Ride Review: 2019 MINI Convertible
We can safely establish that MINI is more than just the iconic two-door car that looks like the original from back in 1959.
In the past couple of years, Lavender Magazine brought you two variations on the MINI theme. The Clubman fused some traditional MINI aspects onto a four-door wagon. This was followed by the Countryman, MINI’s answer to the premium small SUV/crossover.
This time around, Lavender Magazine had the chance to drive another MINI that reflects the current direction of the brand—the Convertible.
Across all three generations of the MINI family, a four-seat convertible has been a part of the lineup. This current generation just went through a mid-cycle refresh that is mild, but not without some updates on technology and cosmetic items. The Convertible reflects not just a through-line of all generations under BMW’s guidance and stewardship, but a car onto its own.
The character of the Convertible starts from the two-door Hardtop model. Though some would say that the Convertible was a simple roof chop, you might be half-right. In essence, you have the guts of the Hardtop with a clever roof system.
The mid-cycle refresh brings about a new LED surround for the headlight units. The LED doubles as a turn signal, as well as a daylight running lamp. The headlamp units are now all-LED. The fog lamps were redesigned to be more integrated into the lower fascia. You will also see the revised MINI logo applied onto the exterior of each 2019 Hardtop, Convertible, and Clubman. The rear bumper skin has been redone slightly. The biggest change is the availability of the Union Jack taillights. They etched a half of the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain on each taillight using LED lamps to illuminate in a salute.
The lower stance has been raised by the roof itself—when the roof’s up, that is. The soft canvas/cloth roof has a C-pillar blind spot that is designed more for stability. With the roof up, rearward vision is OK. Drop the roof and your lower rearward vision is blocked by the folded roof itself. Luckily, you do get infinite rear quarter vision in that position. With the roof down, you can install a wind deflector across the rear seat—that is, if you only have just yourself or another person in the Convertible.
There is a third way to work the roof. You can have the front half of the roof folded back for a sunroof effect. All roof operations are available from one switch. It takes 18 seconds to get the roof down. You also have the option to keep the windows up or down when the roof is lowered.
If you remove the wind deflector, you get seating for four. Depending on the size of the people, you may have to consider the MINI Convertible a 2+2. But, if you do have someone in the rear seat, the MINI Convertible should be a fun way to get through summer. Front seats are supportive with plenty of manual adjustments for rake, recline and height. One lever on the top of the seatback takes care of rear seat access.
Cargo space starts at 5.7 cubic feet with the roof down. Putting up the roof will expand that space to 7.6 cubic feet. The trunk is hinged at the bottom, yet it opens quite big to fit luggage inside. It is also expandable by dropping the rear seatbacks for longer items—or, more luggage.
If you are familiar with the current MINI lineup, then you will be familiar with the dashboard layout. The steering column both tilts and telescopes with the instrument binnacle attached to the top of it. A Head-Up Display helps to keep your eyes on the road with the right amount of information ahead.
The large center dial houses the MINI Connected infotainment system. For 2019, MINI added Apple CarPlay connectivity to the system. Our tester had accessibility to apps, along with a navigation system. Harmon Kardon provided the speakers throughout the cabin, which provided great sound with the roof up and down. The audio and infotainment upgrade on our tester is part of one of the top equipment package you can get on a MINI Convertible, called Iconic. It offers practically everything you would like in a car in one extensive bundle of features. Other equipment levels are Classic and Signature—all leading to the top Iconic level.
The MINI Convertible is available in three performance options. Our tester was the Cooper S, powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. With 189 horsepower on tap, the engine feels like a perfect fit for the Convertible with a superb powerband devoid of turbo lag and superb response. You can credit that response to the 207 pound-feet of torque, giving the Cooper S Convertible a more robust low end. Fuel economy for the MINI Convertible Cooper S is rated at 25 MPG in the city, 33 MPG on the highway.
You can get the Convertible in a Cooper model with a 134-horsepower turbocharged three-cylinder engine, or the uprated John Cooper Works model, which raises the Cooper S engine up to 228 horsepower. All three models offer a choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. Our tester had the latter—and it also fits the Cooper S engine perfectly with a great response through the gears. All Convertibles come with front-wheel drive.
As a side note, I was at the regional media association’s annual spring confab at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. There, I had the chance to run a 2018 MINI John Cooper Works 2-door Hardtop on the karting course for the autocross event. I cannot put into words how the JCW drove: it’s that good! In fact, I had my best autocross course times in the JCW. Something to consider if presented with MINI’s high-performance trim level.
Speaking of driving dynamics, the MINI Convertible certainly feels like it’s Hardtop’s brother. Handling is superb with sharp reflexes and flat cornering. Both are enhanced through the Convertible’s drive modes. Flip the toggle up into Sport and things get more aggressive. In any setting, the ride is firm. There is some compliance, but that goes away in Sport mode.
The steering system is also superb. Sharpness is felt at every turn. It is really a point-and-shoot system. Steering feel is tight—heavier in Sport mode. On center feel is superb. The brakes are also fantastic, offering excellent feel at the pedal and response down to the calipers. We experienced great stops in normal conditions. We were unable to do any panic stops in our testing.
One thing you will notice is how stable the Convertible’s structure is. Most convertibles would have to compensate for the body/chassis reward from the door/B-pillar. The MINI’s structure is very compact, but built for rigidity from the door, up the B-pillar and onward to the roof itself. The C-pillar of the roof is thick, therefore assisting to stabilize the rear end of the car. When you do take the curves, the Convertible does not flex or shake.
Another thing to point out about the MINI Convertible’s roof is the way it handles inclement weather. The roof’s construction is made not to only to keep everyone dry with its up—it also works well to deaden the sound from outside.
The MINI Convertible starts at $26,900 for a Cooper Classic model with a manual transmission. Our Cooper S Iconic tester came with a sticker price of $40,355.
The one thing to understand about the MINI Convertible is that one should not worry about the lack of reward vision or practicality. You buy a convertible for the intent of just having fun on the road. It is meant to go on outings up to the North Shore or home to see the family. Or, to get it ready for next year’s Pride festivities.
Though the core of the MINI lineup is the two-door Hardtop, one should not ignore the Convertible as a viable choice. It has everything you want in the two-door Hardtop: with a three-way roof that opens up to the skies. You can also get a MINI Convertible with any of the three power choices and equipment levels. The Convertible is simply an original idea that makes MINI what it is: built for maximum fun.