From £20,835
Is this soft-top hot hatch still top fun after seven years, following its latest update? We found out over four months
1 December 2021

Why we ran it: To discover whether a drop-top Mini could be the perfect car for summer

Month 4 - Month 3 - Month 2Month 1 - Prices and specs

Life with a Mini Convertible: Month 4

Winter is coming, so it’s time to give back our soft-top. Should you consider buying one ready for next summer? - 24 November 2021

As we all stagger towards the end of the year, I find myself wondering what exactly it will be remembered for. The horrors of 2020 cast a huge shadow over 2021, and there has been no day of celebration to mark a sudden end to pandemic times.

From a personal perspective, things started looking up in the summer, when I became the custodian of my neighbourhood’s most attention-grabbing car, with a retractable roof and enviable performance.

When the Mini Convertible Cooper S arrived back in June, we were seeking to find out if it could be the perfect car in which to enjoy the summer. And although 2021 didn’t deliver a particularly sunny season, I would say the Mini submitted a fairly convincing case for itself.

One high point was a weekend away visiting friends, when we went exploring the Peak District. Imagining the grey sky was blue and the raindrops were rays, we put the roof back and went for a blast – and indeed had a blast. In fact, I would retract the roof pretty much every time the heavens were closed, any worries of the cold allayed by a heated seat and the air-con, even if it was just going to the gym or taking the dog for a walk in the countryside (his fear of getting into any car was assuaged by the openness to the environment).

Of course the Mini attracted plenty of attention, but although hardly an extrovert, I didn’t mind this, as almost exclusively it was just people goggling at the Zesty Yellow paintwork. Clearly such a car also paints a kind picture of its driver, as for the first time ever I was the subject of a hitch-hiker’s thumb.

Any semblance of discretion I would have had was most likely destroyed by the fact that the Harman Kardon stereo was a £600 option more than well spent. Sorry, residents of Brighton, if you were ever involuntarily subjected to Phil Collins, it genuinely wasn’t me controlling the Bluetooth.

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Come rain or shine, the Convertible could be good fun to really drive, not just cruise in. Mini places a real emphasis on driver engagement – as should any car bearing the name of the Cooper Car Company – and that showed. The steering was deliciously meaty and accurate and it felt very agile, if clearly nose-led, and keen to hit every apex when on a blast, as well as nicely suited to crowded urban streets. No, it wasn’t as playful as the Mazda MX-5, but then what is?

Naturally, I would have vastly preferred a manual gearbox over the seven-speed automatic that came connected to the 176bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder BMW engine, even if the shift paddles were snappily obeyed, but that’s a matter of personal preference.

The real only issue, then, was the sports suspension, which had an invisible touch but certainly one that you could feel. Everyone to whom I gave a ride commented on its firmness and/or jitteriness sooner or later, and I found myself devoting attention to avoiding potholes. Adaptive suspension is available; it’s a £400 option that I would definitely want to try before committing one way or the other.

It doesn’t have to be like this, as the MX-5 shows. Would the little Japanese roadster be a better summer car, then? Yes, but for one major f law: it has no rear seats. The Mini allowed me to take three friends out, rather than just one, which was invaluable. Sure, they didn’t have much space when the roof was in place – particularly the burly six-footers – but then this is a compact convertible, so that’s to be expected. Even something like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Cabriolet is no true four-person tourer. At least it would be considerably more relaxing than the Mini.

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The long drive up to the British Grand Prix was enjoyable for the weather, but the amount of road noise and wind noise you must put up with becomes very grating very quickly, no matter how loud you crank the stereo to drown it out. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for frequent long-distance commutes.

If you rarely go on long journeys, though? It comes highly commended. It’s fun to drive on country roads yet feels just as suited to inner-city ones, its interior is of delightfully high quality (particularly its BMW iDrive-derived infotainment system) and it’s not entirely impractical.

I do wonder about this car’s £35,000 price tag, mind you. Yes, it feels ‘premium’ inside and has effervescent performance, but then shouldn’t Mini be about affordable fun? The BMW 220i Convertible, which has similar performance and quality but better looks (at least to my eyes) and significantly greater cachet costs about the same...

Second Opinion

I can’t say I would have been comfortable rocking up to a funeral in this motorised glowstick, but as a concept the drop-top Cooper S isn’t without its considerable strengths – not least being roomier, more comfortable and not much slower than the Mazda MX-5.

Felix Page

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Love it:

Raising the roof The roof was pretty quick to fold up or down, taking about 15 seconds, as I held the roof-mounted switch.

Dialling it in A rotary dial beats a touchscreen in every way, and the software itself proved slick and quick.

Going for a drive The Mini always tempted me to go out for a drive just to enjoy its fun handling and strong performance.

