Erin Baker embarks on an adventure in the Mini Cooper S Convertible, and reminds us why it remains one of the most iconic cars on the road.
Words by Erin Baker, Editorial Director at Auto Trader
The Mini, which celebrates its 60th birthday this year, is one of the truly iconic cars on our road. Now owned by BMW, it is bigger and bolder than its predecessor, but still captivates urban drivers with its bespoke style and cool tech. We’ve driven the more sporty S version of the hatch, in convertible form.
Let’s be honest, most people buy a Mini first and foremost for the design. The hatchback version (there’s a Clubman small estate and raised-up Countryman, too) may be bigger and heavier than the original, but it’s still small enough to park easily round town. You can personalise the paintwork any way you like, from different-coloured roofs to patterned wing mirrors and stickers down the side. We love the Union Flag tail-light design: very Cool Britannia.
The joys, however, are to be found inside. Mini excels at clever little design flourishes, courtesy of the MINI Yours service, which allows you to play around with colours, materials and finishes. From the leather seats with embossed Mini badges or the metal surface with herringbone pattern on the dash, to the huge central circular dial which frames the touchscreen and has LED lights which glow round it depending on what you’re doing (a red strip acts as a parking sensor warning light, while a white strip in the other direction shows acceleration or volume), it’s just beautiful.
Mini benefits from BMW technology. So you get the familiar BMW premium satnav experience and iControl rotary knob to activate services like media and phone. The £1,666 Navigation Plus Pack gives you real-time traffic info, Apple CarPlay and Bluetooth with wireless charging, while the Comfort Plus Pack (£1,333) gives you a rear-view camera, parking sensors front and rear, floor mats, heated seats, folding wing mirrors and more.The Harman Kardon audio is another £600 but worth it if you like your tunes loud, as is the head-up display which projects your speed and satnav onto a screen at eye level.
A Mini will always have a jiggly ride, as befits a car with a short wheelbase (it’s genuinely part of the character), but BMW parentage gives it a quiet ride with a feeling of real quality that otherwise belongs to a 3-Series.
Due to the quirky upright styling of Minis, you get a lot of headroom for a small car; my partner is a 6ft rugby player but fits in the driver’s seat easily.
There isn’t a lot of leg room in the back, however, and if you have that fabric rood collapsed all the way back, there isn’t much boot space either.
We tested the Cooper S version which, while not hot-hatch powerful, has 192 horsepower which gives you some needed oomph for overtaking on hills, as well as a bit of exhaust noise for fun. If you want serious acceleration, you’d have to go for the John Cooper Works (JCW) Mini hatch, but that takes away the humble joy of Mini ownership, in our opinion, which is all about bumbling round town, looking pretty, with the roof down (it lowers electronically, via a button above the rear-view mirror).
You also get the dual-clutch seven-speed automatic gearbox, which is super smooth, although personally we’d prefer a manual transmission, which seems more in keeping with the chirpy nature of the car.
Our Mini Cooper S Convertible came loaded up with play things, which sent the price rocketing to £33,390, which is VW Golf GTI territory. But strip out some of the optional extras and you can bring it down to about £25,000. Put up a deposit of £5,000 and a PCP deal should take you to about £250 (Mini has an excellent finance calculator that’s actually easy to use, at offers.mini.co.uk)