Second nip and tuck for third-generation Mini brings new tech and a sleeker look

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Over almost exactly 20 years of production, we have seen approaching three full model generations of the modern-era, BMW Group Mini.

There will be one more full model generation of the Mini along in another couple of years, as part of which petrol options will be sold alongside the Mini Electric versions that already account for one in five cars built at the firm’s UK production base in Cowley. After that, Mini will be a fully electric car brand.

Roof can be half-opened almost as a stand-in sunroof, then folds away automatically and neatly in several stacked pieces. The mechanism takes about 15 seconds to cycle and works with the car moving at up to 18mph.

As for now, it has given what is effectively the Mk3 modern Mini a second major mid-life facelift.

Mini’s three- and five-door hatchbacks (the all-electric three- door model included) have received refreshed styling inside and out; new equipment, in-car technology and driver assistance systems; new colour treatments and wheel designs; and a handful of mechanical updates aimed at keeping the car compliant with European emissions laws, and at refining its dynamic character. The Mini Convertible gets the same updates.

The continued existence of this cloth-topped derivative (the one UK-market ‘little Mini’ not built over here, but rather under contract by the VDL Group in the Netherlands) is proof of how exhaustively the brand has explored any potentially productive market niche over the past two decades. The better part of a decade ago, this car would have had convertible rivals from Peugeot, Citroën, Renault, Vauxhall, Nissan, Daihatsu and Fiat, but very few now survive.

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Why, then, has Mini’s take on downsized cloth-top motoring so successfully stood the test of time? Let’s try to find out.

The Mini Convertible line-up at a glance

Mini UK’s range of convertibles omits the entry-level, 101bhp One-spec engine on offer in other markets, and yet the sub-£22k entry price for the Cooper model still looks temptingly affordable.

The car comes in Classic, Sport and Exclusive trims, with John Cooper Works models topping the range. Extended black body trim and JCW bodykit are features of Sport cars only.



2 Mini Convertible 2021 RT hero side

Those who have carefully followed the evolution of the current-generation Mini since its launch in 2014 will have noted the changes that, over both major updates and minor model-year tweaks, have led the car most of the way to this point. Many of them were wrought on the car some time ago.

The car’s first mid-life facelift, announced in late 2017, brought its Union flag motif rear lights, and the replacement of its optional six-speed torque-converter gearbox with a seven-speed dual-clutch unit. More quietly towards the end of 2020, peak power for the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine of the Cooper S dropped a little from 189bhp to 176bhp (which is where it remains). Peak torque wasn’t affected and, according to Mini, neither was driving performance.

Mini adopted gloss black body trim, in place of chrome, as an option three years ago. Now it’s standard fit on mid- spec cars. There’s a lot of it, and some testers weren’t sold on much of it – not least the all-black Mini badge.

The latest version of that engine is Euro 6d emissions compliant and comes with a petrol particulate trap; and it’s a Cooper S Convertible, with a dual-clutch automatic gearbox, that’s now in our road test cross hairs.

The car’s styling revisions, its designers claim, feed into a sleeker and more ‘reductionist’ appearance. As approaches go, that may sound suspiciously on-trend, but it’s intended to lend the Mini Mk3 a more refined and sophisticated visual character as it negotiates its later years.

The grille and front bumper have been redesigned, the former swelling to stretch all the way from the bonnet to near ground level and incorporating the lower air intakes. The latter, meanwhile, casts off entirely the Mini’s old positioning of lights at the lateral extremes of its width.

Some subtly recontoured wheel arches, new front-wing indicator repeater units, new wheel designs and new door mirrors complete the look at the front. At the rear, the Mini gets what its maker claims is the slimmest rear foglight you’ll find anywhere in automotive industry production (it’s integrated into the rear bumper panel just above the central exhausts).

For now, Mini’s core models come in 101bhp One, 134bhp Cooper, 176bhp Cooper S, 181bhp Mini Electric and 228bhp John Cooper Works forms. There are three-door hatchback, five-door hatchback and two-door Convertible bodies – although if you want to select from all five of the aforementioned powerplants, you’ll need to stick with the three-door shell (Mini does offer an entry-level One Convertible but not in the UK, while the Mini Electric powertrain is reserved for the three-door car always and everywhere).

All versions of the car are front-wheel drive, and all retain the steel monocoque chassis and fully independent suspension arrangements they had previously.

The one departure is a new passive, frequency-selective damping system that was fitted as standard to our mid-level Sport-spec Cooper S test car. These replace the Mini’s old optional Dynamic Damper Control electronic adaptive dampers and, through a simpler secondary bypass valve, are intended to allow closer body control over smoother surfaces without risking unyieldingness at other times.


12 Mini Convertible 2021 RT cabin

A great many Mini owners can probably count on their fingers the number of times the back seats of their cars have been sat in. But in a convertible market in which those seats are very often so small as to be rendered unusable, having a pair of rear chairs for occasional use, or even on which to throw a couple of soft bags, could make a big difference.

