Even if you don't know cars, you know a Mini Cooper. They boast that rare singularity that raises them to iconic status, not unlike the VW Beetle or Porsche 911. They are, in a word, classic. And that may go double for the Mini Convertible: with its shrunken size, bulbous headlamp design, and top-down affability, expect plenty of looks as you carom through leafy Beverly Hills boulevards.
But it certainly isn't wimpy, which is something tiny convertibles are often accused of. Sure, it's not a high-performance sports car, but the Mini Cooper S offers enough BMW-backed engineering to make sure those smiles aren't just coming from pedestrians.
That starts with its turbocharged four-cylinder engine. While its 189-horsepower motor won't set the world on fire, its 207 foot-pounds of torque are available at just 1,250 rpm—and that's pretty much as soon as you press the throttle. For a car of its diminutive footprint, the boost is plenty: anywhere under 70 m.p.h., the Mini Convertible feels rock steady, and boasts plenty of push. We did experience a bit of turbulence (or cowl shake, as it's referred to automotively) at high speeds when we jumped on an empty I-10, but that's to be expected in any car that chops its roof off (well, any one under $50,000).
Once in the canyons, the fun of the Mini Convertible really blossoms, and its go-kart handling comes to the forefront. While a higher performance John Cooper Works ragtop is coming soon (boasting a 228 horsepower engine and reinforced suspension), you won't need to make the upgrade to get an engaging ride. The Cooper Convertible S is solid, fun, and sufficiently peppy for all but the most performance-minded of drivers. You can get it revving from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in 6.8 seconds with the automatic transmission, and 6.7 with the stick shift (both 6-speed).
Fulfilling its goals of appealing to a tech-hungry younger set, Mini even loaded some gadgetry into its convertible—including a Rain Warner app that'll let you know if it's about to shower so you can roll up the roof (which you can do in 18 seconds, at speeds up to 18 m.p.h.). An Always Open Timer keeps track of how long you spend with the top down, and a GoPro app lets you monitor your own camera from the 8.8-inch center display.
You can get in a base Mini Convertible for $25,950, but it may well be worth ponying up the extra few thousand for the Cooper S ($29,600). The pleasures of open-air motoring, attainable for under $30K, is a tough proposition to beat.