cooper S models fall into MINI’s revised trim level set-up and as such can be had in Classic, Sport or Exclusive guises. These trims largely dictate exterior styling and interior trim, with select items of standard equipment added to suit each. Classic models are fairly basic, Sport models get supportive seats and sports suspension, while Exclusive cars get extensive leather trim.
As well as choosing your model, there are a variety of option packs designed to tempt buyers to push the boat out further. The Comfort pack adds automatic air conditioning, heated seats and a front centre armrest amongst other refinements, while the Navigation Plus Pack adds sat-nav, Apple CarPlay and a full suite of connected services.
There’s more tech on board than previous MINI Convertible models, 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.
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.
The third-generation MINI hatchback is better than ever, and it’s the same story with the MINI Convertible. Recently facelifted with new looks, lights and tech, 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 2019 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.
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 the now-discontinued DS3 Cabrio, despite having a proper convertible roof.
The Cooper S is stiffer but not overly harsh in terms of ride quality, although 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 shimmies on poor roads. Given that 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.
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.
Even the Cooper model has 230Nm of torque thanks to its turbocharger, which means 0-62mph takes only 8.8 seconds. The Cooper S model caters to speed freaks as it does 0-62mph in just 7.2 seconds, while 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 Cooper model returns 43.5 to 45.6mpg and emits 121-123g/km of CO2 with the manual gearbox, or 43.5 to 44.8mpg and 116-118g/km with the automatic.
Considering the performance on offer, the manual Cooper S’ 40.4 to 41.5mpg and 145-147g/km figures are decent; the automatic version emits up to 125g/km of CO2 and manages 42.5 to 43.5mpg. The most powerful JCW model only manages 37.2 to 39.2mpg and up to 166g/km with a manual gearbox, while the auto is similarly efficient at the pumps, but puts out less CO2 at 146g/km.
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 Cooper convertible model sits in group 21, a little higher than its hatchback equivalent at group 19. The Cooper S, being quite a bit faster, is in insurance group 30, while the top-of the-range JCW version is in group 33.
Interior, design and technology
At a glance there’s not too much difference between the current MINI Convertible and the previous-generation model, while the 2018 facelift is subtle. The MINI Convertible 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 Flag 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 2018 facelift gives even entry-level MINIs LED headlights (with matrix LEDs an option), while the rear lights take on a Union Flag motif. New MINI badging, together with fresh paint, leather and wheel options are also available.
Those seeking to make the MINI Convertible more 'theirs' can specify four selected areas with personalised 3D-printed plastics. The dashboard section opposite the passenger, puddle lights, side indicators caps and door sills can all be 3D-printed with a name and design of your choosing.
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.
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.
An optional Navigation Plus pack is available for 2018 facelift MINI Convertibles, adding an 8.8-inch central infotainment screen (a 6.5-inch item is standard), together with wireless charging and Apple CarPlay.
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.
The MINI has been getting bigger through the years, and this new Convertible is no exception. At just over 3.8m long, 1.7m wide and 1.4m high, it’s close to superminis like the popular Ford Fiesta 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 MINI 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 systems like lane departure warning aren’t available.
The MINI does have two ISOFIX points as standard, however, plus a pair of deployable roll hoops to protect occupants should the car end up on its roof.
The MINI Convertible did not feature in our 2019 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, but the Hatchback finished in a fairly disappointing 91st place. As a brand, MINI achieved an 18th place finish overall out of 30 manufacturers, with strong scores for style and driving fun, but ride quality and rear legroom were among the lower-scored categories. Reliability seems to be respectable, however – 16.5 percent of owners reported experiencing a fault with their car.
The MINI Convertible comes with an industry standard three-year/60,000-mile 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 offers a range of servicing options for its new cars, including its MINI Pay Monthly Service Plan which allows for monthly payments towards fixed-price servicing. This can be used to cover a MINI of any age and includes an MoT, fluid top-ups, seasonal health checks, sat-nav map updates and complimentary car washes.