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.