The Mini Convertible doesn’t really get close to matching the carrying space or versatility of even the three-door version – but, thanks to rear seatbacks that fold and a clever (if slightly fiddly) expanding load bay opening, it does allow you to access and use what space it affords very obligingly.

Digital instrument display from the Mini Electric has been repurposed as an option on the wider model range. Hierarchy of the layout is a bit odd, but it’s clear.

The boot opening drops down like a tailgate rather than swinging upwards, while the trailing edge of the car’s cloth hood can be unlatched and then propped up on its handles to make for an access space that’s just about big enough to admit buggies and flight cases.

The rear bench is narrower than it would be in a regular Mini. Two kids in child seats fill it with absolutely no room to spare, but they will be comfortable enough and adequately sheltered from the wind on shorter, slower trips so long as you’re prepared to offer them a little communal leg room from the forward quarters.

Up front, the Mini’s cabin shows evidence of change mostly in what is immediately ahead of the driver: a new nappa leather steering wheel gets redesigned button consoles on its lateral spokes, while behind that our test car featured a new set of digital instruments and a pop-up head-up display. The rim of the wheel seems a bit overly girthy for a car of this size, but it’s pleasant to the touch. The simplified design of the new button consoles make for intuitive operation, meanwhile, and because the buttons themselves are flush-fitting, you can feed the wheel through your hands without fear of catching one by mistake.

The driving position is first rate: low, well supported and surprisingly roomy, but also adjustable for those who don’t want to be quite so recumbent. Our test car’s JCW sports seats were comfortable despite their slightly racy appearance.

Forward visibility is great despite sitting so low, but it’s compromised to the rear, and especially so with the roof in place: emerging safely from offset-angled junctions can make for a lot of neck-craning.

Mini Convertible infotainment and sat-nav

There’s good and bad news to report here. The good is that no Mini comes without a touchscreen infotainment system, nor without a separate rotary input device for those who don’t like finger smudges. It’s a new system with a rethought menu architecture whose home screen can be customised to your own liking, and it’s responsive and clear.

The bad news is that you have to pay extra for smartphone mirroring, and that Mini only supports Apple CarPlay (although networked services are available for other handsets via a USB connection and the Mini Connected app).

The same option pack that gets you CarPlay support also gets you factory nav anyway – and if you want wireless device charging as well, you’ll need to go the whole hog with the Navigation Plus package (£2400).

The car’s factory navigation system is very good, and can be voice-programmed consistently easily; and the Harman Kardon premium audio system (another £600) is equally impressive. But, for the money, so should they be.


21 Mini Convertible 2021 RT engine

Over the years, many manufacturers have avoided putting powerful engines into convertibles like this for fear, you suspect, of the failings in chassis integrity and handling sophistication that those units might lay bare. Those that have taken the risk have often had their boldness undermined by the spiralling weight of reinforced body structures.

Well, the Cooper S Convertible does not feel like an undernourished car, nor a particularly heavy or structurally compromised one. Given that it is not even the most powerful version of the car you can buy, that says plenty about Mini’s philosophy on how much fun can be had at the wheel of a tin-opened hatchback.

You feel like you’re driving a Mini first and a convertible second, the dynamic compromises common to the category really only being revealed beyond eight-tenths.

The short answer is ‘plenty’. This car doesn’t have the urgency, integrity, punch, body control or handling tenacity of an equivalent £30,000 hot hatch, and neither would we expect it to. Up to reasonably high effort levels and lateral loads, however, it’s impressive how keenly and robustly it takes to exercise.

The 6.7sec needed to hit 60mph from rest tallies exactly with Mini’s 6.9sec claim for 0-62mph. The dual-clutch Sport DTC gearbox is governed by electronic launch control if you leave the traction control electronics in Dynamic mode and, though it keeps both revs and wheel speed under a pretty tight rein to prevent the car’s clutches from overheating, it produced near-perfect standing starts time after time in testing.

Turn the electronics off and the car has the torque to spin up its 17in front wheels fairly freely in the dry once drive is fully engaged, and yet the delivery of that torque to the road doesn’t feel as rushed or brusque as it can in some dual-clutch ’boxes when they’re working hard, which bodes well for controllability in slippery conditions. Meanwhile, the car’s 30-70mph acceleration through the gears is, at 5.8sec, only a tenth slower than that of a Ford Fiesta ST.

The Mini doesn’t have the potent feel of the Ford through the higher intermediate gears, when you may wonder if it could do with a little more torque; and it can sound a bit digitally synthesised with the roof in place. The latter issue, at least, is easily fixed, and you get a pleasing amount of turbo whistle and flutter from the exhaust when the roof is down.


22 Mini Convertible 2021 RT cornering front

While the greater size and weight of bigger models in the Mini range can undermine ‘go-kart handling’ claims, the smaller ones (even those missing a roof) still stand up to scrutiny remarkably well.

While wheels bigger than our standard 17s are available, that you can only have them in tandem with run-flat tyres (which have never worked well on Minis) would have been enough to convince us to stick with the smaller rims in any case.

