Review and road test of the MINI Convertible
OPEN WIDE AND SAY AHHHH
This improved third generation MINI Cooper Convertible looks usefully more appealing. The experts at Car & Driving check it out.
Ten Second Review of the MINI Convertible
It's pretty hard to take exception to MINI's MK3 model Convertible. It delivers surprising space for passengers and luggage, a stylish roadway demeanour and a customisable fabric roof. This revised version has been usefully updated with fresh technology, smarter connectivity, standard-fit front and rear LED lights across the range and an advanced dual-clutch automatic gearbox. As before, buyers can pick petrol, diesel and 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 136bhp MINI Cooper Convertible will accelerate from 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds and hit 129mph. There's also a 116bhp Cooper D diesel model, a pokier 192bhp Cooper S petrol version and a flagship 231bhp 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 updated range we're looking at here, nothing's fundamentally changed engine-wise, though MINI says that minor changes have been made 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 the addition of standard-fit LED front and rear lights, plus there's now extra scope for all-important personalisation. 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. The rival DS 3 Cabriolet model can also be specified with a patterned roof, but the Union Flag has long been associated with the MINI. There's also a new MINI logo that appears on the bonnet, tailgate, steering wheel, instrument display and central locking remote control.
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. 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
Strong competition comes from the much cheaper Fiat 500C, the slightly less expensive DS 3 Cabriolet and more pricey Audi A3 Cabriolet. 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. The standard Cooper Convertible petrol model returns 55.4mpg on the combined cycle. For more impressive economy, the Cooper D Convertible returns 70.6mpg, and as you might expect, the sporty Cooper S Convertible consumes a lot more, returning 46.3mpg. 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 Fiat and DS. MINI's 'TLC Pack' is a five year/ 500,000 mile service package that costs around £350.
CO2 Emissions are reasonable across the range, but all three variants fall into different tax bands. The Cooper Convertible costs £30 a year for 114g/km, the Cooper S Convertible, £130 a year for 139g/km, but the manual Cooper D Convertible, emitting just 100g/km CO2, costs nothing in tax. 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 improved 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.
MINI Convertible review by Jonathan Crouch