MINI Convertible review

The third generation MINI Cooper Convertible gets a fresher face and a smarter roof and more space. The experts at Car & Driving check it out.

Ten Second Review

It's pretty hard to take exception to MINI's MK3 model Convertible. It brings more space for passengers and luggage, a larger presence on the road and, for the first time, a customisable fabric roof. The new design retains the unmistakable character of this popular soft top and buyers can pick petrol, diesel and performance versions.

Background

When BMW re-booted the MINI brand in 2001, it took three years to add a convertible to the range. Once on sale, four people could enjoy the open-air adventures MINI promised, although the rear passengers had a tight squeeze getting into the back. Things were improved in the second generation version we saw in 2009, but the space was still very limited. Still, this drop-top model sold well, stealing sales not only from small cabriolets aimed at Kings Road cruising, but also grabbing a few from more focused open-topped sportscars. This third generation convertible model should certainly be more spacious, having grown in every dimension. MINI claims to have done this without ruining this car's charm. Available in three variants from the outset, the MINI Cooper Convertible introduces some innovative options over and above some high-tech standard equipment.

Driving Experience

The Convertible MINI has a slightly different remit from the hatchback - being all about style - but the fact that it invokes the Cooper name across all three variants hints at the potential for driving thrills. The base 136bhp MINI Cooper Convertible will accelerate from 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds and hit 129mph. There's also a 116bhp Cooper D diesel model and a pokier 192bhp Cooper S petrol model. High performance though, hardly seems relevant in a four seat soft-top: what is important is the operation of the newly-designed roof. At speeds of up to 18mph, this fabric top can be lowered or raised in 18 seconds, so when the British weather does what it does, you'll not be left out in the rain for too long. If you just want to open the small portion over the front seats, it can slide back 40cm, automatically, at any speed. This MINI has been engineered for a comfortable drive, but with pin-sharp responsiveness. The Convertible body has been reinforced to make it rigid enough to cope with the demands of sporty driving which normally would cause the shell to flex. The speed-sensitive steering is designed to make maneuvering at low speeds easier, while at higher speeds the car should respond less nervously to small amounts of steering.

Design and Build

The third generation MINI Cooper Convertible retains the basic overall body shape that we all know and love, but each of the dimensions are just a little larger. This car is 98mm longer than its predecessor and 44mm wider too, plus there's 28mm more in the wheelbase. This addresses the main criticisms of the older models in two key areas: the back seats and the boot. Rear passengers get more legroom, making access the second row easier. When the folded fabric roof is down it forms a wrap-around collar around the back seats, rather than disappearing completely. It encroaches slightly into the boot area but despite this, the luggage capacity has grown by around 25% this time round - 215-litres with the roof closed and 160-litres with it folded down. This allows for up to three typical airline cabin cases, so everyday practicality is much improved. The roof is customisable and retracts in 18 seconds. Optional is a woven Union Flag option available for the first time on a MINI. The rival DS 3 Cabriolet model can also be specified with a patterned roof, but the Union Flag has been so long associated with the MINI, it's a wonder why it hasn't been done before on the Convertible version. The fresh family front end includes a much cleaner, circular headlight design and a large grille area.

Market and Model

As part of the BMW group, MINI has become a premium brand in the small car sector and as such can command a higher price than would be expected for a car that started life as a cheap and cheerful runabout. The basic petrol MINI Cooper Convertible starts at around £18,500 for the manual version, the diesel costs from just over £20,000 and the top of the range John Cooper Works model from a little over £28,000. All variants are available in Manual and Automatic transmissions Strong competition comes from the much cheaper Fiat 500C, the slightly less expensive DS 3 Cabriolet and more pricey Audi A3 Cabriolet. For its price, the MINI doesn't have the most impressive list of standard features but it does have parking sensors, reversing camera, Bluetooth and 'MINI Connected'. This is a system that integrates your MINI with your smartphone, for infotainment, communication and driving experience apps. An XL version of the Connected app is available as an option and among its enhanced features is a useful rain-warning sensor. Plus it can alert a driver who has left the car open-topped that rain is on its way.

Cost of Ownership

Like all new cars, this MINI has improved in this area. The standard Cooper Convertible petrol model returns 55.4mpg on the combined cycle. For more impressive economy, the Cooper D Convertible returns 70.6mpg, and as you might expect, the sporty Cooper S Convertible consumes a lot more, returning 46.3mpg. All of these figures would, at one time, have been considered exceptional for a car of the MINI's size, but they are equalled and bettered by the rivals from Fiat and DS. MINI's 'TLC Pack' is a five year/ 500,000 mile service package that costs around £350. CO2 Emissions are reasonable across the range, but all three variants fall into different tax bands. The Cooper Convertible costs £30 a year for 114g/km, the Cooper S Convertible, £130 a year for 139g/km, but the manual Cooper D Convertible, emitting just 100g/km CO2, costs nothing in tax. Good residual values can be expected, especially as this car addresses many of the problems of the old car and should remain a desirable option for many years. Expect the MINI Cooper Convertible mostly to fall into insurance groups 17-20, depending on the variant.

Summary

So, this third generation MINI Convertible looks great, is brilliantly designed, cheap to run and holds its value. It's even a bit more practical than you might be expecting. OK, you could perhaps complain about the premium pricing but in truth, there's not really much more than that to put off would-be Convertible purchasers who need a more involving drive than one of those hairdessers' cabriolets but don't want a sports roadster either. This car has so much more street-cred than obvious rivals and is far-less gender-specific (all right, female-orientated), which will matter to male buyers nearly as much as the fact that it's huge fun to drive. A MINI adventure then, that could see you living happily ever after.