The MINI Convertible is one of the best selling drop tops in the world. It is a fun car with a happy attitude and oh so entertaining to drive – roof down or up! When needed its motorised soft top can shelter you from a shower in a moment operating at urban speeds (up to 30km/h) – but top down is the only way to go. We’re testing the face-lifted third generation 3 door MINI Convertible this week.
Our less than subtle bright yellow Cooper test car is a real head turner and in any other car this colour choice would be considered brave. MINI is such a cheeky car that it can get away with almost anything when it comes to design… almost anything. The convertible’s exterior design has grown and evolved since the first generation in 2004. The larger car features a few more nods to aerodynamics while a few other embellishments help freshen it up. A larger grille and new LED headlights that incorporate fog lights are a couple of noticeable tweaks. The convertible’s cloth roof area is huge so it is no surprise that when folded down it sits quite high up and dominates the rear view mirror. The top dropping process takes just 18 seconds and can be completed at traffic lights with ample time to spare. Vision isn’t really compromised as any conventional convertible offers vastly more vision of the world around it than a ‘tin top’ equivalent. Black 17 inch alloys fill out the arches of our test car nicely and these help the MINI sit on the road with a chunky stance. The MINI 3-door is pretty compact and has a footprint on the road that is slightly smaller than a Toyota Yaris supermini.
The cabin seats four adults at a real push, three at a squeeze and just two ideally. Access to the rear, as with all MINIs, is poor. Since day one of the modern MINI the knack of getting the passenger or driver’s seat to fold and slide to gain access to the rear of the 3-door has been a source of frustration. In truth the best way to get in the back is to have the roof down and hop in over the side. The two rear seats really are for very occasional use. That said the front seat occupants are well catered for. The modest amount of interior space available has been used well but the tiny, awkward 215 litre boot (160 litres with the roof down) when combined with poor rear legroom means the MINI offers only ‘city-car-like’ cargo capacity. However the rear two seat backs can drop to deliver up to 661 litres of space. With the roof down you could fit a small wardrobe in the back – just watch out for low bridges! In truth you won’t care about MINI’s lack of carrying capacity as no one buys a MINI convertible to be practical! The dash layout and switchgear features has evolved over the years but remains an eclectic mix of dials switches and touch buttons. Existing MINI owners will know these only too well but if they were fitted in any other car they would attract a lot of criticism. For some strange reason MINI gets a free pass on its dash layout simply because its a MINI (I must be under some nostalgia spell or rsidual Chris Bangle hypnosis from the original cars launch).
Under the bonnet this generation MINI convertible is not electrified but the next generation due in 2025 will be electrified. Bernd Körber, Head of the MINI brand said, “The MINI Convertible has a large and particularly loyal fan base. This is also shown by the great demand for the latest, freshly updated model. We are therefore firmly convinced of the success of this vehicle concept for the future.” For now it is petrol power only with manual and automatic versions available. The engine range starts with a three cylinder 1.5-litre ‘Cooper’ with 136hp, and two 2-litre four cylinder petrol unit with 178hp in the ‘Cooper S’ and 231hp in the ‘John Cooper Works’ model. A host of driving aids are available.
The main drawback for many buyers who live outside of Great Britain is an exterior design element. The MINI’s tail-lights mimic the Union Jack or the Union flag to be more accurate – it’s only a ‘jack’ when flown on a ship (thanks QI). Despite the MINI brand being owned by German premium car and motorcycle maker BMW the use of such blatant nationalism in car design is rare. EU flag tail-lights would be a nice option but sadly like an Irish Tricolour roof option they are not available from the factory in Oxford.
Instantly the most noticeable driving sensation is how refined the front wheel drive car has become. Our car featured a quick shifting 7-speed ‘Steptronic’ automatic gearbox matted to the 1.5 litre 136hp engine. The weighty steering features a nice, fast, turn-in. The steering wheel lets you know straight away that the MINI will to go where you point it but you as the driver are required and this makes the whole driving experience so pleasantly involving. The convertible is roughly 120kgs heavier than the hard top version and you can only notice some scuttle shake when pressing-on on twisty roads with rough surfaces. A new heated steering wheel option is welcomed and with the wind deflector in place a drive on a cold starry night can be quite toasty.
MINI Convertible pricing starts at €29,551 for the manual gearbox Cooper ‘Classic’ (Classic, Sport, Exclusive and JCW are the grim grades). Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works models feature their three distinct power outputs. The range topping 231hp JCW with sports auto gearbox costs €47,741. Our test car is a Cooper Sport with a base price of €32,594. Zesty yellow is a €784 option. With the optional comfort pack (€1,045) our car weighed in at €34,424. The MINI convertible is not only a hoot to drive but invigorating too… but those rear lights!