Here in the UK we buy more convertibles than the Spanish, Italians and French put together, which is rather surprising given the 50 shades of grey that so often typifies our weather. Convertible owners must be an optimistic bunch and MINI found many of them for its topless model which became the best selling of its kind on these shores. Thankfully to test this third generation model, the MINI team wisely decided that optimism has its limits in expecting good weather in February, so Portugal was selected as the destination of choice for some feel good winter sunshine.
This 2016 MINI Convertible goes on sale next month (April 2016) priced from £18,475 for the Cooper model. There is a Cooper D (diesel) from £20,225 and the Cooper S (the fast one) from £22,430. You can have a manual or automatic transmission (not available to test on this launch) and an options list as long as your arm. See the video below for our overview of the features of this new drophead.
The main message with MINI Convertible 3.0 is that size matters. Hence, this new version is longer, wider and offers more interior space than before. The previous generation car was plagued with budget airline style rear legroom, a shake, rattle and roll approach to structural rigidity as well as a pocket-sized boot, all complaints that have been rectified with this new model.
This new MINI Convertible inherits the oversized headlights and gaping grille from its Hatch cousin, which means it suffers with a Hollywood trout-pout at the front and beacon sized lights at the rear.
Fortunately for the Convertible, it can fight back in topless form looking positively glamorous in the right colour combination. Look closer and you will notice that the ungainly roll over hoops of the previous car have been ditched and replaced by an invisible rollover system which keeps the design clean and sleek.
The chrome highlights to the seatbelt holders help to emphasise the jump in quality and in case you ever wanted to announce your true colours to the world every time you raise the roof (18 seconds at up to speeds of 18 mph), a Union Flag can be woven into the fabric top (a world first) for some mobile patriotism.
The downside of the fabric top is that when lowered it concertinas back on itself which hugely restricts your view behind. Thankfully a rear view camera is standard to help with parking but out on the move your wing mirrors are your only visibility friend.
The additional space becomes apparent the moment you leap on-board with much more room for your head, shoulders, knees and toes in the front. Rear leg space is improved so that two adults can now sit in the back, although it will be children who are most at ease back there. The seats themselves are beautifully supportive and comfortable to sit in.
Poke around and the boost in quality is obvious thanks to soft touch materials and switchgear that has a satisfying feel. The use of chrome and expensive leather (where specified) all help to make the interior feel special and look reassuringly expensive.
The trademark dinner- plate sized central instrument remains but instead of your speed it now shows the navigation and entertainment displays. The speed is now placed in front of the driver where it belongs and he/she is given a wonderful driving position in which to quickly settle into.
The roof is fully electric and it takes 18 seconds to go from improved to infinite headroom. If that sounds like too much, you can always retract the hood by 40 cm like a sunroof, however be warned, as your MINI Convertible can keep tabs on how much time you have actually spent fully topless, by way of their ‘Always Open Timer’, so there can be no cheating amongst your friends!
The feel good factor began the moment we started in the pocket-rocket Cooper S (from £22,430). The sun was out, the car looked fabulous in red and only the pasty English men in the front ruined the exotic effect somewhat. What was not ruined was the smile on our faces, given that the Cooper S uses a 2.0 litre turbocharged four cylinder that packs quite a punch at 189 bhp, giving a top speed of 144 mph and a sprint to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, it makes for quite a ride. CO2 emissions are 142 g/km and fuel economy is claimed at 46 mpg. Annual road tax is a sensible £130.
The 2.0 litre engine is a real gem that offers the best of both worlds. You can drive it like a diesel, leaving it in third gear and enjoying the impressive low down turbocharged pulling power. But unlike a diesel it will reward the keen driver by encouraging you to rev the car hard to extract the best performance. If that was not enticing enough it delivers an exhaust note which pops and bangs more than a percussion band. There are three driving modes to choose from: Green (sensible), Mid (not too hot, not too cold) and Sport (drive like you stole it). Flicking from Mid to Sport mode is akin to releasing your pet Jack Russell off its leash, transforming the Cooper S into a seriously quick little car. Like your beloved terrier it is not just quick in a straight line but around the corners too, offering minimum body roll, endless grip and super quick steering. On top of this the manual gearbox is terrific allowing you to shift through the gears with ease.
