2021 Mini Cooper Convertible road test review
A Mini Cooper can brighten up the gloomiest of weather. Probably that is why the Brits hold this brand so close to their heart. But I say this from the point of view of a driving enthusiast. Sure, the Minis have put on weight and grown in size with their German diet, but BMW has ensured that the brand doesn't lose its identity - both in the terms of the way they look and go. So even with dark skies looming over our favourite (and often repeated) mountain roads, I did not let go of this small opportunity I had of driving a Mini Cooper convertible on a Monday morning. Even smaller opportunities we get in India are those of enjoying open-top motoring. Because though we get a lot more sun than the Brits, our dusty atmosphere, spitting morons and overfed pigeons don't make convertibles an enjoyable affair. But like I have said before on numerous occasions, there are places in India and times between season changes when open-top motoring can be truly enjoyed and for those few times, I would rather choose a Mini convertible, than the hardtop.
Still looks good!
This is the second facelift given to the current-generation Mini - but who really cares about changes on Mini? If you do - it's got a new grille that is made more prominent now with its single-piece design and it looks like it sits closer to the ground. The fog lamps have also disappeared and made way for little cuts in the bumper. If you are going to be driving in bad weather often - ideally don't get the convertible, but if you still do, you should opt for the higher-spec multi-beam LED lights because they will cut through fog and rain much better than the standard LED lamps.
Other changes on the 2021 Mini include new eyeliners for the cute headlights which complement the distinctive LED daytime running lights that have been retained from the outgoing car. Remember I said a Mini can liven up gloomy weather? Check out that colour! The black accents stand out nicely on this shade which is called Zesty Yellow, which you can (and must) choose over the boring white, grey or silver options - because after all, it's a Mini and the fluorescent colour is exclusive to the convertible.
The convertible can only be had in the Cooper S variant, which is signified by the relevant badges, sportier rear diffuser and the signature twin-barrel exhaust tips. And yes, the exhaust sounds sweet - outside and inside.
The itty-bitty cabin
All those wanting to flaunt the British connection, get is the Union Jack in the taillights and for a lakh of rupees more can have it on top of the fabric roof as well. The dark colour for the roof works well in our conditions but keep it away from birds and trees because any stains it picks up from their droppings are hard to get rid of.
You get nicer fabrics inside the cabin, of course, and I quite like the new chequered pattern on our test car, which like the exterior, looks more vibrant than the two black options available otherwise. It also looks a bit more cheerful than the quilted pattern of the outgoing car.
It even goes well with the pattern and textures seen on the dashboard inlays. Creating the contrast are the unique knobs, the inviting red-coloured ignition switch and the subtle ambient lighting.
Small details like the switches nestled in the inside door handle, or the seat-belt housings that look like chopped off B- and C-pillars, add a touch of novelty and a sense of clever engineering for space management.
But the hero of the cabin continues to be the big grandma clock inspired centre stack. It houses a standard 8.8-inch infotainment system that is a bit laggy which I think is because it probably continues to use the older architecture. It has updated menus, customisable layouts, some new connected features etc. but Apple CarPlay needs you to shell out an additional Rs 40 thousand and can be had only if you get the 1.25 lakh rupee Mini Navigation System - which honestly is a ridiculous ask in today's times. There is a cute digital dash on offer too, which and displays all the vitals like speed, revs, fuel etc. in a simple and easy to read layout. You can also choose a head-up display, but I honestly don't see the need for one since the instrumentation itself sits fairly high.
You can spec up the car with the 1.25 lakh rupee Harmon/Kardon audio unit too, but I wouldn't bother about that either because the sweet hum of the in-line four engines usually makes me want to keep the music down - and since this is the only engine you can choose, you might think on similar lines too. Also, it is a convertible, so you hear the elements all the time, no matter where the roof is so you might not do justice to the more detailed clarity of the high-end audio system.
The roof folds electronically and takes all of 18s to fold down completely, but you can also have only a part of it open like a sunroof if you so wish. Because the roof takes up a lot of space, the boot space is limited and is only good enough for a carry-on suitcase or a couple of backpacks. The seating is strictly meant for four, and tall adults go in the front.
The real fun
Like any Mini, the driver's seat is the best place to be in. At your command is the aforementioned 2.0l turbo-petrol that pushes out 192PS and 280Nm and in our tests, it managed to go from nought to 100kmph in 7.2s. This is the same engine and configuration as the 2 Series BMW and claims similar performance too. But the Mini just feels a bit more eager and the chassis does a lot more justice too. The acceleration always feels a bit faster than what the numbers suggest because the cliched wind-in-your-hair experience and the sweet exhaust note often add more drama to that performance.
Honestly, this was always the engine to choose with the current generation Mini. As a driving enthusiast, I would have really loved to have the manual option available too, but the 7-speed dual-clutch is quite a sweet operator. My only grudge with it is that it is a bit slow to downshift, even when you use the paddle shifters. And on that note, the real fun of this package is with the paddle shifters. Definitely choose the Sports transmission, which comes for lesser money than the Apple CarPlay, and adds more fun and enthusiasm with sharper shifts and willingness to let the engine remain in higher revs for longer.
It is certainly more enthusiastic than the blokes at Mini who decided to change the funky drive mode names like the "Go-Kart" mode to more pedestrian names like Green, Mid and Sport. Thankfully, they still do the same thing.
The Sport is the only mode that matters on this car and it ensures sharp powertrain responses befitting for a car that feels so direct. In the Sport mode, however, the steering feels a bit artificial compared to what we have usually experienced from Mini or BMW.
The suspension has been softened a bit as well to make it less noisy over road imperfections, but it is still as unforgiving as you would imagine of a Go-Kart made for the road. Should you need adaptive suspension to soften things, that is an optional extra too - and if you are choosing the convertible over the hardtop, maybe you want to choose it for marginally better comfort.
The Mini is after all, not about practicality, comfort or space - if you want all of that, get the X1 or a GLA. The Mini is about making a statement and no other Mini Cooper does it better than the gorgeous convertible.
It is the best looker in the family, without compromising much on the taut dynamics that make a Mini Cooper so enjoyable to drive. Sure, it has a high asking price and the endless options list only makes the number sore higher, but exclusivity comes at a price and there are no alternatives to a Mini to make you think otherwise.
Photography: Anis Shaikh
Starts Rs 38 Lakhs
Starts Rs 44 Lakhs