All hail the greatness that is MINI, one of the most popular cars for our community and we all know we wouldn't be seen dead in an original one, but we all paw and pant over the fantastic job BMW have done resurrecting an icon. Probably one of the best decisions they made, was to release a convertible and when they did we all got a little bit too excited about how lovely it looked.
But is it actually the car we all expect it to be?
Now, I could buy into all the hype and the kudos that comes with driving a MINI, however I don't think that's fair, so I am going to review this as I would any other convertible that didn't have those little wings on the front. (This is not to say that I haven't driven all around Cheltenham like a grinning idiot, because the sun's out and I'm in a MINI convertible.)
Styling is of course distinctly MINI and nothing much changes from the hard top equivalent. I tested a Top-of-the-range Cooper S that adds a little bonnet intake, a lower body stance and centred twin exhausts, these are of course the obvious features that change, but almost every feature on the MINI is customisable, meaning there's a MINI to match your personality. I personally love the black 'star bullet' wheels, which give an expensive sporty feel to the car and attract all the right attention.
Interior styling is again typically MINI, with large circular retro dials and lots of colour stitching in amongst the jet-black sporty leather. Lots of hi-shine dials and buttons add to that fun and funky appeal, and big bold notification lights enhance the retro styling that comes with the brand. If you opt for the 'Openometer' (which measures how long in total you've had the hood down), then do be aware that it completely obstructs one of the driver's air vents, little design fault I thought. Highlights of the body colour are incorporated within the dash and elliptical door features, and to finish it all off interior lighting can be changed through a spectrum of static colours, or left to change automatically, all you need is a mirror ball.
So it looks like a pride festival exploded inside, but what about quality? Now of course it is now built by BMW and with that comes expensive materials, solidarity and a certain respect. But, unfortunately, those hi-shine retro buttons feel fairly plastic and quite loose, and the plastic components of the centre console feel cheap and, at times, creak when you use them. Aside this, the actual car itself is built well, and feels solid when driving, the hood feels fairly thick and fits flush with the hard shell. The doors don't feel like they will fall off, and it's a very solid unit. A great feature in the MINI I tested was the 'Start/Stop' function, which means when you stop in traffic or at lights and release the clutch, the engine turns off to conserve fuel. Push down the clutch again to start the engine.
Before I move on to driving the MINI, I just want to talk about space, and regrettably the lack of it. Cabin space is clever, the glove box is a fair size and above it hides an optional cubby hole perfect for CD's under the coloured panel of the dashboard trim. Rear legroom is optional apparently, and I wouldn't recommend you put anyone through that the trauma. Lastly, boot space and if you're expecting anything spectacular, then you'll be disappointed. I wonder if it was almost worth making the MINI convertible a two-seater as this would have made the boot cavernous for a convertible, but then it wouldn't stick true to the MINI brand.
After addressing the looks, practicality and recovering from the shock of that bright yellow paint job, it's time to drive it. The Cooper S just keeps giving and giving, the more you ask it to, the more it obliges. The 1.6 litre twin-scroll turbocharged engine sounds beefy, and the hiss of the turbo adds to that sporty feeling between gear changes. All this without even putting it in 'Sport', and when you do, there is no huge difference, however a noticeable change in exhaust note, a tightened steering and harder suspension. The Cooper S just loves being driven and you'll love driving it, handling better than a go-go boy on a high, the MINI just soaks up corners and reaches it's peak on sweeping country roads, leaving just a purr from those twin exhausts. The only issue I have is rear visibility, with the hood up you cant see over your shoulder and with the hood down you cant see out your rear view mirror, I found myself using the wing mirrors constantly, just to figure out what's behind (luckily the model I tested had parking sensors).
Now, it's a mixed review, and I'm stuck with whether the MINI convertible is as good as it promises to be. Yes it follows all the rules that a MINI should follow, it looks cool, it drives fantastically and if the hard top equivalent mirrors this then I would highly recommend it. Overall I personally like it, but wouldn't be able to cope with it in everyday life, it's just not practical enough with the limited boot space. As small convertibles go, it's definitely that but I think there are better options on the market, for example: Tigra and Micra c+c, that do a better job of being a small convertible. Of course regardless of all this, now that Fiat have released the 500 as a convertible, will it challenge MINI like it did before?