Of course the Cooper S does not have to be all go and no show, it is just as happy making slow boulevard passes soaking up the sun and stares of passers-by. The only downside is that you feel the imperfections in the road at lower speeds, which tends to upset the pose factor somewhat.
Later in the day it was time for a go in the entry-level Cooper (from £18,475), which thanks to the current trend for downsizing, is powered by a turbocharged 1.5 litre three-cylinder engine. This version was also presented in manual form and it offered 136 bhp, giving a top speed of 129 mph and 0 to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds. CO2 emissions are 118 g/km and fuel economy is claimed at 55 mpg. Annual road tax is a wallet saving £30.
You may be forgiven for thinking that this version could be the poor relation to the Cooper S model however, it is the Cooper that is actually the sweeter buy. Not only is it blessed with a charismatic little engine that punches above its weight in pulling power, whilst being turbine smooth no matter how hard you drive it, but it also offers sweeter handling thanks to the reduced weight at the front. The ride quality also betters the Cooper S thanks to smaller alloy wheels that can soak up more of the bumps more of the time. On top of all of that there is also a hint of mini Porsche with the gruff soundtrack, but be warned that making the engine sing for its supper has a serious impact on fuel economy. We managed only 35 miles per gallon in mixed driving.
Whichever model you choose the quality that unites them all is the huge step-up in refinement. Roof up it is beautifully quiet and even when topless at motorway speeds, buffeting is kept to a minimum. This means whatever the weather you can be beautifully snug inside and yet still open to the elements.
When BMW launched MINI version 1.0 they managed to bring big car features to the small car market. That trend continues with this Convertible version. LED headlights are available offering greater illumination of the road ahead as well as MINI’s daytime running light signature that just so happens to look like an Angel’s Halo, countering the devil that perhaps sits on your shoulder as you drive the car.
As part of the tech option pack (£2,250), a Head-Up Display is fitted transmitting key information (speed, navigation instructions) to the windscreen ahead of you. This pack also adds satellite navigation to the interior.
Being a MINI there are a few quirky features available, one of which is the Logo Projection option which projects the MINI logo on to the pavement. Anyone seeing this as you pull up will probably expect two caped crusaders to leap out of the car and into action.
Finally, in keeping with the modern world’s fascination for looking down into a smartphone, MINI offer a Rain Warner App which will buzz and tell you if your MINI Convertible is about to get drenched. The alternative being to simply just look up from your phone at the sky overhead.
Day to Day
The greater interior space brings a welcome increase in boot space, offering a significant increase of 40 litres over the previous generation car. Packing bulky objects is easier now as well thanks to a load function that raises the roof mechanism slightly to offer a bigger aperture in which to stow items. The rear seats can also be dropped to improve practicality further and legroom in the back is boosted by 4 cm which does not sound much but every little helps and it does make a difference.
The MINI Convertible is not cheap to buy and you will need to go Steady Eddie with the options list in order to keep the price realistic. Nevertheless thanks to engines that offer increased fuel economy and reduced emissions it is at least kinder to your wallet and will also look after your money by holding on to its value very well indeed.
The MINI Convertible will sell like cakes that have just come out of the oven. It is a super desirable package offering a real step up in quality and refinement whilst retaining that all important MINI charm for being a great drive. Refreshingly it is the entry-level Cooper model that is the pick of the range, with just the right amount of show and go to delight the fun-seekers.
Available: April 2016.
Priced from: £18,475 for the Cooper manual (55 mpg, 118 g/km) or the Cooper S (46 mpg, 142g/km) from £22,430.