MINI Convertible - Engines, drive & performance
MINI Convertible almost as good to drive as the hatchback version, despite lack of fixed roof
The models in the MINI Convertible range drive very similarly to their hatchback equivalents, which is impressive considering that removing the roof of a car traditionally has a negative effect on handling. It does have a slightly greater tendency to run wide when cornering hard, but the feeling through the steering wheel is just as accurate and involving as ever.
Just like the hatchback, the MINI Convertible generates plenty of grip, as well as feeling agile and adjustable in corners. As with other MINIs, there are three driving modes to choose from: Green, Mid and Sport. Sport makes the car most fun, as it sharpens up the throttle and makes the steering more involving by decreasing the amount of assistance. On the Cooper S the exhaust also makes lots of entertaining pops and bangs in Sport mode. There's also a nifty rev-matching function for the manual gearbox to make downshifts on manual versions smoother.
The dual-clutch DCT seven-speed automatic gearbox, introduced at the start of 2018, is a good match for the MINI's character, providing smooth yet rapid gearchanges – it’s just a shame it doesn't include paddles behind the steering wheel to use when the 'box is in manual mode. All MINIs have a slightly firm suspension setup, like in the hatchback, but this is a trade-off of being one of the best-handling small cars on sale. Cooper and Cooper S models are never uncomfortable, but larger alloy wheels will accentuate this.
The JCW can get quite uncomfortable at times, however, crashing into potholes and never settling down. It’s jiggly and twitchy on all but the smoothest road surfaces, and becomes exhausting on longer journeys. The John Cooper Works models traditionally have been tuned for racetracks, but it seems unlikely that most convertible buyers would be regularly taking their cars to a track.
In our view, the fact that the Convertible is ever so slightly compromised as a driver's car compared to the hatchback makes the pursuit of excitement a little pointless, so we'd save money by opting for the regular Cooper. It's by no means slow, and its easy going nature seems more 'MINI' than the Cooper S or JCW.
The 134bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine in the MINI Convertible Cooper completes the 0-62mph sprint in 8.8 seconds. It's fairly powerful and feels perfectly in keeping with the car’s character. The engine is quiet, but it's still fun when you rev it, plus the manual gearbox is as good as ever and is slick and precise to use.
The Cooper S is certainly quicker – its 176bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine allows it to achieve 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds (or 6.9 with an automatic gearbox), and it emits rather pleasing pops and crackles when you lift off the accelerator when in sports mode. It delivers exhilaration and will probably leave you short of breath between corners, but even the entry-level Cooper is more than capable of showing you a good time.
As the most powerful model, the 228bhp JCW version is also the fastest, but not by a huge margin. Zero-to-62mph takes around 6.5 seconds. While it is capable of quietly pottering around town, any burst of acceleration will quickly increase the volume. If you like the sound it makes, we can see why you’d want to choose the convertible over the hardtop. The JCW is easy to drive fast, with lots of grip and sharp brakes - even if they’re a bit grabby and hard to use smoothly.