Mini celebrated its 60th birthday at the 77th Members Meeting this March. The cars have changed almost beyond recognition since the first example rolled out of the Oxford plant in 1959; I drove a Mk.1 the other day, then got out of it and into this, the Mini Cooper S cabriolet. And while there are many, many design and engineering changes that separate these two distant cars, something of the original verve of Mini remains.
BMW’s parentage of the Mini marque in 2002 was a step change, and the catalyst to transform the badge into a serious model range encompassing a small estate (Clubman) and a small SUV (Countryman). There’s a plug-in hybrid and now an electric version, too.
The Convertible started life as the Mini Cabriolet in 1996, followed by the first Mini One Convertible in 2005. These days it has an electrically operating roof that lowers in 18 seconds while the car is on the move.
Contrary to that minimal interior of the 1959 Mk 1, today’s Minis excel in feverish styling jibes and flairs, catering to all tastes, both mass market and unique. The world is your oyster as far as personally touching up your Mini goes: from different paintwork on the wing mirrors to leather seats with embossed Mini emblems, tartan patterns on the storage pockets and herringbone-pattered metal finishes on the dashboard.
Tech is superb, thanks to Mini’s parent, BMW, putting its iDrive infotainment system into the cars, so that the satnav is fantastic and you can easily scroll through iPhone music libraries and DAB stations. Our test car also had cruise control, the Harman Kardon sound system (£600) and head-up display (£500).
In a great nod to the original, the central massive round dial remains to house all these functions, but now freed by clever LED stripes which change colours as they progress round the dial to indicate everything from revs to parking sensors.
We tested the Cooper S Convertible. While performance is not hot-hatch territory (192 horsepower), it is spritely, although we’d rather it was mated to a manual gearbox instead of the seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The chassis still has something of the original Mini about it, no doubt just by dint of the short wheelbase, which produces a quaint wriggling that suits the chirpy, cheeky nature of the design, and that upright cabin. But it is well damped by BMW suspension settings, and the steering mimics the weight and precision of a 3 Series.
The performance of the roof is worth mentioning, too: at the touch of a button above the rear-view mirror it folds back, either half way to create a big sun roof, or all the way so that it nestles behind the rear seats, although it slightly hinders your view behind. It collapses and rises while the car is on the move, and takes 18 seconds to do so.
Owners adore their Minis: there is something indescribably different about owning and driving them compared with other cars of similar size. That BMW ownership means a heftier price tag than on some competitors, but in return you get the same feel of build quality and high engineering as you do from BMW ownership, alongside the aforementioned tech.
Mini has rightly stuck to a wide-ranging degree of bespoke styling options, courtesy of the Mini Yours programme, knowing full well that this is more than half the reason Mini owners love their cars. If it’s spanky graphics, cool colours and jazzy, glistening paintwork you’re after to brighten your day, look no further.