The third-generation Convertible is bigger than before, but it's still instantly recognizable as a member of the MINI lineup. Details like the oval headlamps, the down-swept grille and the vertical tail lamps provide visual links to the original 1959 model produced by British Motor Corporation, and all Cooper models sport a power dome hood bulge.
The Cooper and the Cooper S look similar when viewed from the outside but the latter adopts a sportier appearance thanks to more aggressive bumpers on both ends and a mesh radiator grille.
A brand new BMW-developed platform crafted with high-strength steel helps the third-gen Convertible shed a considerable amount of weight. In addition to increasing agility, the lower weight improves the ragtop's acceleration and fuel economy.
The Convertible gains a power cloth soft top that can be opened and closed in 18 seconds at speeds of up to 18 mph. It also offers a sliding roof function that lets the passengers retract the front section of the top by up to 15 inches. Interestingly, an Always Open Timer that tells the driver how many hours he or she has spent driving with the top down.
Though one of the smaller vehicles currently on the market, the Convertible is far larger than its truly miniature predecessors. Space is ample up front, while the rear seats are sufficient for small adults and children. The Convertible offers 5.7 cubic feet of trunk space with the roof down, and 7.6 cubes with the roof up.
In a bid to make the Cooper more ergonomic, MINI moved the speedometer from the center of the dashboard to behind the steering wheel. The speedometer is equipped with an integrated thin-film transistor screen that can be configured to provide a wide array of information about the car, and it is flanked by a small tachometer.
A host of aircraft-inspired toggle switches on the dash enable the driver to turn on or off the parking sensors, the start/stop system, the traction control and the heads-up display (if equipped). A large, clearly visible toggle switch is used to start and stop the engine.
The real estate freed up by the speedometer has been replaced by a high-definition color touch screen that runs the automaker's infotainment system. Called MINI Connected, the software groups the car's entertainment, navigation and connectivity functions into a single unit controlled by the aforementioned touch screen or buttons located right below it. MINI Connected can run applications such as Pandora radio and it enables the driver to upload directions from a computer or a mobile device via Google Send-to-Car.
Under the Hood
Closely following the industry's downsizing trend, the entry-level Cooper is powered by a 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine that generates 134 horsepower and 162 lb-ft. of torque from just 1,250 rpms. The Cooper reaches 60 mph from a stop in 8.3 seconds with a manual transmission, and it goes on to a top speed of 128 mph.
The more expensive Cooper S uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 189 horsepower and 207 lb-ft. of torque. The four-banger is equipped with direct fuel-injection and engineers have installed the turbocharger directly in the exhaust manifold in order to help eliminate turbo lag. The Cooper S sprints from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds with a manual transmission and maxes out at 143 mph.
All engines send power to the front wheels via six-speed manual transmission developed by Getrag. A six-speed automatic unit is offered at an extra cost, and it lowers both models' zero-to-60 time by a imperceptible 0.1 seconds.
The MINI Convertible offers three driving modes that can be engaged on-the-go. Called Sport Mode, the first holds gears longer and makes the suspension slightly stiffer in order to create a sportier driving experience. Green Mode lowers the shift points and disengages the transmission when the driver's foot is off the gas, while Mid-Mode blends attributes from Green and Sport to provide a well-balanced driving experience.
John Cooper Works
MINI's topless John Cooper Works builds on the standard Convertible's go-kart-like handling. It uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 231 horsepower between 5,200 and 6,000 rpm and 236 lb-ft. of torque from 1,250 all the way to 4,800 rpm.
Billed as the most powerful engine ever bolted in the engine bay of a regular-production MINI, the turbo four sends the John Cooper Works from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds when linked to a six-speed manual transmission or 6.3 seconds when bolted to the optional six-speed automatic unit. Top speed is reached at about 150 mph.
A lowered suspension setup and a John Cooper Works-specific sport brake system developed jointly with Italy's Brembo help the driver make the most of the MINI's grunt both on and off the track. Interestingly, a standard suspension setup is available as a no-cost option.
MINI has fitted the Convertible with a deep front bumper with large air ducts, black trim around the radiator grille, and more pronounced fender flares all around. 17-inch alloy wheels and a sprinkling of John Cooper Works emblems add a finishing touch to the motorsport-inspired look.
Standard and Optional Features
The Convertible comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, a 6.5-inch screen, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, dual-zone A/C, rain-sensing wipers, a keyless ignition, 60/40 split rear seats, ambient lighting, leatherette upholstery, and automatic headlights.
Highlights from the long list of options include premium paint colors, chrome trim on the bumper and door mirrors, stripes on the hood, clear turn signals, a dizzying array of upsized alloy wheels, a center armrest, heated seats, full leather upholstery, a sport steering wheel, auto dimming mirrors, a more dynamic sport suspension, LED headlights, rear fog lights, a heads-up display, an alarm, and a rear-view camera.
Buyers can also choose from several option packages including the Technology Package, which adds an 8.8-inch screen, navigation, a rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, and the rain warner feature that emits visual and audible messages if it detects that a storm is near.
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.