That MINI would finally get around to making a second-generation Convertible is obvious. What isn't so clear is the timing; it's still winter, MINI, in case you hadn't noticed.
But of course it had noticed. Come on, this is MINI. And it's BMW, for that matter. The maker that recently unleashed the X6
is no stranger to delicious irony. The difference is, however, that the MINI somehow makes you laugh about the whole thing in a sort of 'ah, that's just what MINI does' way.
Anyway, far from shying away from the fact it's still damn cold in the UK, MINI has, true to form, crafted an advertising campaign based on the strap line 'always open', because, you know, you can wear a jacket and gloves and a scarf and a hat when you drive, can't you? So, let's get everyone over to the snowy Alps for the launch to prove it. It was damn cold.
In the Metal
At first it seems that MINI may have conspired a conspicuously snowy winter launch to divert attention from the fact that, actually, there's hardly any difference between the new Convertible and the last one
But then, wasn't the hatchback like that too: ostensibly the same, in reality quite different? Well, once again it's all in the detail, because on closer inspection this one's a much better looking thing than the rag top it replaces. Thank a new pop-up roll bar behind the rear seats largely for that, which now sits more flush with the shoulder line of the car and only unsheathes in the event of a chronic roof-to-floorpan inversion. The aesthetically awkward brackets on the outside of the boot are gone too, replaced by a complex set of scissor hinges in the inside of the door.
Elsewhere it's business as usual, a fact all-but-confirmed by project leader Johannes Guggenmos, who told us with typical Teutonic brevity that this one's "more perfect". As it happens, whereas the last new MINI was designed just as a hatchback, end of story, this generation was designed with all the future variants in mind from the start. It shows.
Inside it's the same as the hatch, bar a few extra switches, which means it's executed with more cohesion than the last Convertible. The roof switches, for example, are no longer BMW Group units but properly designed MINI toggles. The glove box locks too - a useful feature for those who take the 'always open' mantra literally.
What you get for your Money
Obviously, you get a slightly porkier MINI (but still 10kg lighter than the first-gen Convertible we were told) with a cloth roof and even less practicality - but then, if the latter feature is important to you, you'll have dismissed this car long before now. The roof, which still sits pram style atop the boot (such as it is) opens and shuts at speeds of up to 20mph in 15-seconds flat, and as before there's an integrated sunroof for the more half-hearted sun/rain/snow-seeker.
And there's a new development in quirky MINI frippery for the Convertible, in the form of the 'Always-Open Timer'. It's an option (though it comes with the Salt, Pepper and Chilli packs, so it may as well not be) that endows you with an extra gauge behind the steering wheel to tell you how long you've had the top down for. MINI equates this to how much fun you're having, strangely. We won't mock it too much though - in a MINI it works, however twee.
For the Cooper S, fuel economy of 44.1mpg is over 10mpg better than the existing open top, and CO2
is a highly impressive 46g/km lower, at 153g/km. That also puts it two whole VED bands lower than before and gives it a much better benefit-in-kind tax rating. The Cooper enjoys similar improvements too.
Still, consider that the Cooper S Convertible will cost a fiver short of £19k, with the Cooper three grand less - that's a quite whopping £2,500-ish increase over the fixed head versions. So, true to form, what you get is physically less than you'd get in many other places for the money, but spades more by way of desirability, perceived quality and kudos.
This is the roller-skate MINI's trump card: a surprisingly small compromise in the overall driving experience like-for-like with the hatch. We've only driven the Cooper S version so far, but all the things that make the hot hatch so compelling are present and largely correct - as well as a couple of notable enhancements. The popping, burbling exhaust note is tangibly louder in the Convertible than in the hatch, whether the roof's up or down - lift off the throttle and it's like being stood outside Wembley Arena while Dave Grohl's inside, furiously sound checking his kick drum. Nice.
You also get the same solid-yet-agile driving experience for nine-tenths of the time, with the big hole at the top of the chassis only betraying itself if you're on really poorly surfaced roads - in which case it vibrates like a washing machine on a marble floor. The suspension setup has the same slightly unyielding gait as its hatchback brother (which run flat tyres don't help), but it still rarely gets crashy and is far from uncomfortable. The steering, too, has the same weighty turn in, and though its a little dead at the top, it transfers more than enough feedback to your freezing cold palms.
It's a strange dichotomy - the Convertible sounds like a touring car with a duvet taped around it, yet to look at it you'd assume it was made exclusively for the wives of investment bankers to go to Starbucks in. Whether you can live with that is your call. Just to hammer the Convertible's dynamic prowess home, though, there's a John Cooper Works version coming at launch too, which could be a complete disaster but very probably won't be. The exact specs for that are due to be announced imminently.
MINI is, true to its premium hatch remit, opening the Convertible order book with higher-powered versions only - but it hasn't ruled out a One Convertible or a Cooper D either. Now that the oil-burning MINI comes in cooler Cooper spec - as opposed to the One D specification of the first generation hatch - it will be much easier for the company to market it as 'sporty-yet-frugal'. Diesel convertibles are no longer taboo either.
And don't think the proliferation of MINI-badged metal will stop there. The Crossman 4x4 will come next, which should prove to be the first truly practical MINI, and, whisper this, there's a top secret new flagship model on the cards for next year. MINI wouldn't be drawn on what it is, but it's new and exciting. Apparently. Look out for that one.
The MINI Convertible is even more a vanity choice than the hatchback, so the fact it's really rather good is arguably a moot point - it'd probably still sell even if the running gear comprised in part of your legs, and the wheels were honed from granite, Flintstones style.
Fortunately it serves up a driving experience at odds with what you expect. Sure, it's overpriced, under-specced and a four-seater in name only - but those are all qualities that could be levelled at the hatch. The best thing you can say about the new Convertible is that enjoying open air journeying on those rare warm days - I don't care what MINI says, you'll look like an idiot with the top down when it's cold - doesn't involve paying a steep dynamic price for the other 340-odd days of the year.