We’re in the dog days of August, and while the days are starting to get shorter (booooo) the weather has been staying hot and humid. What better time for a convertible – especially one as fun as the MINI Cooper S!
Even better, for 2022 the MINI has gotten a new look inside and out that promises even more enjoyment. Put on your sunblock, we’re going for a cruise!
Undeniably Stylish, Undeniably MINI
Well, you might worry that a new look for the MINI could mess things up, but MINI has always been such a design icon, we know that the brand takes these things seriously.
We’ve already tested a base 2022 MINI, and liked the refresh, and were surprised at the differences on the S model. Like the base model, there are air curtains on the front bumper, a new single hexagon grille and removal of fog lights. The standard LED headlights have a cool hooded look – giving it a face that had a little bit of impatience to it. Hey, get out of my way!
In the S, to meet the need for increased air cooling, a pair of air intakes with high-gloss black surrounds poke out to the left and right of the central intake. It definitely looks more aggressive.
The profile gets a new look too, The MINI Hardtops and Convertibles also feature new side scuttle designs and wheel arch trims. Our tester had the Sidewalk Package, and that includes some unique badges, a cool checkered motif on the rear portion of the convertible top, and some tasty looking 17-inch Scissor Spoke, 2-tone alloys.
We also love the lines of the convertible – with the top up, it looks more hunkered down than the hardtop models, while top-down promises open air fun. Our only complaint, with the top down, the folded roof sticks up a little bit in the back blocking your rear view, especially of items that are close by.
At the rear you’ll also find a new bumper that gives more of a wide horizontal line and a wider stance, while the S’s dual exhaust pipes poking out of the center are pure MINI. The finishing touch was our tester’s Deep Laguna Metallic paint, a rich blue green that looks high-end and had a brilliant finish that would be at home on any expensive BMW model.
On the inside, we get the impression that MINI is moving the model upscale without losing the whimsical style that we’ve come to know and love.
The upgrade starts with an 8.8-inch screen in the center of the dash that’s standard on all models for ’22. While other manufacturers are going for 10- or even 12-inch displays, on a vehicle the size of MINI, the new display looks huge! Taking advantage of the new screen, there’s an updated info-tainment system that seems more logical and easier to use, including configurable live widgets and two available color schemes.
Our Apple CarPlay looked great – and it’s wireless now too, so no cables needed. MINI is also smart enough to put a volume knob in the display, yay! The screen is simple and intuitive, and the large rotary knob on the center console with satellite buttons makes navigating around the system a snap. We also like how the lights around the display change colors depending on what feature you’re pulling up.
You’ll also notice a standard digital gauge display that looks like someone left their iPhone stuck on top of the steering column. While we might miss the analog gauges of previous models, the display is bright, clear and easily read – especially nice on a bright day with the top down.
Below the info-tainment are three large knobs for the climate control, with a series of pushbuttons below for stuff like heated front seats and rear defroster. Our favorite bit is the long MINI tradition of toggle switches at the bottom, especially the large red Start/Stop switch for the engine. Makes you feel like you’re firing up your WWII fighter plane!
Driving at night has some added panache. Our Sidewalk Package’s multi-color ambient lighting system bathed the cockpit in a cool glow. Also, part of the package is the triangular motif that is played across the dashboard. Very cheeky and full of MINI style, we’d love to have a pair of pajamas in this design.
Speaking of fine material, the leather sport seats are super comfy and easily adjustable, and the Nappa leather on the steering wheel feels great to the hand. While everything is wonderful for those up front, the rear seat is teeny tiny. It was already small in the hardtop, so you can imagine how small it is when it must clear the folding top bits. Maybe ok very small kids or a dog. For super short trips.
On the bright side, you can fold the seats forward for a nice cargo hold. The trunk is an interesting affair as it folds down, and you slide your gear inside. It may not be huge, but you can carry a lot more than you could in a Mazda Miata. So there!
Let’s Get Some Fresh Air!
Driving a MINI is one of its great joys, and a drop-top is an even bigger thrill
Like before, you have a choice of engines in a MINI, and although the 134-horsepower three cylinder is a super-sipper, we’d opt for the Cooper S model’s 189-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. This is a stout little engine that’s happy to rev, sounds fun and burbly and moves the little car around quickly.
We especially liked the responsiveness of the powertrain in Sport mode – quite a noticeable difference, it feels like the afterburners are kicking in when you give it the boot. A pleasant surprise on our tester was the 6-speed manual transmission, and after driving it, that would be our choice, the connection between car and driver is delightful.
An added bonus, when you’re in Sport mode the engine will automatically rev to give you the perfect rpm for a buttery smooth downshift every time. This is tech that Nissan brought out first in the 370Z, and Porsche and Corvette followed. On a smaller car like the MINI it’s a real treat and it goads you into zipping around.
And if you can’t or don’t want the stick, our experience with the automatic is that it’s quick shifting and lively as well. Call that a win-win.
Another winner is the MINI’s handling. A small car with a short wheelbase the MINI is the perfect ginsu knife for slicing and dicing your way around traffic. And with its low center of gravity and wide stance, it’s cornering grip is impressive, too. And despite the short wheelbase, we found the ride to be firm and controlled, but never harsh or jumpy.
We like the precise feel of steering, and it’s smart that all the controls have a little weight to them – stopping you from darting around at higher speeds. This is one well-mannered ride! We even found freeway driving to be comfortable, but you will notice an increase in noise compared to the hardtop models.
Speaking of the top it has a few tricks of its own. First, you can retract it partially, and the metal guides stay above the windows, creating what’s effectively a huge sunroof that’s quick to open or close. From fully closed to fully down, the convertible only needs about 18 seconds, so it’s easy to do at a stop light. You can even raise or lower the top at low speeds, so if the light turns green, you can motor away while putting the top to your preference.
And top-down is a great way to go – along with the sun, the stars, and cooling breezes, you also get to hear the rorty exhaust note all the better!
Well, here the MINI acts more like its larger BMW sibling. Pricing is good, but you have to be careful with the options. If you love the idea of a MINI Convertible and would be happy with the smaller three-cylinder motor, it starts at a reasonable $28,750. Popping for a Cooper S like our tester starts at $31,900. That’s really a great value, too!
Our tester was one special MINI, though and included the Sidewalk Package/Edition ($7,000), which was the sole option, excluding destination for $850. One interesting thing, our tester had a Climate Control Credit (-$500).
Our guess is the shortage of chips (kind of a funny or a British Car!) means they can’t offer the more technologically advanced system at this time. Yeah, we’d like one, but it’s not a deal breaker…All told, we rang the bell at $39,250.
Competition is tough to find – there aren’t many small convertibles left out there. Really your main choice is the Mazda Miata and loaded up, it’s also big bucks, coming in at $39,410.
The Miata is a traditional sports car, and we love it. But we also love the added flexibility and carrying capability of the MINI. Drive both, choose one. For those with deeper pockets, the Audi TT starts at $54,600, and the Porsche Boxster a cooler $65,500. Gulp.
Fresh looks inside and out, great to drive and open-air enjoyment. The 2022 MINI Cooper S Convertible is incredible fun!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.