Loathe it:

Hard as nails The ride was never anything other than eminently noticeable and got quite nasty over sub-par surfaces.

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Proud alloys The tyres are ultra-low profile and the rims actually sit proud of them. Even more kerbable than they look.

Final mileage: 4850

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Life with a Mini Convertible: Month 3

As the days get colder, are we regretting picking a soft-top? - 3 November 2021

Do you like the winter? Despite being born in December, I truly despise it. It’s always cold, it’s usually raining, it’s dark most of the time and, as a result, nothing fun happens. And this feeling has been heightened by me being in possession of a drop-top car.

Convertibles really are cars for the summer, and perhaps none more so than the soft-top version of the Mini three-door, with its buoyant persona. During the warmer months, I would put the roof down literally every time I drove unless rain stopped play. But as autumn has heralded the dreaded winter, I’ve been far less inclined.

Running up and down Newhaven seafront last month for the picture you see above was not – much to the photographer’s cheeky mirth – an experience I relished.

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However, if the heated seats (part of the £700 Comfort Pack) are put on full blast and the air conditioning likewise, it becomes quite bearable (if you avoid bare arms). And if you slide the side windows up, surprisingly little wind can bluster in to disrupt your peace. Adding the heated steering wheel option (£250) would no doubt enhance the experience yet further.

Driving with the roof up isn’t as nice as in a regular Mini, as the low, black fabric roof and lack of rear side windows make it feel rather claustrophobic. I’m told the effect is even worse for the rear passengers, who don’t get much room anyhow. But hey, you should probably just call me a softie southerner, put the roof down and happily get on with it.

Someone who has been doing just that lately is staff writer Jack Warrick, around the leafy country roads of his native Berkshire. Like me, he has found the Convertible to be great fun to drive in its 176bhp Cooper S form, especially when you pick Sport mode, thanks to its combination of punchy performance and keen handling.

However, he also shares my disapproval for its overly firm ride, which really can thump you, regardless of whether you’re about town or putting your foot down.

Thankfully, at least, the ride hasn’t proven a (very unpleasant) problem when I’ve been giving a lift to the family dog. In fact, while Bobby is usually extremely reluctant to jump into any car, he’s quite happy to be lifted into the back of the Mini when it’s in its roofless state, free as he is to gaze around and sniff the passing environment to his heart’s content.

Love it:

Autumn comfort The Mini doesn’t subject you to too much wind if you keep the side windows up; and the heated seats are an option well worth adding.

Loathe it:

Left in the dark The joie de vivre of this bright and cheery little car diminishes rather when you’re under its cover.


Mileage: 4800

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Mega multimedia - 20 October 2021

I really can’t praise the infotainment in the Mini highly enough. Okay, so it looks a bit odd having a rectangular touchscreen within a big circle, but the touch-sensitive icons below fill out the space. The software itself is slick and quick and – get this! – the rotary controller and shortcut buttons by the gearstick enable you to keep your eyes on the road.

Mileage: 4700

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Life with a Mini Convertible: Month 2

Tricky indicators - 6 October 2021

“What’s up with the Mini’s indicator stalk?” texted a colleague during our car swap. Ah, so it’s not just me, then. The central ‘stop’ is too easy to push over, so I often end up accidentally indicating left when trying to cancel indicating right and vice versa. I noticed this in the previous BMW 3 Series, too, but I’m told it has since been rectified.

Mileage: 4644

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Roof-up blind spots - 15 September 2021

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Visibility isn’t especially a strength of the Mini hatchback, due to fairly chunky A-pillars, but it’s reasonable. Not so in the Convertible, because when the roof is in place, it creates massive fabric surfaces where the C-pillars would usually be, rendering your over-the-shoulder views quite terrible. At least when you lower the side windows, the B-pillars (well, black glass joiners) disappear.

Mileage: 4310

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A tight fit - 1 September 2021

Can four adults fit into the Mini Convertible? Yes. Ah, but do they need to be small adults? Well, you never said anything about comfort... Three tall lads and I did squeeze in for a beach trip recently, but my driving position was severely compromised and we had to retract the roof. Still, for shorter adults, children and dogs, the back is perfectly acceptable.

Mileage: 4065

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Life with a Mini Convertible: Month 1

Its handling prowess comes to the fore on a trip to the Peaks - 18 August 2021

So southern am I that I was once part of a football crowd singing a rude song about the north to the fans of, er, Watford. Forgiveness is therefore begged for the fact that, until just recently, I had never visited the Peak District.

