Buying a convertible in the UK might seem like madness. A country known for rain and overcast skies might not seem like the obvious choice for a drop-top car, but the British still buy more convertibles than many of the warmer European countries.
That might come down to British optimism, but it also makes a lot of sense: drop the top in the heat of the Spanish sun and you’re soon sautéed in your car. In the UK there’s no such problem; in fact a temperate climate makes topless driving that much more rewarding.
Design you can’t help but love
Small convertibles are all about style. There’s the Fiat 500C, the DS3 Cabrio, the VW Beetle Cabriolet, and then there’s the Mini Convertible. They all share that playful quality that drops away as soon as you get into larger cars.
Mini, of course, has a home advantage: it’s building on the wonderful Hatch and, in this Cooper S guise, it’s packing in the power to make for a thrilling drive too.
Carrying through design highlights from the new Mini, you’ll immediately spot the Union Flag rear lights on the Convertible. While those in Europe will have them as an option (and we’re hoping that in the post-Brexit future some Europeans will choose to equip their German-British icon with these lights), in the UK they are fitted as standard.
The Cooper S looks better than the Cooper Convertible, though, with the sporty bumpers and bonnet scoop making the former look more dynamic, and – largely thanks to its boost in power – bringing an additional £5,000 premium. If you’re after an affordable convertible, then the Mini Cooper’s sub-£20k asking price is what’s obviously appealing.
The car’s roof is cloth – there’s no hard roof option in the current range – and it takes 18 seconds to fold, but remains exposed and gathered at the rear of the car. At speed with the roof closed it can be a little noisier than the Hatch, but there’s still sound deadening material so you don’t get deafened by road surface noise.
The trade-off in the Convertible, as is often the case, is that you lose the “hatch”: the boot is small (only 215 litres), and even smaller when the roof is open, so this becomes a space you can stash your weekend bag rather than a family’s luggage.
If space is an issue for you, then it’s more likely you’ll be looking at the larger 5-door Hatch or Countryman. As let’s be honest, it’s only really the front seats that have the luxury of space; as well sculpted as the rear seats are, adults will be a little crammed, plus this is a 2+2, so there is no middle seat. Still, in the world of playful convertibles, most adults seem to be happy to fold themselves into the small rear seats of a topless car, when the top is down anyway.
Overall there’s a cutesy look to the Mini Convertible, it retains Mini’s charms whichever trim you choose, but we can’t help being drawn to the Cooper S, with its twin rear pipes, 17-inch alloys and all. It’s a car for the driver, a car for people who can cast off that need for practicality and replace it with the joy of open-air driving.
All the fun of the open air
Where the Mini Cooper S really wins points is in the driving. With a low centre of gravity and boosted 192hp petrol engine, the Convertible has that go-kart characteristic. The twitchy steering lets you dart around corners, growling under acceleration and popping on the over run, a rewarding soundtrack indeed from a little car.
The Convertible’s drive is very much like the regular Cooper S Hatch, which we love. It’s planted and stable without being vulgar, so it remains comfortable on rougher roads, but doesn’t roll in the corners.
The car’s 7-speed automatic gearbox gets a double clutch, so offers rapid changes, although the manual option is a little cheaper. We’ve always felt that manual gearboxes in little cars like this amplify the fun, but for town driving the auto will make things easier – and you’re really not losing out on the driving pleasure if you choose to go auto.
The Mini starts with a flick of a toggle switch. Selecting the driving mode is easy: there’s a switch to move between Sport and Eco driving, each with accompanying graphics on the screen (driving modes are part of the optional Chili Pack, £1750).
Sport mode delivers fun by the bucketload. Racing along the coastline and up through winding mountain roads in the Convertible is the very definition of summer driving. You can’t help but smile, but that seems to be very much the Mini mantra.
Official figures put the Mini’s 0-62mph time at 7.2 seconds, returning in excess of 50mpg with careful driving. But with Sport engaged in the Cooper S, you’ll be forgiven the temptation to drive it a little more wantonly. The Cooper comes in at 8.8 seconds to hit 62mph, so there’s a healthy difference between the two.
Plenty of tech, but it’s not all great
To accompany you on the road, the Mini Convertible now has a 6.5-inch display as standard, front and centre in the dash, expanding to 8.8-inches when you pick the Navigation Plus Pack. This design has carried through since the rebirth of Mini in this new design, a throwback to the original. Yes, the 1959 Morris Mini Minor had a centrally positioned display with a couple of switches underneath, which is what you get here, more or less.
Only now there’s Bluetooth as standard, with a USB socket for connection to the rest of the system, with Apple CarPlay offered as an option, along with navigation (from £900). There is no Android Auto, though, which Mini tells us there are no plans to add as an option (maybe if you own and Android phone, you’re just not a Mini person, eh?).
The interior technology retains some fun Mini character: you’ll see the car wearing shades, as well as references to gokarts, but it’s otherwise closely based on the BMW system, including the overall controls nestled between the front seats. You get steering wheel controls too and there’s a quality feel to all the switchgear.
However, the physical design of the Mini’s dash throws up some limitations. While the idea of having simple dials for the driver is great, it can no longer compete with displays that give you a lot more information. There’s no navigation crossover into the driver display, for example – you’d need to spec the Head-Up Display (£400) to get that. The same applies to the big round dial design in the centre of the car: while it offers a large display, you can’t help feeling there’s valuable space that could be doing something more.
Putting that to one side, the quality of the interior is good. There’s a definite leaning towards the premium finish, letting the Mini escape some of the trappings of lower-price cars. Sure, there may be some lingering limitations, but the cockpit of the Mini Convertible is a great place to be.
Things are further enhanced with optional trim packs of course, with the Chili Pack also adding sports seats ungraded upholstery. There are also personalisation options from Mini Yours – beyond white stripes and mirror caps – which include things like custom 3D-print nameplates or custom designs on the cockpit facia.
When it comes to buying a small convertible, the Mini Convertible is likely to be top of the list. And deservedly so. There’s quality at every turn and the drive to match it – especially on the Cooper S model, which elevates the convertible into a sporty slice of fun.
Yes, there are some compromises for choosing a convertible, and there are some places where the tech could give you more, but for sheer driving fun, the Mini Convertible is hard to beat, especially at this price.