MINI Cooper Review
To say that the reincarnation of the Mini Cooper back in 2002 was a success is like saying Michael Phelps was a decent Olympic swimmer. The folks at Mini decided to make the most of their popularity and followed up that hardtop Cooper with a convertible version three years later. Providing the same driving kicks, excellent fuel economy and easy parking as the hardtop, the Mini Convertible complements the agile, spirited personality of the hardtop Mini with sunshine and breezes.
Like its fixed-roof sibling, the Mini Convertible is, depending on the year, typically available in base, sportier S and high-performance John Cooper Works trim levels. Its many options allow personalization unmatched in the small convertible segment. One thing to keep in mind is that the drop-top generations did not change in lockstep with their hardtop siblings: The convertible's redesigns typically happened a few years after that of the hardtops. Whatever year and trim level you consider, plenty of smiles per mile come standard.
Current Mini Convertible
The 2017 Mini Convertible is available in three main trim levels: base, S and John Cooper Works (JCW). Even the base version has such standard features as a power convertible top (with a partially opened "sunroof" function), automatic climate control and smartphone app integration. The S adds a more powerful engine, larger wheels and front sport seats. The John Cooper Works (JCW) features an even more potent engine, a sport-tuned suspension and an aerodynamic body kit. Highlights of the lengthy options list include LED headlights, a rearview camera and heated seats.
A turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine with 134 horsepower powers the base Mini Convertible, while the S version has a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 189 hp. The John Cooper Works features a more powerful version of the S engine, cranking out 228 hp. All send their power to the front wheels through a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. Times from 0 to 60 mph range from about 7.4 seconds for a base Cooper to 6.2 seconds for a JCW.
In reviews, Edmunds editors enjoyed the athletic handling, spirited performance and overall fun-to-drive personality of the Mini Convertible. But as with its hardtop sibling, the convertible's ride gets increasingly stiff unless you opt for the adjustable dampers that are available on the JCW edition.
Used Mini Convertible models
The current, third-generation Mini Convertible debuted for the 2016 model year. In addition to being slightly larger, it also featured a more powerful engine lineup as well as some additional high-tech features, including available LED headlights, a rearview camera and an adaptive suspension.
Given that essentially nothing has changed since then, the trim levels, powertrains and general driving impressions mirror those of the current Mini Convertible lineup covered above.
The Mini Convertible's second generation ran from 2009 through 2015. Though it might not have looked much different from its predecessors, this drop-top boasted more powerful engines, improved interior quality, a slightly smoother ride, pop-up roll bars, an expandable trunk, and the addition of the high-performance John Cooper Works version. Initially, the engine lineup consisted of the base 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 118 horsepower, the 172-hp turbocharged version of that engine for the S, and the JCW's high-output version with 208 hp. For 2011, the base convertible's engine output rose to 121 hp and the turbocharged S's powerplant increased to 181 hp. A six-speed manual transmission was standard and a six-speed automatic was available (except on the JCW until 2013).
There were other notable changes that shoppers should be aware of. For example, Bluetooth connectivity wasn't made standard across the line until 2013 but was optional from 2008 on. Before 2010, cruise control and a multifunction steering wheel were optional. And for 2007 and 2008, stability control was an option.
In reviews, Edmunds editors praised this Mini's spirited handling, thrifty fuel economy and excellent all-around performance, especially in the Cooper S and JCW versions. Even the base convertible, though, was fun to drive. Downsides included a stiff and noisy ride, a very small backseat and illogical control layouts. The optional navigation system in particular wasn't especially user-friendly and hampered audio control.
Mini produced the first generation of the modern Mini Convertible from 2005 to 2008. The base Cooper produced just 115 hp and wasn't very refined, so we would go with a Cooper S instead. Back then, it was supercharged (compared to later turbocharged engines found in the S) and made a more energetic 168 hp. A five-speed manual transmission was standard on the base Cooper. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) was an option, but it was lethargic. The Cooper S came standard with a six-speed manual and offered an optional six-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
Inside, this Cooper's various controls were easy to use, but the cabin was typically fraught with squeaks and rattles. While taller drivers found plenty of legroom, no telescoping steering wheel was available. The seats were also less comfortable than those found in newer versions. There were no notable changes throughout this generation.
In reviews, Edmunds editors enjoyed lively handling from both the S and JWC models and the added kick of the more powerful engine found in the Cooper S. But the stiffer suspension setup of the S may be too harsh for some buyers. For that reason, we would avoid those cars with wheels larger than 16 inches. This generation also had much stiffer steering effort at slower speeds, but many have found it far more communicative and nimble than the more recent electric power-assisted steering setup.
Read the most recent 2016 MINI Cooper review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used MINI Cooper page.
For more on past MINI Cooper models, view our MINI Cooper history page.