- Stylish looks
- Fun drive
- Four seats
- Poor rear visibility
A sunny drive in a convertible is motoring nirvana, but will anyone want to enjoy a ride in the new Mini Convertible? Ben Griffin reviews the latest model.
The latest Mini Hatch is something of a modern marvel; well-designed, great fun to drive, and surprisingly practical.
Now Mini has released a convertible version that promises more of the same style, practicality and driving fun. In theory, it should be a winner, especially as there is no other premium four-seater drop-top in its class.
Will it have as much appeal as the previous-generation Mini convertible? Ben Griffin headed to sunny-ish Portugal to find out in his Mini Convertible first drive.
The new Mini Convertible is a far prettier machine than its predecessor, with the bug-eyed headlights making it stand out more than ever. It appears smaller, too, which is impressive when it is, in fact, 98mm longer, 44mm wider and 1mm taller.
An adjustment to the roof means it lies slightly flatter when down, but rear visibility is still very poor to the point where changing lanes on a motorway requires more effort than it should. No wonder a reversing camera is standard across the range.
Another bugbear is the wind deflector, which rattles whenever you go over a bump and diminishes the feeling of quality, which is otherwise present and correct in the stylish cabin.
The odd rattle we can live with, but fitting the deflector causes another problem: you lose the two rear seats.
Mini has lengthened the wheelbase by 28mm, helping increase the amount of knee room for rear passengers by 36mm. It's by no means enough to swing a cat in, but adults who have to sit there on a long journey will be thankful for the improved elbow and leg space.
Elsewhere Mini has continued with a practical theme. You can now adjust the front seats more and the rear seats are a bit easier to get into.
The boot is also now bigger, and while the 25 per cent increase to 215 litres with the roof closed is by no means ample for four passenger's worth of luggage, it does mean you can get more shopping in.
Loading the boot is easier than ever because of an 'Easy Load' function, which lets you raise the roof frame to create a larger opening. Meanwhile a downward-opening tailgate provides a flat surface that can support up to 80kg of weight, which is useful if you need somewhere to perch.
The new Mini is equipped with 50:50 split-folding rear seat for accommodating longer loads, while the 8mm wider through-loading gap allows for slightly larger items.
Roof space drops to 160 litres with the roof open, so long, top-down road trips with lots of luggage will be a struggle, but it's still an improvement on its predecessor.
Opening and closing the roof takes 18 seconds at speeds of up to 18mph, so you can operate it when cruising in slow-moving traffic without holding everyone up. Much.
The roof mechanism is quiet and well-insulated, helping make the new Mini more comfortable at higher speeds. At 70mph with the roof up it's easy to have a conversation, while wind noise is pretty tolerable with the roof down.
Given the four-seat arrangement, the new Mini Convertible is far more practical than a Mazda MX-5, which has two fewer seats and 30 litres less boot space no matter what the roof is up to.
Performance & handling
The new Mini comes with a choice of engines, including a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol found in the Cooper S, a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol and a 1.5-litre three-cylinder diesel. All are Euro 6 compliant.
The 192hp 2.0-litre Cooper S is the fastest of the non-John Cooper Works models, thanks to 280Nm of torque. It manages 0-62mph in 7.2 seconds with the standard six-speed manual and can reach 143mph, so it surges forward with impressive urgency.
But the smaller, cheaper 136hp 1.5-litre is still fun. Honestly. On paper, the 8.8-second 0-62mph sprint sounds slow, but in reality the 220Nm dollop of torque from 1,250rpm makes it feel much quicker than it is.
Push it hard and you spend more time bouncing off the limiter without risking your licence, whereas with the 2.0-litre you soon need to ease off or spend the afternoon on the phone to your insurer, killing the fun somewhat.
The diesel offers a similar level of torque to the 2.0-litre, at 270Nm, but takes 9.9 seconds to go from 0-62mph and is never going to sound as nice as a petrol. But it does offer the best consumption, which we will get to in a moment.
Our advice is to enjoy a slower but more rewarding drive with the Cooper and go a bit nuts with the extras, or go all out and splurge the extra £4,000-odd on the 231hp John Cooper Works Convertible, which is six-tenths faster to 62mph and has 320Nm of torque.
As for handling, the new Mini retains its famous go-kart-like handling. It's always eager to please and sticks to the tarmac when chucked into a bend, with little body roll to make you lose confidence ─ even if the roof adds 115kg of weight over the hatch.
But the Cooper S, complete with its larger alloys and optional sports suspension (available on all models), feels harsh over uneven surfaces and can lose composure if you hit a pothole mid-corner. Optional adaptive dampers, which firm up in sport mode, compound the issue.
Purists will favour the no compromise nature of the harder Cooper S setup, but the softer Cooper we drove tackled uneven roads without a song and dance, adding to the fact it's the easier car to make progress in and enjoy.
We tested both the six-speed manual and six-speed automatic. The manual is better suited to the car's fun nature, especially as the automatic, as good as it is, can be a bit hesitant unless you select gears yourself with the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.
Braking, meanwhile, is another strong area as it's easy to scrub off speed without giving you and your passenger whiplash, but equally there's plenty of bite for emergencies.
Economy & efficiency
As we said before, the Mini Cooper D Convertible is the most frugal, but even the John Cooper Works is relatively cheap to run, thanks to CO2 emissions of 152g/km (138g/km with the auto) and fuel economy of 47.9mpg.
Okay, so the 1.5-litre diesel's 70.6mpg and 100g/km of CO2 makes it by far the best choice for penny-pinchers, but the 1.5-litre petrol's 55.4mpg and 114g/km is a strong effort. Even the Cooper S manages 139g/km (131g/km with the auto) and 46.3mpg.
Equipment & value
Priced from £18,475 the convertible is more expensive than the Hatch but it undercuts the 1.5-litre Mazda MX-5 by £680 and comes with 15-inch alloys, air conditioning and a Mini Visual Boost Radio with AUX-in and Bluetooth connectivity.
Step up to the Cooper S and you can expect to pay from £22,430, which is fairly good value when you consider the less powerful (but more capable) 2.0-litre MX-5 starts from £20,095. Go for the range-topping JCW Convertible and you will need at least £26,630.
Mini's Navigation System and Navigation System XL are available as an option if you want an 8.8-inch display and access to the Rain Warner function, which sends the driver a text message if the roof is open and rain is forecasted.
Other optional extras include a Harmon Kardon sound system, heated front seats and a sports steering wheel. Mini's Chilli Package adds LED headlights, daytime running lights, interior lighting pack, dual-zone air conditioning and cruise control among other things, making it worth looking into.
The Mini Convertible strikes a blow to those who subscribe to the school of thought that Minis are effeminate and impractical. This modern incarnation is stylish, reasonably spacious, refined and great fun to drive.
We'd thoroughly recommend it if you appreciate the looks, need four seats and are optimistic about British summers. Those that take the plunge will find it's a unique and enjoyable vehicle with very few direct rivals.
- 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
- 0-62mph in 7.2 seconds
- 139g/km (manual)
- 46.3mpg (manual)
- From £22,430