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2022 MINI Cooper Test Drive Review

Purpose-built for a specific kind of buyer, the 2022 MINI Cooper Convertible is more technologically advanced than ever.

5.2 /10
Overall Score

MINI characterizes its lineup as the “definitive” premium small cars in the United States market. Based on a BMW platform, equipped with BMW engines, and featuring BMW technology, MINIs can substantiate this claim through engineering. But it’s the range of choices and personalization options that make them unlike any other premium small cars.

Naturally, this is true of the refreshed 2022 MINI Convertible, which is available in Cooper, Cooper S, and John Cooper Works (JCW) specification and with Classic, Signature, or Iconic trim. Once you’ve made those decisions, you can select from a wide variety of colors, materials, wheels, packages, and options to make your MINI your own. Or you can choose a pre-packaged special edition like our Sidewalk Edition test car.

Look and Feel

7/ 10

When the MINI brand re-introduced itself to the world 20 years ago, it adhered to as many of the design tenets of the original Mark I to Mark VII cars as was practical while moving the reimagined Cooper firmly into the modern age. The result? An adorable car that oozed personality from every door seam and shut line, and was a laugh riot to drive in Cooper S and JCW specification.

But, with the march of time, the MINI has grown. Lineup expansion added a convertible, a wagon, and a crossover alongside the original hatchback, and the cars themselves got bigger for reasons of utility and safety. Today, the MINI model range now includes the Hardtop (in two-door and four-door guise), Convertible, Clubman, and Countryman body styles, with Cooper designations referring to engines and state of tune. But everyone still calls the Hardtop and Convertible the MINI Cooper.

Both are refreshed for the 2022 model year. They get restyled bumpers, a new grille, standard LED headlights to go with the car's snazzy Union Jack taillights, and reworked details, including the side scuttle designs and wheel arch trim. Fresh wheel designs join the options menu, along with new paint colors including Island Blue, Rooftop Grey, and Zesty Yellow. MINI also extends the Piano Black Exterior treatment to include the door handles, fuel lid, and exhaust outlets.

Previously an available upgrade, digital instrumentation is now standard for the 2022 model year. Additional interior changes include a new steering wheel and a next-generation infotainment system with a standard 8.8-inch touchscreen display.

Like every MINI model, the 2022 MINI Convertible exudes personality, but the refreshed styling doesn’t resolve the awkward proportions of this third-generation design. In fact, the new grille might even make things worse by drawing more attention to the car’s jutting overbite, especially in lighter paint colors. But whether you love the look or not, there is no mistaking this car for anything but a Mini, with its implied promise of fun.

Once you’re inside, the MINI Convertible looks and feels like it should: retro with an overlay of modern technology. Plus, through the wide range of colors, materials, and other options, you can make it your own. Drop the top, which takes about 18 seconds at speeds up to 18 mph, and the windshield is positioned so far forward that the car feels open to the elements in a way no other convertible does aside from something like a Ford Bronco or Jeep Wrangler.

This is not a car for minimalists, though. Form rules over function, with an emphasis on design and glitz over simplicity and subtlety. The result, depending on how you spec the car, can be a cluttered mess both inside and out.

As MINIs go, our 2022 Convertible test car was relatively tame. Equipped with Cooper S specification and the Sidewalk Edition option package ($7,000), the price tucked in at less than $40,000, including the $850 destination charge and the exclusive Deep Laguna Metallic paint.

Pricing for all Convertibles ranges between $27,900 and $38,900, plus options and destination charges. Go wild with upgrades, and a John Cooper Works can top $46,000.

Performance

4/ 10

MINI equips the Cooper model with a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine making 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. According to MINI, acceleration to 60 mph takes more than eight seconds.

For more rousing performance, you’ll want the Cooper S for its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder delivering 189 hp and 206 lb-ft of torque. With this power plant, the MINI Convertible scoots to 60 mph in less than seven seconds.

Both engines offer a choice between a six-speed manual and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, and the MINI Convertible is front-wheel drive (FWD). Green, Mid, and Sport driving modes are available to calibrate powertrain response and behavior.

Our Cooper S test car had the manual transmission and plenty of torque for chirping the wheels during the first-to-second upshift. As far as fuel economy goes, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it should’ve gotten 26 mpg in combined driving. We did better than that, averaging 27.1 mpg on our testing loop, driven primarily in Mid mode, and with the top down.

For more of a thrill, the JCW models have a tuned version of the Cooper S engine developing 235 hp and 228 lb-ft of torque. This version of the engine comes only with an eight-speed automatic transmission, and by MINI's stopwatch, it zooms to 60 mph in just over six seconds.

It’s important to remember that a Cooper S is not a sports car. Rather, it is a sporting car. Maximum torque arrives at just 1,350 rpm, and remains available across a broad portion of the turbo engine’s rev range. As you work the clutch and shifter, which moves fluidly from gear to gear, the MINI Convertible slings itself down the road with pleasurable whooshes of acceleration.

Summer performance tires and an adaptive-damping suspension are available, but our test car had neither. Instead, the Sidewalk Edition features a pleasantly compliant ride on back roads combined with only a hint of MINI's signature go-kart handling. Use Sport mode, and the manual transmission has a downshift rev-matching feature for smoother spirited driving.

However, for a car marketed to people who enjoy the journey as much as the destination, the MINI's sticky off-center steering response and gooey brake pedal feel are disappointing. They make it hard for a driver to fine-tune inputs, which reduces driving satisfaction.