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Beautiful, isn’t it? Lush hills turn into sheer-faced mountains, conjoined by wide valleys, covered intermittently in heather and peat bogs and grazing sheep. Overlapping a railway line miraculously surviving from a bygone era, serpentine roads meander their way through a series of picturesque villages, flanked by flint walls and cottages that soothe the city-dweller’s soul.

Not many of these roads are fast (not if you have any respect for your own safety, anyway), but some of them allow you to get up to 60mph for a time. And as you will well know, speed is hardly a prerequisite for a corner to be fun; it’s all about how you can get from one to the next.

Piloting my Mini Convertible Cooper S with my friend from his Nottingham home, through Bakewell and up to Blue John Cavern, I came to thoroughly appreciate the compact Convertible’s combination of a lithe chassis, accurate and weighty steering and strong performance. (A shout-out to the chap enjoying his 1960s Alfa Romeo Spider who, seeing our intention and recognising his relative lack of pace, allowed us past; the opposite to Derbyshire’s most cautious Kia Sportage driver.)

Carry an appropriate amount of speed into the approaching corner and the Mini will follow you obediently to the apex, then get its head down and power out at a lick.

I don’t like the description of Mini’s ‘go-kart handling’ because, if you’ve ever had a go in a kart, you will know that the chassis lacks any sophistication whatsoever; and that couldn’t be less true of this car. The handling, now a hallmark of the Mini brand, really is great. Even when reined in because the road surface was wet, it still shone.

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It’s all made even more enjoyable if you stick the automatic gearbox into manual mode and use the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles to anticipate the gear you want for a bend and to make the rapid acceleration out an involved process.

I just wish we could have had the soft top retracted for more than a few minutes on our jaunt; despite it being July, mist hung over the landscape and rain was never far away. I guess that’s the price you pay for such verdancy.

This was almost as much of a let-down as the ride comfort. While I understand that much of the Mini’s agility is owed to the stiffness of its suspension, it really can be quite unpleasant, so much so that on especially bad roads I find myself devoting some attention to avoiding larger potholes and ruts.

On a couple of occasions, I’ve had my passenger genuinely jump and express concern after we’ve clattered over one; and on less-than-smooth surfaces, the constant jostling has made it obvious to me that I was a bit too inactive during the lockdowns… I wonder whether the adjustable sports suspension you get on Sport trim (mine is an Exclusive) would allow the car to relax a bit more?

As well as a new appreciation for my Mini and the Midlands, I learned something else on this trip: ‘party mode’. My friend used to work at Mini, and he revealed that if you hold the ambient lighting switch through every colour option, it then goes into slowly fading between each of them. It creates a great night-driving vibe.

Love it:

Athleticism The agile chassis and nicely set-up steering combine for a car that can be really fun on country roads.

Loathe it:

In the slammer The firmness fades to the back of your mind when you’re having fun, but it can really get tiring in town.


Mileage: 3200

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An unwanted fan - 4 August 2021

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As a lover of both roofless driving and hot weather, I’ve been making the absolute most of the Mini lately. Somehow I’ve avoided being caught in the rain or getting bombed by a bird, but I have had one intruder: a dopey bumblebee, who set down on the steering wheel, of all places. This all occurred in a car park, thankfully; I might have panicked on the road.

Mileage: 3572

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Welcoming the Mini Convertible to the fleet - 28 July 2021

"You’re a journalist, you said?” a fellow attendee at the British Grand Prix joked as we discussed my new hi-vis-jacket-coloured Mini Convertible. “Not a hairdresser?”

It’s safe to say that you can’t miss this car – and that everybody has an opinion about it. As well as that quip, which I must admit made me laugh, those I’ve heard from friends, family and strangers have ranged from “that’s so cool!” and “I absolutely love it” to “shame about the colour” and, amusingly, coming from a gay man, “ugh, that’s such a gay car”. My friend and I even got laughed at by a young bloke driving a Ford Fiesta while waiting at traffic lights.

Frankly, though, I couldn’t care less what other people think, because I’m loving this car. It looks superb, it’s very compact, I’m a fan of the Zesty Yellow (painting fun cars dull colours is criminal) and it has agile handling to match its thrilling performance.

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That’s because it’s the Cooper S, which sits above the healthy Cooper and below the scorching John Cooper Works. It uses a 176bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine related to those found in everything from the BMW X1 to the Toyota GR Supra. Driving the front wheels, it comes with either a six-speed manual gearbox or, as in our car, a sevenspeed dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters behind the wheel.

The Cooper S starts at £25,080 in Classic trim, or you can step up to Sport or Exclusive, which cost from £27,330 and £27,665. We went for Exclusive, which is aimed at the driver who is “a connoisseur of the finer details and lover of luxury”, whereas Sport “brings a taste of the track to your everyday drive”.

