by Morgan Carter
Just like its hard-top sibling, the Mini Cooper Convertible emphasizes fun over practicality. Having a fold-down roof just means you can literally enjoy the wind blowing through your hair. Unlike many cars that try to deliver a well-rounded experience, the Mini has only one selling point: fun. However, it does this so well that you could be excused for overlooking its snug passenger space, almost non-existent trunk, disappointing fuel economy, and shockingly high price tag on the upper sub-trims. The twin-turbo engines on offer may not be the most potent, with either a 134-horsepower three-cylinder or a 189-hp four-cylinder, but they are more than adequate for such a light and compact convertible. And, with so many compact convertibles exiting the market in 2019, you don't really have many choices left for 2020. You can still get a 2019 Fiat 500C, but the Mini Cooper Convertible stands in a class of its own moving forward.
For the most part, the 2020 Mini Cooper Convertible remains unchanged from the previous year. The optional 18-inch Mini Yours Vanity wheels have been replaced with Mini Yours British wheels, and the leatherette upholstery is now available in a two-tone Black Pearl/Light Grey trim. While it seemed that Mini had done away with the six-speed manual gearbox that was standard on every model last year, the manufacturer has assured consumers that it will be returning to replace the current standard seven-speed automatic transmission later in the production year. In addition, the Active Driving Assistant is standard across Mini's entire range for 2020.
Playful elegance is the first thought that springs to mind when first setting eyes on the Mini Cooper Convertible. Despite decades of evolution, the modern-day Cooper still bears a striking resemblance to the Minis of yesteryear, with the classic grinning grille and oval automatic headlights that would look ludicrously out of place on any other vehicle. It further touts its heritage with bold Union Jack taillights, which can be complemented by optional Union Jack mirror caps. The base Cooper rides on 15-inch alloys, while the Cooper S adds an inch to the diameter just to show off. LED head- and fog lights are available on the upper sub-trims.
Everything about the Mini Cooper Convertible is compact, boasting its supremacy when it comes to navigating tight town streets or congested highways. The convertible is just a smidge longer than the standard hatchback at 151.9 inches, with a short 98.2-inch wheelbase. Without its mirrors, the Mini can fit into some seriously narrow spaces, too, as it's just 68 inches wide. With the roof up, the convertible stands 55.7 inches tall. The standard Cooper weighs in at 3,737 lbs, while the Cooper S puts on a little pudge at 3,891 lbs. No other convertible can compete with these town-centric compact dimensions.
You get a choice of two engines when it comes to the Mini Cooper Convertible, although each is reserved for a specific model. The standard Cooper is powered by a 1.5-liter twin-turbocharged inline-three-cylinder engine that develops 134 hp and 162 lb-ft for the front wheels. While still delivering a fair degree of fun, this engine won't give you the thrill you might want from a Mini. With a 0 to 60 mph time of 8.2 seconds and a max speed of 127 mph, it's useful but not breathtaking performance. Still, you won't lack for power around town, and the convertible's small stature makes it feel more potent than it is.
The 2.0-liter twin-turbocharged four-cylinder gives the Mini Cooper S a more athletic edge, with 189 hp and 207 lb-ft being directed to the front wheels. This powertrain gets the convertible up to speed in a brisker 6.7 seconds and tops out at 143 mph. While still not as sporty as the JCW model (reviewed separately), the Cooper S zips around town without a care in the world, and it is equally capable of passing and merging on the highway with the same nonchalance. Both engines come mated to a quick-shifting seven-speed automatic transmission, although a six-speed manual gearbox will be offered later in the year, according to the manufacturer.
A lot of personality is packed into the tiny convertible, and it leaks out with every playful rev of the engine, be it the capable three-cylinder or the more throaty four-cylinder. Either way, the twin-turbo powertrains pull the tiny car around town with ease. While most of BMW's performance car lineup opts for more engaging rear-wheel-drive vehicles, the Mini manages just fine with a front-wheel drivetrain, largely thanks to its light weight and excellent driving dynamics.
The steering is sharp and responsive, with the chunky wheel instilling a great sense of confidence in the driver, ensuring a clear line of communication between hands and tires. At higher speeds, there is a bit more heft to the steering, but its overall lightness can take some getting used to on the highway. Where some might feel that the convertible is a bit too darty, others will find the zippy nature of the Mini intoxicating.