Furthermore, the test car’s tires were not up to the task of ripping around curves and corners, squealing in discontent as the Convertible’s nose pushed wide while running down the Dennison Grade east of Ojai, California. This stretch of road also revealed another issue: the rearview mirror’s location. In combination with a tall driving position, the mirror completely blocks visibility around right-hand curves unless a driver bends down to look underneath it.

With the sun setting behind the car, a coastal chill settled into the late summer air that the Sidewalk Edition’s heated front seats and heated steering wheel couldn’t totally combat. Windows up, there is still significant wind buffeting on freeways, so instead of employing the Sidewalk Edition’s standard wind deflector we instead raised the roof.

With the car buttoned up, it was loud inside at 75 mph. Also, whereas the suspension feels soft and compliant on back roads, on California 101 south it displayed a firm, choppy ride quality. Also, pavement seams tugged the car around in its lane, adding to the uncertain feeling of the car’s steering.

When MINI reintroduced the Cooper back in 2001, it was a scrappy, raw, emotional celebration of driving fun and British heritage. Comparatively speaking, today’s MINI Cooper Hardtop and Convertible models feel too big, too refined, and based on my most recent driving experience, too disconnected from the road and too inconsistent in their dynamic behavior.

Undoubtedly, depending on the situation, there is some grin factor to be enjoyed with this car. But the street-legal go-kart sensation that characterized the first generation of the modern MINI is watered down nearly to the point that the only connection between the 2001 model and the 2022 version is the styling.

Form and Function

4/ 10

MINIs are all about form, not function. That’s especially true of the Convertible, which offers a pair of comfortable and supportive front seats paired with essentially useless rear seats. Based on our experience, even pre-teen children will balk at riding back there.

You’re likely going to use that area for extra luggage room, anyway. The trunk measures just 5.2 cubic feet, accessible through an unusual bottom-hinged lid that works similar to a pickup truck’s tailgate. That’s enough for a full-sized suitcase and maybe a few smaller odds and ends, but not much else.

There isn’t much storage space in the cabin, either. In part, this is because of the form over function thing. But in longstanding BMW tradition, Mini also puts the infotainment system’s physical controls on the center console, where they are hard to reach and consume precious real estate.

It isn’t lost on us that it's silly to complain about passenger, trunk, and storage space in a car called a MINI. Nobody should expect otherwise. Besides, if you need rear passenger room and a big cargo area, MINI has other models that work better, such as the Hardtop 4 Door, Clubman, and Countryman. They just don’t have a roof that folds down.

Tech Level

7/ 10

A new MINI Connected infotainment system debuts in all 2022 MINI models. It comes with a standard 8.8-inch touchscreen display mounted within the classic center dashboard décor ring, which features LED lighting with 12 colors. The LED ring colors and on-screen graphics change depending on vehicle settings, such as the driver’s selection of Sport or Lounge mode or use of the climate control system.

Drivers can swipe between widgets, putting the radio information, the map information, or another data panel of their choosing in the center of the display. The system offers access to Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring (Android Auto isn't available) and Amazon Alexa integration, along with SiriusXM satellite radio and BMW-based connected services such as emergency-assistance calling. Navigation, wireless smartphone charging, and a Harman Kardon premium sound system are also available.

As before, the infotainment system is based on BMW’s iDrive technology. It pairs with a newly standard digital instrument cluster, and while both of these screens seem like a bad idea in a convertible, they wash out only when the sun shines directly on them. During our evaluation, this rarely proved to be a problem.

A head-up display is also available, showing on a small plastic panel on the top of the dashboard instead of on the windshield glass. It remains visible when the driver wears polarized sunglasses, a neat trick that MINI's parent company BMW cannot seem to pull off in its own models.

Equip the MINI Convertible with the optional Harman Kardon sound system, and the 12 speakers easily overcome ambient noise even at highway speeds with the top and windows down. Sound quality impresses, but won’t stun you with its depth and clarity.

Safety

3/ 10

One positive outgrowth of the MINI Convertible’s increase in size over the years relates to safety. Heavier vehicles are better at protecting occupants during collisions, and this is especially important in driving environments where pickup trucks and SUVs rule the roads.

However, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has published crash-test ratings for the latest MINI Convertible. Therefore, it is impossible to discern how much protection it offers.

However, the MINI Convertible does get newly standard Driving Assistant technology for the 2022 model year. That includes forward-collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, and lane-departure warning. Adaptive cruise control is an option for cars with an automatic transmission, and for 2022 it can bring the MINI Convertible to a full stop.

A blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert is not available, a shame given the visibility challenges when the top is raised. Mini might also consider adding a digital rearview mirror option, which would help with rear visibility.

Since our test car had a stick shift, the only driving-assistance tech we could safely sample was the lane-departure warning system, which issues a subtle vibration through the steering wheel to notify the driver to pay attention. It’s effective, and its behavior doesn’t inspire a driver to discontinue use.

Cost-Effectiveness

6/ 10

The value inherent in a MINI Convertible has nothing to do with its price. In order to get one with good power, appealing equipment, and full access to the entire list of paint, wheel, top, upholstery, and trim selections, you’re going to spend thousands more than the base price on a Cooper S in Signature trim. And if you can’t use a clutch pedal, you’ll add even more to the bottom line.

But, once you accept that you’re going to pay a premium in order to take advantage of all that a MINI Convertible offers, there is a lot to like about this zippy little car. Add its British heritage, enthusiast credentials (JCW, especially), and effervescent personality, and it's even more appealing. Plus, it gives you a driving experience few other vehicles can match and you can personalize one to the point where it's entirely possible you’ll never see another one exactly like it.

And that, to the right buyer, is priceless.

Updated by Christian Wardlaw

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