What it means in practical terms is that this particular connoisseur (ahem) benefits from additional air intakes in the front bumper, a bonnet air scoop and a central twin exhaust, which give the Convertible a subtly purposeful look. Then inside there’s a nappa leather steering wheel, electronically adjustable leather sports seats, aluminium trim and multicoloured ambient lighting.

We’ve then ladled on £6275 worth of options, most coming in packs. Navigation Plus brings a head-up display, connected services, wireless smartphone charging and sat-nav for the standard 8.8in touchscreen.

Comfort Plus contributes electrically folding mirrors, a rearview camera, a front centre armrest, heated front seats, automatic air-con, parking assistance and parking sensors front and rear. This is one that I reckon few would pass over.

Driving Assistant adds active cruise control, automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance (which, once turned off, has actually stayed off, so kudos to Mini for that). We’ve also added a heated steering wheel and the 360W, 12-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, which sounds absolutely superb. Music is one of my greatest passions in life, so this pleases me no end.

Oh, and one other thing: the Union Jack pattern on the roof? Like that in the tail-lights, you have to have it on Exclusive trim. Some love it, some don’t. I’m neutral on the issue, but I’ve found 15 such motifs on the car, which feels excessive either way.

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I’ve already had plenty of time to ruminate on the Mini, because with societal restrictions being lifted at last, I’ve actually been able to leave my flat. Visiting friends up in Nottingham afforded a fantastically enjoyable introductory drive in the Peak District (which I will detail soon), even if it was in the rain, plus I took it to the Goodwood Festival of Speed (wet again…) and in blazing heat (at last!) up to Silverstone. I had the top down for every one of the 130 miles home, obviously; I feel a pang of irritation whenever I see a cabriolet driver with the roof up on a nice day while I’m sweltering under a fixed tin lid.

I’ve always loved soft-tops and small, sporty cars, so the Convertible Cooper S really appeals to me in combining the two things. And when you look for rivals, there really is very little out there. In fact, with hot hatches, I can’t think of any at all. Okay, there’s the Abarth 595C, but that’s really a landaulet, it’s wanting in terms of handling and the less said about its interior the better… So really there’s only the BMW 2 Series Convertible (which is great), the Mazda MX-5 (which is superb but has only two seats) and the Volkswagen T-Roc Cabriolet (the sight of which makes me feel sad).

It’s really good to see that, despite evidently having a corner of the market essentially all to itself, Mini hasn’t rested on its laurels. Indeed, we’re testing a car that has been out since 2014 because it was recently updated, gaining a somewhat controversial new look, the excellent digital dial display first seen in the Mini Electric, new infotainment software, greater scope for personalisation and new adaptive suspension for cars in Sport trim.

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So, it seems that I will have a summer to savour – and not just because I can finally do things again.

Second Opinion

Struggling to get the kids to school? Invest in a Mini Convertible is my tip: when I borrowed Kris’s car, my two ran out of the house each morning to fight over who gets to retract the roof. Space is tight in the back, but their seats did fit (just) and the two-stage top was ideal for all weather.

Piers Ward

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Mini Convertible Cooper S Exclusive DCT specification

Prices: List price new £29,035 List price now £29,530 Price as tested £35,060

Options:Navigation Plus Pack £2400, Comfort Plus Pack £1400, Driving Assistant Pack £800, Harman Kardon surround-sound system £600, Zesty Yellow paint £525, Piano Black exterior trim £300

Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy 45.6mpg Fuel tank 44 litres Test average 43mpg Test best 45mpg Test worst 38mpg Real-world range 416 miles

Tech highlights: 0-62mph 6.9sec Top speed 143mph Engine 4 cyls, 1998cc, turbocharged, petrol Max power 176bhp at 5000rpm Max torque 207lb ft at 1350rpm Transmission 7-spd dual-clutch automatic
 Boot capacity 160 litres Wheels 18in, alloy Tyres 205/40 R18, Pirelli P Zero Kerb weight 1325kg

Service and running costs: Contract hire rate £342.74 CO2 145g/km Service costs none Other costs none Fuel costs £356 Running costs inc fuel £356 Cost per mile 14 pence Faults none

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Comments
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Add a comment…
streaky 1 December 2021

It's the crappy ride quality that would put me off.  BMW Minis have always had a sophisticated (and expensive and space consuming) suspension system so why can't it be tuned to provide just a bit of comfort and bump absorption???

gavsmit 15 September 2021

Always wanted a Mini but whenever temptation gets the better of me, I find myself adding so many 'essential' extras from the very long options list that make the resulting price so high it's enough to put me off.

But the recent restyle has completely ruined the looks of this car so I won't be doing that again....or at least until the next model is launched.