The Mini Cooper is akin to a playful puppy, eager to please its driver. From the happy growl of the engine to the sharp turn-in around bends, the convertible is all about fun. Unfortunately, some sacrifices are made to ensure this purity of character; the axles and suspension are tuned to favor fun over comfort, with even small bumps being easily felt by everyone in the cabin. The available adaptive suspension does help to smooth out more jarring interruptions.
For a convertible emphasizing fun over practicality, the Cooper boasts pretty decent fuel economy, and since it uses a BMW engine, you can be confident it will get the estimated figures. The Cooper's engine, a 1.5 three-cylinder, gets an EPA-estimated 28/36/31 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles, while the more powerful 2.0-liter four-cylinder powertrain shaves two mpg off each category for 26/34/29 mpg. The slightly less fuel-efficient figure is in line with similarly sized convertible rivals like the Mazda MX-5, which gets 26/35/30 mpg. However, with practically all of its direct competitors now removed from the current market, the Mini Cooper Convertible is in a class of its own, and can't be easily compared. While the Mini only has a small 11.6-gallon tank, the Cooper model can still cover about 360 miles between gas station visits.
The Mini Cooper Convertible is a car designed to be driven, not be driven in, so rear passengers aren't given that much attention. Headroom all-around is quite good, or unlimited if you put the roof down. Front legroom is also more than adequate for even tall adults, but the rear seats are quite cramped. On the plus side, bolstered bucket seats are provided as opposed to regular seats, keeping everyone in place as the sporty convertible dodges traffic and pivots around bends. The materials in the cabin are upscale, with plenty of soft-touch surfaces, while the seats are upholstered in leatherette, with premium leather available. The gauges and controls look equally stylish, but they do so at the expense of ergonomic sensibility, making operating the infotainment or driver-assistance features a painstaking task.
Practicality is not the catchphrase of the Mini Cooper Convertible. You probably wouldn't expect much in the way of trunk space from such a compact vehicle, but even such low expectations would lead to disappointment. With the soft-top roof up, the trunk provides 7.6 cubic feet of space, enough for a handful of grocery bags. Fitting anything larger would be a chore, especially considering the narrow aperture created by the small trunk lid. The rear seats do fold down in a 50/50 split, but considering how little space the second row of seats offers to begin with, this doesn't add much cargo room. Lowering the roof reduces the trunk capacity by about a third, leaving you with a measly 5.7 cubic feet of space.
Small-item storage is about what you'd expect from a car that barely accommodates its four passengers. There are cup holders and a few bins around the cabin, but they are awkwardly placed and don't hold very much. The glove compartment is small but proportionate to the size of the convertible.
The entry-level sub-trims within each model of the Mini Cooper Convertible come relatively sparsely equipped to try to keep costs down without sacrificing the fun that is the car's selling point. The Classic comes with push-button start, cruise control, a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, and the Active Driving Assistant safety suite, which comprises forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking. Features available at higher sub-trims, or through optional packages, include adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, a head-up display, front parking sensors, and an automated parking system. The standard Sensatec upholstery can also be upgraded to premium leather.
As with the standard features, the infotainment on the convertible is quite basic at the standard level, with more advanced features unlocked as you upgrade your sub-trim. The Classic Cooper comes with a 6.5-inch infotainment display that supports AM/FM Radio, SiriusXM, Bluetooth, and offers USB ports and an auxiliary input jack. The standard sound system is a six-speaker setup that does a good job of channeling sound throughout the tiny cabin. An upgraded 12-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system is available, as well as a larger 8.8-inch infotainment display with a touchpad interface, which supports navigation technology and Apple CarPlay.
J.D. Power awarded the 2019 Mini Cooper Convertible an overall dependability rating of 80 out of 100, a score that is likely to be inherited by the mostly unchanged 2020 model. The convertible is quite a niche purchase and, thus, has not received many complaints. Recalls for steering gear tie rods with the potential to break, and missing crash pads on the rear side trim panels affected the 2018/2019 Cooper Convertible. The manufacturer offers a 50,000-mile/48-month limited warranty on new purchases, with 36,000 miles/36 months of free maintenance.
