Convertibles exist in a strange space in the motoring world. The people who buy them aren't necessarily enthusiasts, like sports car owners, but they care enough about their car to buy an inherently compromised vehicle.
The entire Mini range exists in a similar sphere. Expensive, small and trendy, the Anglo-Deutsch brand is reliant on buyers making a decision with their hearts, not their heads. That means the 2019 Mini Cooper Convertible is a niche car competing in a niche segment.
Although it has a folding roof, the Cooper Convertible shares many of its mechanicals with the hard-top Mini Hatch. Power comes from a three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine making 100kW and 220Nm, hooked up to the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. A manual is available as a no-cost option.
Mini's base three-cylinder engine is a charmer. Its 100kW isn't enough to blow you away in the acceleration stakes, but maximum torque is on tap between 1480rpm and 4200rpm, granting it a strong, effortless feeling in-gear. Plus, it sounds really cool, with a throaty warble when the driver really puts their foot down.
We've previously called out BMW transmissions as some of the best in the business, and the seven-speed dual-clutch unit in the Convertible is no exception. It's willing to hold gears when the situation demands it, but does an equally good job quietly shuffling through the ratios on light throttle inputs.
It's decisive from standstill and rarely hesitates, which is a refreshing change from the norm with dual-clutch transmissions.
Mini claims 8.7 seconds for the 100km/h sprint, and 5.6L/100km on the combined cycle. That acceleration claim feels accurate, but the fuel figure is miles off – we averaged north of 9.0L/100km during our week with the car, although much of that time was spent sitting in traffic.
The folding soft-top mechanism, which makes the drop-top 45kg heavier than the two-door hatchback, plays a role in shaping both those numbers. After all, weight does bad things to performance and efficiency.
For all its strengths, the engine falls down on the refinement front. Its thrumming and burbling is charming in the Hatch, but the Convertible's weaker structure transmits too many unpleasant vibrations through to the cabin, especially on start-up.
A huge shudder ripples through the chassis when the engine cuts in – every time you pull to a standstill, if start/stop is activated – which doesn't inspire confidence. Trust us, you'll want to turn start/stop off.
The drop-top's inherent wobbliness is evident over bumps, too. Even small potholes send a shiver through the car, and you can hear the body creaking and groaning turning into steep driveways. Bigger bumps get the rear-view mirror vibrating furiously.
Those structural issues are exacerbated by the Convertible's taut ride and big wheels. Our tester was riding on ($900) 18-inch alloys from the Mini Yours collection designed to look like a Union Jack, which look fantastic but make for a rougher ride than the standard 16-inch units.
Does the creaky, wobbly body undermine the Convertible's inherent charm? Nope. Even in winter, it's just fun driving around with the top down. You're able to drop it in just 18 seconds at speeds up to 30km/h and, even though it's the middle of winter in Melbourne, we took every opportunity to enjoy the top-down life.
After all, there's not much point to driving a convertible if you aren't going to constantly work on your tan.
There isn't much buffeting with the top down and the windows raised, though there's still enough turbulence to turn long hair into a bird's nest as the speedo swings past 80km/h. With an upright windshield and tall windows, the cabin of the Convertible is better sheltered than that of, say, a Mazda MX-5.
It's surprisingly drafty with the roof up, though, even with all the windows raised. An uncomfortable amount of wind, road and tyre roar sneaks into the cockpit, forcing you to crank the stereo and drown it out. Actually, the seals are so bad it doesn't need to sneak into the cabin, it just strolls through the front door and grabs a beer from the fridge...
Mini Convertible reviews on CarAdvice have called out the same problem since this generation launched, so it's not like this particular tester was an aberration. Owners will just need to put up with the constant background noise and get used to SPEAKING UP A BIT.
It's a small price to pay for being able to drop the top if you must have a convertible, or another reason to avoid drop-top cars. Perspective is a wonderful thing.
Like the wider Mini range, the Convertible is blessed with a cabin full of interesting details. The central screen is surrounded by an LED ring that changes colour based on what you're doing with the audio, climate or start/stop systems, while all the minor controls are handled by a row of chromed toggled switches.
The instrument binnacle is a compact pod attached to the steering column, and the infotainment system is a cuter, more colourful take on the excellent BMW iDrive system. Plus, wireless Apple CarPlay is now standard, not an expensive option.
With that said, the 6.6-inch infotainment screen feels small compared to the widescreen displays taking over the car industry, especially given it has matte-black plastic bezels covering the area Mini's more expensive 8.0-inch screen would usually occupy.
Our tester was oddly specced, too. It didn't have keyless entry, but was furnished with LED puddle lighting. It missed out on seat heating and steering wheel paddles, but was optioned with ($2700) satellite grey leather seats. Those priorities are a bit... peculiar.
Other options included metallic paint ($900), white bonnet stripes ($900), satellite grey interior 'colour line' ($250), and the chrome exterior package ($300).
At least the Mini range now gets autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection as standard, although lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert are all notable absentees from the spec sheet.
With an as-tested price of $46,700 before on-road costs, and a starting price of $41,400 before on-roads, the Convertible isn't cheap. But it is the least expensive four-seat convertible (the Fiat 500C has a giant sunroof, it isn't a convertible, and I won't be swayed on that) offered in Australia, which has to count in its favour.
Space for front-seat passengers is surprisingly good, but the rear seats are best saved for people you really don't like. Although the 215L boot (160L with the roof folded) capacity is handy on paper, the opening is absolutely tiny – even using the 'easy-load' system, which allows you to lever up the bottom edge of the roof to free up more space.
Given they're barely fit for human use, the rear seats are also handy for storing bigger bags or boxes.
A three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty is standard, and service timing is based on the findings of a set of sensors scattered around the car. Mini calls it Condition Based Servicing, and offers owners the option to pay for five years of servicing upfront.
There's a Basic package ($1295, $259 per year) or the Plus package ($3604, $720.80 per year), the latter of which includes consumables like brake pads and wiper blades.
The Mini Convertible fills its brief perfectly. It will only appeal to the part of the motoring world where standing out and wind-in-your-hair thrills are higher priorities than practicality and parsimony, but it's hard to criticise it for that.
After all, a good convertible is focused on top-down fun, and the Mini Convertible delivers it in spades.