Retro is a hard thing to get right. For every Ford Mustang and Fiat 500, there’s a PT Cruiser or Daihatsu Copen.
But few would argue against the Mini. Since BMW relaunched it in 2001 it has been critically lauded and a huge commercial success in the UK.
The Mini convertible was launched in 2016 and once again manages to walk the line between kitsch retro, sporty fun, up-to-date tech and comfort. The interior of the old (new) Mini had started to date in the face of increasingly premium competition in the B-segment, but the latest incarnation is bang up to date, while retaining all the charm that made its predecessor such a success.
Mini Cooper Convertible
Engine: 1.4-litre, three-cylinder, turbo petrol
Top speed: 129mph
0-62mph: 8.8 seconds
Economy: 57.6mpg combined.
CO2 emissions: 114g/km
You’ll need to consider the Paceman, Countryman or Clubman to have anything approaching family-friendly practicality. But as a runaround, with an occasional back seat passenger it will do just nicely. This soft-top version actually has more space for rear passengers than the convertible Audi A3 I drove recently – although I’d never believe that if I hadn’t experienced it myself. In penance you have to put up with a miniscule 215-litre boot with a downward-opening hatch.
While the Cooper version isn’t as fast as the Cooper S or John Cooper Works versions, it’s lively enough that it still feels sporty and worthy of the Cooper name. With 134bhp, and a nought to 60 time of 8.5 seconds, mated to a brilliantly slick gearbox it’s going to generate few performance complaints unless you’re a dyed-in-the-overalls petrolhead. And even such a driver will be impressed with the go-kart handling, which once again Mini have got just right.
The starting price for a standard Mini Cooper is around £15,000 and this drop-top version starts just shy of the £19,000 mark. So what does the standard Cooper have over a cheaper and equally critically lauded Ford Fiesta, for example? Personality.
When you change between driving modes – via a dial surrounding the base of the gearshift housing – you’re given a little description of what each mode will mean. Green Mode: Low-consumption driving fun. Mid Mode: Typical Mini driving fun. Sport mode: Maximum go-kart feel. These are the things most manufacturers deem unnecessary – and they are – but boy do I love them.
Not a single thing about the Mini could be called humdrum. From the shape of the gearknob, the circular centre console and the seats, to the noise from the exhaust and the little messages from the infotainment system, every single component in this car feels like it has been thought about and only made the cut if the designers agreed that it’s ‘so Mini’.
Anything I don’t like? There’s a lot of environmental noise from outside the fabric roof – but that’s because it’s a soft-top.
While it’s arguable whether the Fiat 500 is comparable to the Mini – it’s unarguably in the city-car class – the retro aesthetic and fun drive means it’s an obvious alternative that many buyers will consider – and there’s a convertible version too.
Despite sharing retro looks, the current generation Mini is a more modern car than the 500 – a fact bourne out by its four-star safety rating from Euro NCAP compared with the 500’s three.
If you’ve got your heart set on a B-segment convertible, why choose the Mini? The question should be why would you choose anything else?