The NHTSA has not rated the 2020 Mini Cooper Convertible, nor has it been comprehensively tested by the IIHS. The latter gave the convertible a score of Acceptable for front crash prevention. The standard two-door hatchback received an overall rating of Good from the IIHS. Standard safety features comprise ABS, stability and traction control, a rearview camera, rear sonar, and six airbags: front, front knee, and front side. BMW now also insists that all base models come equipped with Active Driving Assistant, which comprises forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking. Available features include a head-up display and front sonar.
What makes a good car? That very much depends on what you want it for. The Mini Cooper Convertible is a terrible car in many regards; it offers almost no cargo space, isn't particularly fuel-efficient, and costs more than anything so small has a right to. But is it a fun car? Hell yes. This single factor is enough to save the Cooper Convertible - that's how fun it is.
If you're tired of battling against the traffic in your practical hatchback or sedan, then the compact and playful Mini will be a godsend. It isn't as big as your conventional sports car, meaning it can contend with busy city streets and still deliver an enjoyable driving experience. It might not be as powerful as a Ford Mustang or BMW M3, but it can go places they never could. Getting up to 60 mph in under three seconds doesn't mean much when you have nowhere to go, but that isn't a problem for the compact convertible. It zips between cars on the highway or even around town with an ease that offers a totally different thrill than flying down the highway at over 160 mph.
If you just need to run a quick errand or go visit your friends downtown, then the Cooper Convertible will make sure you arrive in high spirits and have something to look forward to on your way home. But if you need to do something boring and responsible, like grocery shopping or picking the kids up from school, then you should opt for your daily driver with its better ride comfort and enough room in the trunk for your repressed inner wild child.
Few cars offer the same amount of fun as the Mini Cooper Convertible, and with all its direct segment rivals not presenting 2020 models, it now stands in a class of its own. For fun around town, you'll be hard-pressed to find a car as good as the Mini.
While similar small hatchback-style town cars are generally cheaper than the Mini, the Cooper Convertible is not overly expensive - at least not in its base forms. The Classic Cooper Convertible will cost you only $28,400, while the Cooper S model adds $4,000 to the bill. However, each model offers sub-trims and packages that significantly change their load-outs and, naturally, their prices. A well-appointed convertible Cooper S with the Iconic sub-trim starts at $39,400, with available add-ons pushing the price up to around $50k, making a fully-loaded Mini Cooper Convertible a pricey purchase. These are MSRP prices and do not include tax, registration, licensing, or Mini's $850 destination charge.
Both models are capable and fun drivers, although the punchier engine in the Cooper S does make it more engaging, and isn't that the whole point of a Mini? This isn't a car designed for practicality, so should that even factor into your decision-making? Neither model is particularly cheap, so you may as well go for a Cooper S with some add-ons and get the most fun for your money. If you want to balance fun and economy, then the Cooper S Classic would be our recommendation, but if money isn't an issue, then the Iconic sub-trim will ensure you get the most enjoyment from your Mini.
Comparing these two vehicles is basically comparing an apple with the same apple, just peeled. The same trims are offered with the exact same engine options. Handling and the overall driving experience are also identical, save for the lack of wind flowing through your hair. However, a key difference would be practicality. Where the convertible offers a maximum of 7.6 cubic feet (5.7 cubic feet with the roof down) of cargo space, the hardtop has a little extra room for junk in the trunk, with 8.7 cubic feet of space. It is also a little easier for rear passengers to get in their seats if you opt for the four-door model, although hopping in the back of the convertible with the roof down is arguably the easiest way to get in the back seats. Deciding which version of the Mini Cooper is better really comes down to personal taste, because that 0.9 cubic feet of trunk space certainly shouldn't be enough to sway you.
A bit bigger, and with a much more powerful 181-hp engine, the Mazda MX-5 offers higher-octane thrills than the Mini. Like the Cooper, the MX-5 focuses purely on the thrill of driving, discarding the back row of seats entirely and offering an even less impressive 4.6 cubic feet of cargo space. However, it delivers an even more engaging driving experience. It weighs less, accelerates faster, and handles even better than the compact convertible. The Mazda gets access to better safety features on its higher trims, though, and you won't have to pay through the nose for them, as even the top-tier Grand Touring will cost you less than a Cooper S. Add to this the MX-5's comparable fuel economy figures, and it does seem to be the better choice.