Mini Convertible Review
We’re not sure that the MINI needs much introduction, but it’s now been 20 years since BMW resurrected the iconic British hatchback of the 1960s. It’s been given a refresh for 2021 with some tweaked looks and some new features inside. This is the Convertible version, which replaces the Hatch’s hardtop with a folding fabric roof that will drop electrically, adding some fresh-air fun to the already entertaining MINI driving experience.
Select's rating score* - 4.0 / 5
At a Glance
The MINI Convertible is exactly what its name suggests: a chance to enjoy the quirky character and nippy handling of the MINI Hatch, but with a droppable roof for added wind in the hair. What it slightly loses in terms of outright handling ability – due to extra weight and slightly less body stiffness from the lack of roof – it makes up for in enhanced engagement. There’s something about having the fresh air whizz past you as you drive that really adds to an already entertaining machine.
The Convertible comes with a choice of three trim levels and three petrol engines, from the zippy Cooper to the John Cooper Works performance model. All have MINI’s trademark character in terms of looks, both inside and out. While this generation of MINI might have been around since 2013, the latest updates keep it fresh against some stiff competition. Cars from mid-2021 all have large grilles that drop down to the bottom of the front bumper, and black trim around the windows, badges and headlights, in place of the chrome on the previous models.
The MINI Convertible’s big appeal is obviously its folding roof. It’s a fabric affair, rather than a folding hardtop, and it folds back to sit just behind the rear seats, rather than stowing away under the cover. Some would say that adds to the retro look. The foldback is engaged through a switch at the top of the windscreen, and goes back in two stages – one part-way, like a sunroof, and then the full fold.
You can spec your MINI Convertible as a general around-town cruiser, all the way up to a proper performance car, and there are a choice of trim levels to match your budget or needs. Sadly for fans of electric vehicles, you can’t get the Convertible in electric form, unlike the latest electric Fiat 500 Cabrio.
Performance & Drive
The way it drives is one of the key strengths for every MINI in the range, and the Convertible is no different. This is a quirky, personality-filled car inside and out, and it has a driving experience to match. Much has been made of the ‘go-kart-like’ handling over the years, and it’s that agility that makes the MINI feel special. All models sit on a really impressive chassis, which maintains a firm, but more-than-acceptable level of comfort, but feels taut and alive through the corners, and responsive both in your hands and underneath you. It stays flat, with minimal body roll while cornering, for a really sporty feel that gets firmer, tauter, and sportier the higher up the range you go.
The only slight fly in the ointment is the steering; it’s perfectly decent for most users, but if you’re an enthusiast looking for that last little bit of tactile involvement from your driving, then you might find it lacks a bit of feel, at least compared to how sharp the chassis is. That said, it’s not bad, and indeed you get more feedback in the Cooper S model than the Cooper. All versions are a world ahead of convertible rivals like the Fiat 500 Cabrio and Volkswagen T-Roc Cabriolet.
Speaking of the various MINI names, there are three engines available in the Convertible, and it’s those that Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works refer to, rather than the trim level. We’ll get to those shortly.
Cooper cars have a 1.5-litre engine with 136 horsepower, which makes for zippy progress, although you do need to rev the engine to get the most out of it, and might find that you need to shift down a gear on steeper hills. The Cooper S ups the horsepower to 180 from a 2.0-litre engine, and is much more gutsy and responsive. The Cooper is punchy enough to suit those that aren’t in a particular hurry, but if you really want to enjoy the spirit of the convertible then the Cooper S is the engine we’d recommend.
Of course, if you want a bit of a top-down rocket ship, then the John Cooper Works model may appeal. This boosts power from the 2.0-litre engine to 231 horsepower, which makes it a proper performance car. You can get a six-speed manual gearbox, which will be the choice of those that like as much engagement in their driving as possible, but the seven-speed automatic is very decent too, and actually lowers fuel consumption.
Performance from any version is given a healthy boost by the ability to drop the roof down. Sure, it doesn’t make the MINI any faster than the Hatch (slightly the opposite, in fact), but when you’ve got the wind in your hair and the insulation from the outside world is gone, it’s a much more immediate, visceral experience. You can hear the roar of the engine, pops from the exhaust in the sportier models, and feel the world whizzing by. At motorway speeds, don’t plan on keeping any new haircuts in perfect shape, but the aerodynamics are such that you shouldn’t feel uncomfortably windswept.
If you want to raise the roof, you’ll find a surprisingly impressive level of insulation. Road and wind noise is slightly higher than in a MINI Hatch, but not by loads.
It will cost you a bit more per month to lease a MINI Convertible versus a MINI Hatch - around £40 more for the equivalent model at the time of writing. It’s also a good chunk more than the last-generation, petrol-powered Fiat 500C, which you can still get from new, but considerably less than the new, electric Fiat 500 Cabrio.
When it comes to fuel economy, the entry-level Cooper will give you the best performance, with an official figure of up to 47.9mpg, either with manual or automatic gearbox. The manual Cooper S will give you up to 43.5mpg, but up to 45.6mpg in automatic form. Meanwhile the John Cooper Works model promises up to 39.8mpg (manual) or 40.9mpg (automatic).
On the insurance front, the MINI could be quite pricey, with insurance groups ranging from 21 to 29 (of 50). That compares to between groups 9 and 18 for the Fiat 500C.
