From £22,2008
Entry-level rag-top Mini has obvious substance and typical handling charm to back up its sugar-coated style

What is it?

The Mini Cooper Convertible: an already desirable small car, you or I may think, victim of a misguided attempt at garnering even more must-have status. But to owners of the last two generations of Mini Convertible, the Mini's conversion to roofless wonder probably looked like a stroke of genius - and the result sold in plentiful numbers in the UK. No surprise, then, that the German-owned British marque is at it again.

And having experimented with the Mini Roadster during the car’s last big model generation, the firm won’t be looking to steal the limelight away from its original rag-top fashion icon this time around. If you want open-air motoring in a Mini, the Convertible will be the only way to get it. And, unlike in most of the Mini’s ‘convertible’ rivals, you get a proper wind-in-the-fringe experience here, courtesy of a motorised folding cloth roof that furls all the way back, leaving absolutely no pillars or roof rails rearwards of the windscreen to come between you and the outside world.

Mini offers a fulsome range of petrol and diesel engines to choose from, most of which combine with either manual or automatic gearboxes. It’s the entry-level 1.5-litre turbo petrol Cooper that interests us here, providing a peppy 134bhp, a pragmatic 57.6mpg and a tempting sub-£19,000 departure point for ownership.

What's it like?

Just as you would in any of its Mini-brand rangemates, you sink into a particularly low-set driver’s seat in the Convertible, with your legs outstretched and your head farther from the fluttering breeze passing above and around the glasshouse than it might otherwise be. The front seats are widely adjustable and decently supportive, although hard; the steering wheel is equally obliging on position, but the pedals slightly offset to the right.

Mini claims some sizable strides made on roominess, particularly for second-row passengers. The new car's backs seats, while bigger than most competitors' equivalents, remain usable only to kids under the age of about 10. Access to the boot is better with the roof up than down, thanks to an upper boot lip that can now be lifted and latched. The space inside is big enough for a modest shopping trip, but the boot won’t swallow anything bulky unless you flop the back seats.

The Cooper Convertible’s cabin is solidly constructed of appealing and well-finished materials. Some of its features – the outsized LED lighting halo encircling the infotainment screen, for example, and the undersized rev counter and fuel gauge – are intended more for novelty value than genuine usability, but at least they’re different. Mini gives you a 6.5in touchscreen infotainment system, sat nav, DAB radio and a reversing camera as standard, but the car’s options list is typically long, and negotiating it without being parted with more of your money than you’d like may be tricky.

But to drive, the Mini Convertible gives a return on your investment in it as a premium-branded product of integrity by showing very quickly that it’s better engineered than most of its rivals. Even over bumpy surfaces the ride is medium-firm but quiet and well-damped, and the body suffers with no scuttle shake to speak of, with just the merest hint of body flex in evidence now and again over sharper edges.

The car’s clearly stiff enough to provide for poised and engaging handling manners. Its typically direct steering is quite heavy and suffers a deficit of feedback, but it’s consistently weighted and gives enough confidence to work the chassis fairly hard through bends. Do that and you’ll find the car is agile and grippy, as well as nicely balanced up to and beyond the kind of speeds you’re likely to see on the road.

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The Cooper derivative’s 1.5-litre engine makes for competitive but not outstanding performance. Afflicted by unnecessarily long gear ratios, the manual version feels quite zesty until you hit third gear, and so zips keenly about at urban speeds but doesn’t quite overtake on the open road as assuredly as you’d like. Real-world economy of almost 45mpg is a good result for this kind of car, however.

Should I buy one?

If your budget will stand it, yes. Which is a fairly big ‘if’, given that small cabriolets can be bought considerably more cheaply by those who don’t need four usable seats -  and we suspect few in the market really do. There again, strong residual values should mitigate the Mini Convertible's high after-options price, and Mini’s transferable fixed-price servicing packages promise to make ownership of the car easy.

If nothing else, it’s quite plain that you are at least getting what you pay for in the Mini Convertible: a better car, of greater engineering integrity and dynamism than its rivals, and what will amount to irresistible desirability for some. Get one with an automatic gearbox, though, and preferably without the optional Union Jack cloth roof.

Mini Cooper Convertible

Location Surrey; On sale Now; Price £18,475; Engine 3 cyls, 1499cc, turocharged, petrol; Power 134bhp at 4400-6000rpm; Torque 170lb ft at 1250-4000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1280kg; 0-62mph 8.8sec; Top speed 129mph; Economy 57.6mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 114g/km, 19%

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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MG Writer 5 April 2016

Some sensible points here...

I must admit that I was surprised when either Autocar or Auto Distress reported on a chat with some BMW or MINI designer or marketing wonk who rather sniffily suggested that the MINI Roadster and Coupe had been designed by the engineers and that the company wasn't about to let that happen again. That struck me as being snooty at the expense of those people who were actually customers of the company. It obviously doesn't really matter but it sent the message that the company didn't give a damn for anyone who had been stupid enough to buy one of their cars. Which, curiously, makes me dislike the "four seater" MINI Convertible even more! Next time round it may be a Mazda MX-5, a FIAT 124, a BMW Z5 or even (if I decide I want four seats) a BMW 2-series. If they make the Superleggera I might take a punt. But I don't want an impractical car like the one which was the subject of this report! Oh, and I do already have another MINI with the super sunroof cassette: it's great but it's not the same as a soft top...
Will86 5 April 2016

Bonnet Catch Broken?

Either you've not closed the bonnet properly, or the front offside catch has failed on the car in the pictures.

As much as I like the Mini, I've never been a fan of the convertible. Just buy the 3dr and add the sunroof.

superstevie 5 April 2016

I agree with the both of you.

I agree with the both of you. They were a little under rated. I never really liked the Coupe, but then my friend bought one, it is a fantastic car! :D