In manual mode, gearbox will hold a higher selected gear on steeper climbs even at full power – as you’d want it to. Mid-range torque could be a bit stronger, though.

By and large, our test car’s relatively agile, grippy, flat and generally engaging handling rewarded that instinct. Up to the sort of eight-tenths effort level you would rarely exceed on the road, it felt direct and precise, and changed direction with plenty of zip and balance. There is a little more body roll than you would get in an equivalent Cooper S hatchback, but it mostly only materialises when you’re pushing the car beyond the point that even a keen driver would on the road.

Those conventional tyres no doubt do a little to soften the ride, which we’ll come to shortly, but on this car they probably make a greater improvement to the connected feel of the steering. While the stiff sidewalls of run-flats tend to numb the steering of these cars just off-centre, making it hard to feel for that critical moment when the front sidewalls are taking some lateral strain, our Mini had more progressive initial steering response and took a cornering line as instinctively as you would hope.

There is adhesion, body control and handling poise about the Mini Cooper S Convertible when it takes to a circuit, although not an unburstable amount of any of them, so if you are looking for the last word in fun that the car may supply, you are more likely to find a bit of body roll and scrabbling, untidy understeer.

Stay within the car’s comfort zone, though, and it can carry more than enough speed to entertain you, and will handle keenly and with a lively, moderately adjustable sense of front-driven, on- and off-throttle balance, too.

The front axle grips pretty keenly to turn in, and stays stuck even as the car begins to roll, until you get more ambitious with your entry speed. The rear one follows it closely, but is gently sensitive to mid-corner weight transfer. The car’s stability control is fully switchable, and its chassis is certainly stable enough that you can disable the former in plenty of confidence.

Mini Convertible comfort and isolation

Sportier Minis were always firm-riding cars, but while this one conforms to type, it isn’t punishingly firm or hyperactive, nor is it so rigidly suspended as to challenge the integrity of the chassis, or to make any noticeable body flex or scuttle shake present.

The car can be driven pretty briskly along uneven country roads with the roof down. While it maintains Mini’s trademark level, road-hugging body control fairly well, you won’t notice the rear-view mirror wobbling over bumps, nor the car’s rear headrests wobbling away to their own beat within it. There is a reassuring sense of togetherness about the way the car moves that isn’t common to all compact convertibles.

Sharper bumps hit on the loaded side of the axles when cornering hard will thump through into the cabin a bit; likewise transverse ridges crossed when the car is pitching forwards under braking. But those are the only occasions when the ride becomes in any way harsh or skittish, and it doesn’t happen often.

The cabin’s slightly noisier than that of a regular Mini when cruising, albeit only by a decibel at 70mph compared with the Cooper S hatchback we tested back in 2014. Drop the roof, put the wind deflector in place across the back seats, raise the side windows and you’ll find the car is a wind-rustled but pretty well-sheltered place in which to travel, even at motorway speeds.


1 Mini Convertible 2021 RT hero front

Anyone who remembers buying a Mini a decade or more ago will probably be quite pleased at how much more simple the car’s ordering process has become.

Once you’ve decided on the engine and trim level, there are some optional equipment packages that are more helpfully named than they used to be (Comfort, Navigation Plus etc). You can still pay a monthly sum to cover servicing costs, although Mini’s warranty is capped at three years.

Residual values, while a far cry from the pillar of strength they once were for Mini, remain a relative selling point.

Our mid-level Cooper S Sport model came with leather sports seats, a JCW bodykit and an 8.8in infotainment system with some connected services as standard. If you want factory navigation or Apple CarPlay, though, it costs extra – and other smartphone mirroring systems aren’t supported.

On a premium-brand car, it could certainly do a little better there, although judged in broader focus, the car’s overall value for money and residual values are both fairly convincing.

Our car demonstrated itself capable of closing in on 50mpg – very impressive for something with such a decent turn of pace.



25 Mini Convertible 2021 RT static

The retreat of so many of the Mini Convertible’s affordable, cloth-topped cabriolet rivals may be a sign of troubled times for the car industry – but, in truth, the exodus from this market niche started some time ago.

When times are tight, there is always so much less appetite for good-time cars like this. However, it is also hard for any manufacturer to develop a really desirable and dynamically convincing open-top conversion of any mainstream model, and harder still to find the production capacity to make it, and then to sell it profitably. Most have given up trying.

The core Mini has still got it – even in convertible form

That Mini is still doing all of the above so successfully is testament to the thoroughness of its engineering prowess, the strength of its brand and the intuitive understanding it has of its customers. It has updated its core models with a laudable lightness of touch here, but has prepared them to remain both competitive and utterly distinctive for some time yet.

A zippy, alert-feeling, intelligently equipped three-door Cooper S has long been Autocar’s nominated sweet spot in the Mini range, but here’s proof that a cabrio can be just as sweet in its own summer-enriching, life-affirming way.


Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017 and like all road testers is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests and performance benchmarking, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found presenting on Autocar's YouTube channel.

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat.