The Cooper Convertible is the drop-top version of MINI's iconic Cooper Hardtop model. It offers open-air seating for four in addition to the excellent handling and offbeat British style for which MINI has become known. Three models are available: the 121-horsepower Cooper, the 181-horsepower Cooper S and the 208-horsepower John Cooper Works.
MINI also offers a small galaxy of alternate bodystyles: these include the Coupe, Roadster, Clubman and Countryman.
Now in its second generation, there's no mistaking the Convertible for anything but a MINI. The familiar compact drop-top shape remains, with details like the rounded headlamps and the down-swept grille providing visual links to the original 1959 model produced by the British Motor Corporation.
Though one of the smaller vehicles currently on the market, the Convertible is far larger than its truly diminutive MINI forebears. Space is ample up front, while the rear seats are sufficient for small adults and children. Fold down them down and there's a compact-SUV-rivaling 23.3 cubic feet of cargo space available. The dashboard utilizes the traditional, quirky Mini control and instrumentation layout, with an enormous speedometer in the center of the dash and a steering-column mounted tachometer. The setup can take some getting used to, as can the fiddly, eccentric secondary controls on the center stack.
Thanks to its short wheelbase, well-tuned chassis and communicative steering, the Convertible is as engaging to drive as its looks suggest, offering nimble responses in addition to a tolerable ride on poorly maintained roads.
Cooper and Cooper S
The entry-level Cooper is powered by a 1.6-liter inline-four cylinder that sports parent company BMW's flexible VALVETRONIC variable valve timing technology and produces 121 horsepower and 118 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 revs. Fuel economy is rated at an impressive 27 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway with both the standard six-speed stick and optional six-speed automatic
In addition to a stiffer suspension, the mid-grade Cooper S packs a turbocharged version of the 1.6-liter that pumps out 181 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque at 1,600-5,000 revs (192 lb-ft in overboost mode). Fuel economy is rated at 26 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway for the stick-shifted model, while the automatic-equipped variant returns 26/34 mpg.
John Cooper Works
After pioneering the superior-handling mid-engined layout and enjoying great success in the prestigious Formula One racing series, British racing driver and designer John Cooper turned his attention to transforming the original Mini into a performance machine. The resulting car, known as the Mini Cooper S, enjoyed a string of dominant performances at the Monte Carlo Rally in the mid-1960s, cementing Cooper's status as a racing legend.
Today MINI pays homage to Cooper with the MINI John Cooper Works models, which are the high-performance range-topping vehicles in the automaker's lineup. In addition to the Convertible, MINI's Hardtop, Roadster, Coupe and Clubman offerings can also be had in JCW form.
True to its heritage, the JCW Convertible is a pure-bred performance car. It features an aerodynamic body kit, upgraded Brembo brakes and a version of the Cooper S' turbocharged 1.6-liter four that's tuned for 208 horsepower. The twin-scroll turbocharger helps the 1.6-liter engine churn out 192 pound-feet of torque under normal driving. An overboost function allows the JCW to eke out an additional 16 lb-ft for a total of 207.
While a six-speed manual was once the only transmission option for the JCW, MINI recently added a six-speed automatic to the options lists to appeal to clutch-averse buyers.
MINI also recently reworked the JCW's engine to achieve improved fuel economy; the result is an impressive 26 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway for the stick-shifted model, while opting for the automatic dings highway mileage by one mpg.
Standard and Optional Features
Befitting the brand's quasi-premium intentions, the Cooper features a healthy list of standard equipment including speed-sensitive power steering, electrically adjustable exterior mirrors, height-adjustable seats, leatherette upholstery, air conditioning, power windows, power locks, 15-inch alloy wheels and a six-speaker audio system with MP3-compatible CD player and AUX IN connection. Bluetooth connectivity is newly standard for the latest model year.
Aside from its more powerful engine and firmer suspension, the Cooper S adds sports seats, alloy pedals, foglamps and 16-inch alloy wheels. The John Cooper Works brings grey-face gauges, 17-inch wheels, a unique gearshift knob, a sport exhaust system and JCW badging in addition to its performance-enhancing components (detailed above).
Optional equipment includes Park Distance Control, black headlight housing, xenon headlights, Adaptive Headlights, Comfort Access, automatic climate control, automatically dimming rear-view mirror and exterior mirrors, a storage package and for the aesthetically challenged, a rear luggage carrier rack. Entertainment options include a Harman Kardon sound system, a USB audio interface and a navigation system with a 6.5 inch display in the center of the speedometer.
In case the standard options aren't enough for you, MINI has added something entirely new known as MINI Yours, which allows further customization. The options include: an instrument panel covered in a smooth two-tone, soft-touch leather with exposed stitching, a two-tone steering wheel, a new MINI Yours 17-inch wheel, special pattern "Soda" mirror caps with a three-dimensional effect and MINI Yours Soda pattern Lounge Leather with unique Soda pattern on the sides of the backrests and headrests, as well as a contrasting black leather stripe that runs down the middle of the seats and is offset with premium piping.
The Convertible comes standard with dual front airbags, side airbags that protect both the thorax and head, and pop-up bars that deploy to protect occupants' heads in the event of a rollover. Traction and stability control systems and a tire-pressure monitoring system are also included.
The Fiat 500c is the only true rival to the Cooper Convertible - it's smaller and slower but less expensive than the MINI. The Mazda MX-5 Miata is also worth considering due to its similar price and superb handling, although it only has seating for two.
Given their power and size, the Cooper S and John Cooper Works convertibles really don't have any true competitors. Bigger, more potent but less precise drop-tops like the Ford Mustang Convertible and Chevrolet Camaro Convertible are potential cross-shopping candidates.