The lack of a plug-in hybrid, electric or diesel model means that emissions levels, and therefore benefit-in-kind company car tax isn’t going to be the cheapest. CO2 levels start at 134g/km in the Cooper, meaning it sits in the 30% BiK tax bracket for 2021/22. The Cooper S starts at 141g/km (32%), and the John Cooper Works at 156g/km (34%).
The quirky look of the exterior is replicated inside, with a retro-inspired dashboard dominated by a big touchscreen inside a circular housing. This harks back to the round central speedometer of the original 1960s Mini. There are also plenty of tactile toggle switches that really add to the retro feel, even if they’re not quite as easy to use as more modern buttons.
There’s plenty of adjustability in the seat and steering column, and you can sit very low to maximise the sporty feel when driving, although the pedals sit ever so slightly to the right of centre, which some might find annoying. We’d advise that you try and sit in one before you commit to leasing.
MINI Convertibles from 2021 onwards have an 8.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system in the centre of the dashboard, and all models also have a digital display behind the wheel, in place of traditional analogue dials. It’s not a bad system; easy to navigate around and quick to respond. However, if you want Apple CarPlay or satellite navigation you’ll need to fork up extra for the Navigation Pack. This is a bit of a shame when plenty of cars offer CarPlay as standard. Android Auto wasn’t available at the time of writing, which is also a shame.
If you go for the Navigation Plus pack, you can also get a head-up display, which projects driving information onto the windscreen in front of you, meaning less glancing down at the driver display.
Practicality & Boot Space
Let’s be honest, you don’t go for a small convertible if practicality is a priority, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the MINI Convertible isn’t exactly a family car. There’s plenty of room up front though, so if it’s you and a friend you should have no issues. The rear seats are very small though, and access is tight as there are only two doors. They’re best kept for small children, but even then you may have a job loading them in and out, although it;’s easier with the roof down.
The boot is also on the small size at 215 litres, which drops to 160 litres with the roof down, although it is bigger than the Fiat 500 Cabrio’s.
There are plenty of storage spaces around the cabin, including a couple of cupholders and a tray to throw phone, keys, wallet and so on. There’s also a cupholder in front of the rear seats.
The MINI Convertible hasn’t been tested by independent safety organisation Euro NCAP. However, the hatchback version was tested way back in 2014, when it was first launched, and scored four stars out of five. That’s not great when virtually all rivals have scored five, and if you ask Euro NCAP they’ll say that the validity of that rating actually expired at the start of January 2021, as standards have moved on so much in recent years.
It’s disappointing that some of the latest safety tech isn’t included as standard. Automatic emergency braking, for example, and lane departure warning are only optional as part of the Driving Assistant Pack. Most rivals include such tech as standard.
However, all cars get front and side airbags and Isofix child seat mounting points on the outer rear seats and the front passenger seat, with the ability to deactivate the passenger airbag if you do want to put a rear-facing child seat in the front. There’s also an active roll-over protection system, which will deploy roll hoops if the car turns over.
Once you’ve decided which engine you want, you can then choose one of three trim levels. Both Cooper and Cooper S cars can be specced as Classic, Sport or Exclusive cars.
Classic is the entry-level mode, but it comes with LED headlights and Union Jack-design rear lights, as well as a black soft top roof, air-conditioning and rear parking sensors. On the outside, you’ll get 15-inch alloy wheels on the Cooper and 16s on the Cooper S. The Cooper S also gets sports seats.
Upgrade to the Sport model and you’ll get some styling bits from the John Cooper Works model, as well as 17-inch black alloy wheels, as well as adaptive suspension for a more refined ride.
The top-spec Exclusive model has 17-inch or 18-inch alloy wheels and leather upholstery on the seats.
The John Cooper Works engine has its own specification, which visually is broadly the same as the Sport model mentioned above.
MINI prides itself on its personality options, so the extras list is lengthy, from a plethora of paint colours, racing stripes and Union Jack-emblazoned fabric roof to a range of upholstery colours and materials. You can also pick from lots of alloy wheel designs and add packs of extras. These include the Comfort Park, which upgrades the air conditioning, adds heated seats and a front centre armrest, or the Comfort Plus Pack, which adds a rear-view camera and front parking sensors. That’s not an exhaustive list – it really is a long one – but the message here is that you can really delve into the extras and make your MINI your own.
When it comes to compact convertibles there isn’t actually much choice on the market, as most soft-tops tend to be larger. The similarly quirky Fiat 500 is the obvious direct rival, either the outgoing petrol-powered model or the new electric-only one. They sit either side of the MINI in terms of leasing cost, and aren’t as much fun to drive, but the electric drivetrain of the 500 Cabrio could prove attractive.
You could also look at the Volkswagen T-Roc Cabriolet, which is a convertible SUV that’s bigger and more expensive than the MINI, and doesn’t have the same kind of characterful presence, but will be more practical. It’s no great shakes to drive, though.
Verdict & Next Steps
The MINI Convertible might sit in a small pond of compact soft-tops, but it’s still a big fish. It’s as stylish and customisable now as it was when it first launched in 2013, and the latest round of upgrades mean it still feels fresh and funky. It is an old car underneath, and some may raise an eyebrow at its lack of cutting-edge safety features. Neither is it a particularly practical machine. But it’s cute to look at and a hoot to drive, and you can spec it in almost any way you want. No wonder it’s so popular, and deservedly so.
Where to next?
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Mini Convertible.
**Correct as of 13/05/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £1976.94. Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.