|Positives: Zippy and fun to drive, flashy styling elements make it special, fascinating soft top deployment, available stick shift for enthusiasts.
|Negatives: Totally useless rear seats, too-gimmicky interior, ugly wheels, a bit of an attention whore, expensive when optioned out.
|Bottom Line: The MINI is still a fun car with plenty of personality and zip, but there are better small cars for less money and with less quirkiness. The availability of a manual transmission adds to the appeal, but its the useless rear seats that have us running in the other direction.
This is one fun car and not just from a personality perspective. With the twin-turbo four mated to the manual transmission, it really is a blast to drive. If you can put up with a super firm ride, you won't be disappointed with the MINI Cooper S Convertible's driving dynamics.
Ride Quality: The big 18" wheels hamper the ride, coupled with the firm suspension. You pretty much feel everything on the road, and that's not a good thing. At least it feels solid.
Acceleration: 0-60 comes in 6.4 seconds, but it actually feels quicker than that. There is some turbo lag, the the manual transmission helps. It's not quicker than the cheaper Mazda MX-5 Miata, which launches to 60 in 5.7 seconds.
Braking: The brakes are firm and modulate very well. Pedal feel is also very good and matches the car's power and handling.
Steering: The steering is taut and precise, and the feedback through the steering wheel is actually quite good. Effort increases nicely, as well.
Handling: The MINI's body roll is minimal, and you can hammer it into a corner with very little understeer. It also feels well balanced.
In-car tech is becoming more complex and less user-friendly, and that's almost universally true these days. While MINI isn't helping matters with its overly aesthetically-driven system, it is better than before. We're just not sure why it has to be so weird and difficult to use.
Infotainment System: The huge round frame contains a small-ish 8.8" screen that's a bit too complex with its menu and graphics. There's a lot going on in the screen, but at least there's a physical controller between the seats.
Controls: We like the fact that the MINI still has big knobs for climate control and physical controls for audio, as well as the large controls for infotainment. the toggle switches are still there, and MINI fans will rejoice that they're still front and center.
MINI went all out with the Union Jack symbol. It's present in the taillight signature, as well as in the soft top and the headrest pattern. Our tester didn't come with the Union Jack mirror caps, but they are available as options. The blazing yellow paint job and the unique 18" wheels make the little convertible even more noticeable. The question is, whether or not this much visual pop is for you. It's not a subtle vehicle at all, and that's what some shoppers really want.
Front: The big bug-eyed headlights look great, but we're not fans of the black trimmed grille frame that wraps around the lower fascia, as well as the upper grille. It makes the front end look like it has a moustache.
Rear: The Union Jack taillights look truly special and provide great personality to the back end. We also love the twin-round exhaust ports that exit the middle.
Profile: With the top up or down, the MINI Cooper S Convertible's style is tight. It looks good from the side with short overhangs and a nifty convertible setup that's fun to watch as it deploys. The wheels are not our favorite. Classic five spoke versions would've been better here.
Cabin: Some folks love the uniqueness of the MINI's interior, but we think it's a bit too trendy and sacrifices usefulness for that level of style. There's still way too much plastic in here.
Don't buy the MINI convertible for comfort. It's a small car with a tiny interior. Six-footers are fine in the front seats, but the ergonomics and overall seating comfort is lacking. This is really a two-seater since the back seats are pretty much useless.
Front Seats: The front seats could use more cushioning, but at least they're well-bolstered for tossing it the little convertible into turns.
Rear Seats: To call these "seats" would be an insult to the terms. There's zero legroom if you need even moderately tall adults to occupy the front seats. The seatbacks are like church pews, and even little kids can't sit back there for very long.
NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): We didn't notice any rattles or creaks. The buzzy engine is fun to listen to, but it is loud with the top down. Wind buffeting with the top down at 70 mph isn't terrible.
Visibility: The beltline is tall, but the seating position is good. With the top up, it is hard to see out the back, and with the convertible top folded, it annoyingly occludes sightlines out the rear and rear sides.
Climate: The system works well and is easy to control. Large vents move air well. We'd have to test it in colder weather with the top down to see how much the wind would mitigate heater airflow.
The MINI Cooper may not have won any safety awards, but it did perform well in a limited number of crash tests by one testing body. At this trim level, there are some solid standard safety features that go beyond ABS, traction control, and stability control.
IIHS Rating: The MINI Cooper attained "good" scores for a few crash tests, although it wasn't run through the full battery. In some trim levels, it did receive "poor" for headlights but "acceptable" for others.
NHTSA Rating: Not tested.
Standard Tech: Our test vehicle came with Active Driving Assistant with Forward Collision, Pedestrian and Lane Departure Warnings, High Beam Assist, Rearview camera, Tire Pressure Monitoring System, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
Optional Tech: None.
This segment isn't known for capacity. The MINI meets expectations in that regard. With a small trunk and few interior storage options, it's really not great when it comes to taking on groceries, luggage, or even moderately sized gear.
Storage Space: Aside from the cupholders in front of the shiftknob and some really small door pockets, there really isn't room for smaller items. The armrest is occupied by the wireless phone charging dock, so that's out.
Cargo Room: The tiny 5.7 cubic feet in the trunk can handle a couple of grocery bags, but the space is hard to use since it's recessed. You can fold down the back seats for 7.6 cubes.
We drove the MINI Cooper S Convertible somewhat hard, but we came out with decent mileage numbers even if most of our driving time was on local roads. We're sure it'll meet the EPA numbers under conservative driving.
Observed: 21.5 mpg.
Distance Driven: 76 miles.
The premium audio system by Harman Kardon is very good and worth the upgraded package. That package is a whopping $7,500 but you do get a ton of tech and amenities with it. Bass was strong, as was the clarity of the system. It sounded great, even with the top down.