New Mini Convertible vs Mazda MX-5 RF Comparison

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With the sun shining, you might be tempted by a drop-top such as the Mazda MX-5 RF or Mini Convertible. Which one deserves the warmer reception?

The contenders

*** Note : £1 = $1.28 (correct at time of post)

Mazda MX-5 RF 2.0 Skyactiv-G 160 SE-L Nav

  • List price £23,795
  • Target Price £22,227

The same rear-wheel-drive sports car format as the regular MX-5, but with a retractable hard-top.

Mini Convertible Cooper S Chili

  • List price £25,945
  • Target Price £24,750

Sporty Cooper S aims to offer open-air fun like the MX-5, but with the ability to seat four.

Mazda MX-5 RF vs Mini Convertible

You’ve got to love this time of year. With slimy road surfaces and icy windscreens long forgotten, it’s time to don a baseball cap and slap on some factor 50. So, what better time to test Mazda’s MX-5 RF, the folding hard-top version of its legendary two-seat roadster?

The buttresses either side of its rear window differentiate its looks, and switching from canvas to a metal roof has added only a few kilograms to the car’s weight. That should maintain those MX-5 virtues of entertaining handling and fizzy performance, especially from this 158bhp 2.0-litre version.

So, what else delivers alfresco delights with similar get-up-and-go and for similar cash? Well, how about the Mini Convertible in sporty Cooper S guise? As part of a light refresh, it now comes with tweaked styling that includes Union Flag tail-lights, as well as more colours and customisation options. It isn’t an out-and-out sports car like the MX-5, but it makes more power (189bhp) from its 2.0-litre turbo engine and has two extra seats.

Driving – Performance, ride, handling, refinement

The Mini takes the spoils (just) for flat-out acceleration, and it has bags more oomph at low revs. Therefore, you can be lazy with gearshifts and still make brisk progress – no bad thing, because its vague six-speed manual gearbox is hardly joyous to use. The Mini’s engine is smoother, though, and you’ll enjoy some fruity parps from the exhaust if you select Sport driving mode.

The MX-5 is just the opposite. Being naturally aspirated, its engine delivers peak power and torque at higher revs, so while it’s zippy, you have to work it harder and make more gearchanges in order to keep up with fast traffic. But who cares when its stubby shifter is so delightful to use? Giving the MX-5 the beans simply adds to its appeal. It’s noisier when you do, though.

You can tell the MX-5 was designed as a convertible from the outset by how much stiffer it is; you have to look very closely to notice familiar open-top symptoms such as a trembling rear-view mirror. In the Mini, you can’t ignore the tremors through its body, or the accompanying squeaks and rattles.

That’s a shame, because the Mini generates much less wind and road noise than the MX-5 when their roofs are up. Both are relatively bluster-free with their roofs down – provided the Mini has been fitted with the optional £235 wind deflector. But again the Mini is quieter; the drone of wind noise in the MX-5 can become quite wearing.

If you don’t want full exposure, the Mini’s roof also retracts like a sunroof, as well as opening or closing fully at up to 19mph. The MX-5’s roof can be operated at up to 6mph, but that’s so slow that you might as well pull over first.

You might expect the ‘proper’ sports car to ride like a rickshaw, but the MX-5 is actually remarkably supple, at both low and high speeds. This softness leads to plenty of lean in corners, but the MX-5 still flows along winding B-roads with precision and poise, despite the fact that there isn’t much weight build-up in the steering as you wind on lock. The fact that it’s rear-wheel drive means you have more scope for adjusting the MX-5’s cornering stance with the accelerator, too.

The Mini is much firmer, thumping over sharp intrusions at low speeds and becoming wearingly agitated over uneven motorway surfaces. It also leans a lot in corners, but it feels far less composed. Its steering is relatively slow to react around the straight-ahead and then frantically quick as you wind on lock, so the Mini isn’t as easy to drive smoothly.

Mazda MX-5 interior

Behind the wheel – Driving position, visibility, build quality

The MX-5’s driving position won’t suit everyone. Its steering wheel adjusts up and down only, and there’s no seat height or lumbar adjustment, although you can tilt the base for more thigh support.

The Mini’s is much better. The wheel moves in all directions, the seat adjusts for height, and while lumbar adjustment costs £590 (which includes leather trim), the seat is more supportive even without it. In fact, the Mini’s interior is more appealing overall, thanks to its bolder design and higher-quality materials.

Both cars’ pedals are offset slightly to the right – awkward if you’re short in the leg – but the MX-5 also has a bulge in the side of the transmission tunnel that encroaches on the footwell.

Forward visibility is good in both, but you can see little over your shoulder when their roofs are up. Not that things are much better with them down; the MX-5’s buttresses partially obscure what’s behind, while the Mini’s roof sits on its rear deck and blocks most of your rearward view, although at least it comes with rear parking sensors.

Infotainment systems

Mazda MX-5 RF

Sat-nav, DAB radio and Bluetooth are standard, along with a well-positioned 7.0in screen, but there’s no smartphone mirroring. Like the Mini’s system, the infotainment can be operated in two ways: via the touchscreen or the rotary dial controller and shortcut buttons by the gearlever. The latter method is less distracting on the move, but either way, the system is intuitive to use and relatively quick to respond to inputs.

Mini Convertible

A 6.5in screen is standard with DAB and Bluetooth, but sat-nav and Apple CarPlay are not. The minimum price to gain these is £900, or you can pay £2000 for the system shown; this adds a bigger, 8.8in screen, more online connectivity, real-time traffic updates and wireless charging. You also get a concierge service, through which you can arrange everything from booking a service to reserving a table at a restaurant.

Mazda MX-5 RF

Space and practicality – Front space, rear space, seating flexibility, boot

The MX-5 is cramped inside. If you’re tall, a shortage of head room is the main complaint when the roof is up, while leg and elbow room are merely adequate. Storage space is in short supply, too; there’s a lidded cubby between the seatbacks and a shallow tray under the central armrest, but no glovebox or door pockets. And no rear seats, of course.

The Mini is therefore the default choice for anyone needing a degree of practicality. Up front, it’s reasonably roomy all round, even if you’re tall, and there are storage spaces everywhere. With the roof up, it’s a bit of a palaver getting into its two rear seats, but there’s enough space for a couple of average-sized adults to be content for a short trip.

The Mini’s boot can hold three carry-on suitcases with the roof up, but that drops to two when the roof is down. The 50/50 split-folding rear seats free up more space when it’s required, while there are levers by the boot’s entrance to release the rear of the roof, so you can lift it up to get bulky items through the otherwise narrow aperture.

Although the MX-5’s boot is relatively square and remains the same size whether its roof is up or down, you won’t fit more than a couple of carry-on suitcases inside.

Mazda MX-5 RF
  • Official boot capacity 127 litres
  • Suitcase capacity 2

MX-5 is a strict two-seater; leg room is reasonable, but head room is tight with the roof up. Storage space is limited to a cubby between the seatbacks and one under the central armrest. Small boot is good for weekend luggage only.

Mini Convertible
  • Official boot capacity 215-463 litres
  • Suitcase capacity 3 (2 with roof down)

Up front, there’s much more leg and head room (with the roof up) than the MX-5. Rear seats are okay for kids or occasional use by adults. Lowering the roof eats into boot space, but you can lift the back of it to aid access.

Buying and owning – Costs, equipment, reliability, safety and security

Mazda MX-5 RF

A standard Cooper S Convertible costs roughly the same as the MX-5, but because most people add the Chili Pack (£1750), we’ve done the same. This evens up equipment levels but makes the MX-5 £2180 cheaper after discounts. Combined with its better resale values, the MX-5 is also about £40 a month cheaper to buy on PCP finance and £70 a month less to lease.

Both cars are well equipped, with 17in alloy wheels, climate control, cruise control and electric hood operation among their standard offerings.

The MX-5 was given a reasonable four-star Euro NCAP safety rating that applies to both versions, but the Mini Convertible hasn’t been tested and the hatchback’s four-star rating isn’t applicable. You can add an £800 package to the Mini that includes automatic emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, high beam assist and adaptive cruise control. Blindspot monitoring and lane-keeping assist aren’t available, though. None of these features is available on this SE-L Nav MX-5.

verdict

On a sunny day, the MX-5 will have you grinning like you’re five again – and that’s the point of these cars, right? The peppy performance, supple ride and engaging handling make it a joy to drive everywhere. Yes, it’s rowdy at higher speeds, especially with the roof down, but we think that’s forgivable for the price and the kit you get.

Its practicality limitations are an acceptable trade-off, too, because these are second cars for most people. But if you must have four seats and a decent boot, the Mini is absolutely worth considering. It isn’t as much fun to drive nor as comfy, but you’ll still love its top-notch interior, great infotainment, punchy engine and more hushed manners, hood up or down.

1st – Mazda MX-5 RF

  • For Enjoyable rear-wheel drive handling; supple ride; relatively cheap to buy and run
  • Against Wind noise at 70mph (roof up or down); tight head room; small boot
Specifications: Mazda MX-5 RF 2.0 Skyactiv-G 160 SE-L Nav
  • Engine 4cyl, 1998cc, petrol
  • List price £23,795
  • Target Price £22,227
  • Power 158bhp @ 6000rpm
  • Torque 148lb ft @ 4600rpm
  • Gearbox 6-spd manual
  • 0-60mph 7.3sec
  • Top speed 134mph
  • Gov’t fuel economy 40.9mpg
  • CO2 emissions 161g/km
2nd – Mini Convertible

  • For Pokey, flexible engine; quieter (roof up or down); more practical; great infotainment
  • Against Jarring ride; unpleasant steering and gearshift; relatively pricey

Specifications: Mini Convertible Cooper S Chili
  • Engine size 4cyl, 1998cc, turbo, petrol
  • List price £25,945
  • Target Price £24,750
  • Power 189bhp @ 5000-6000rpm
  • Torque 207lb ft @ 1350-4600rpm
  • Gearbox 6-spd manual
  • 0-60mph 7.0sec
  • Top speed 143mph
  • Gov’t fuel economy 41.5mpg
  • CO2 emissions 154g/km

(whatcar.com, http://bit.ly/2M4wp9z)

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