Fun in the Sun: Mazda MX-5 Miata and Mini Cooper S Convertible
The leaves are changing color again. The temperatures are starting to dip. Forget summer; now is prime convertible weather.
The open-air experience is a potent one, a feast for the senses. It’s also increasingly rare, as carmakers ditch, well, cars, and two-doors in particular. Back at the turn of the century you could find convertibles in pretty much every segment. Now it’s basically muscle cars, luxury cars, and… off-roaders. And this duo.
These are two of the more affordable convertible choices still out there. Both the Mazda MX-5 Miata and Mini Cooper S Convertible go about their droptop thrills in different ways. Yet both serve as the perfect antidote to the oh-so-sensible compact SUV fever that’s been going around. With these two, the most important measurement is smiles per hour. Break out the sunscreen!
The Purist: Mazda MX-5 Miata
What else can be said about the most enduring symbol of semi-affordable droptop motoring? We’ve driven the Miata a few times since the “ND2” facelift of 2019 brought a bump in power and tweaked the chassis, and it flat-out refuses to disappoint. The little 2.0-liter four-pot is still a sweetheart, with sharp throttle response and a willingness to rev well past 7,000 rpm. In America, Mazda has cut the automatic transmission from most of the Miata’s trim levels these days, and that’s good, because the slick six-speed manual is a joy to row. The throws are short and direct, while the clutch pedal is silly easy to operate.
It's that ease of use that permeates every bit of the Miata’s darling driving experience. The steering is light because the car itself is, with a fluidity and precision that turns the little Mazda into an extension of its driver’s will. The three-pedal setup uses unique Bilstein shocks behind those pretty 17-inch BBS wheels, but Mazda keeps the suspension tuning relatively soft. This allows the Miata to breathe with the road, and lean into corners just enough to telegraph how much grip is left. The brakes are strong and progressive, with a pedal placement so ideal for heel-toeing it’s hard not to do it. The little parp-parp from the exhaust is such a pleasant change from the overwrought histrionics of modern hi-po machinery, too.
And let’s not forget the ultra-simple roof procedure, an easy-peasy one-arm affair that takes less time than a dash to sixty.
The obsessive engineering quest for lightness does make for a very snug cabin, of course. There’s just the one permanent cupholder right between the seatbacks, and another flimsy one you can hang off the center console for your passenger to bash their knee into. And if you think Mazda’s current infotainment is hard to love, the Miata’s even older setup is like booting up AOL. Mercifully, there’s wired Apple and Android pairing, but there’s zero cabin storage, so your leashed phone will flop around as you pitch the Miata through endless curves.
Pricing starts from $29,215 ($35,795 CAD) including destination. Go for this Club model with the Brembos, BBS wheels, and Recaro seats (known as the GS-P with Sport Package in Canada) and you’re at $37,810 ($44,645 CAD). Can you squeeze into a low-end Mustang or Camaro for that money? Sure, but they’re both a dull instrument by comparison.
The People Pleaser: Mini Cooper S Convertible
Yeah yeah, Miata is always the answer. Except when it isn’t. Like when shuttling more than one other person anywhere, or wanting a little more premium content from your nearly 40-grand purchase.
Make that $50k. This is the Seaside Edition, a limited-production special for the 2024 model year. Only 500 arrived in America at $46,455 including destination; Canada sees just 60, with a price tag of $53,235 CAD. And yes, it still has manually adjustable seats, like the Miata. There are lesser models that bring the droptop Mini's sticker back into orbit, too.
There are more creature comforts, however. The Mini’s seats are soft and comfy leather items, more accommodating and supportive for longer drives. That big cloth top is better insulated, so the Mini feels like a genuine premium item when protected from the elements. Automatic dual-zone climate control is very welcome too, alongside a powerful (if bass-heavy) Harman Kardon sound system. Neither car is what I'd call spacious, but the Mini has more space for your everyday knick-knacks—just not for an iPhone Pro Max, too wide to fit in the center console. There are some cheapish plastics mingling with the tactile goodness of the metal toggle switches. Yes, it's real, and yes they get very hot in the sun.
The Mini's infotainment screen is also friendlier—if only just. It's a more dated version of iDrive, redone in a funky skin and with a rotary control dial that works in reverse; clockwise for scrolling up. Plus, native navigation! The Mini's pill-shaped instrument cluster is a fun little thing, too: the side gauges are faux-digital, as it's only the center that is actually customizable in any way. But it's whimsical and moves with the steering wheel, a nice useful feature to combat its inherent reflectivity.
Nestled behind that unmistakeable Mini face is another 2.0-liter engine, but this one breathes with the aid of a turbocharger. While its 189 horsepower figure is close to that of the Miata, there’s a much more substantial 206 pound-feet of torque, and it’s all funnelled through a fast-acting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The Mini might be hauling around a few extra hundred pounds, but floor it and the Seaside will scoot away at a surprising rate, outpacing the row-your-own Mazda. There's an eagerness to the front-end that even the Miata can't match either, since the Mini's front-drive nature keeps things from getting hairy after initial turn-in. Credit to the summer tires: the Seaside Edition can come with 17-inch all seasons if ordered in Nanuq White, but the Caribbean Aqua nets the larger—and cooler—wheels.
The feature that most sums up the entire Mini convertible experience, however? The Openometer, which keeps a running tally of how many hours you’ve driven with the roof stowed. Cheeky. The power-operated roof can be left partially open too, so you can enjoy different levels of open-air motoring depending on mood. Plus, everybody you pass is smiling, because the Seaside's turquoise paint and bright white accent bits are a welcome burst of color on the road. Mini even nicked the always-up wheel centers trick from Rolls-Royce for the Seaside emblems on its 18-inch wheels.
What the Future Holds
Both of these droptops are changing soon. Mazda has confirmed the MX-5 will see some level of electrification with its next generation, but that still looks a few years off with debut of the 2024 “ND3” model happening this week.
The next-gen Mini hardtop is just about to roll out, and it includes a wider availability of fully electric variants. Mini produced a limited, 999-unit run of this generation as an EV, but we expect electrification to expand for the next droptop, due in a year or two. It will continue to roll with an ICE heart too, but no more manual transmission for the lovable lil’ guy.
For now, however, these two should be celebrated for their single-minded focus on fun.
Become an AutoGuide insider. Get the latest from the automotive world first by subscribing to our newsletter here.
Kyle began his automotive obsession before he even started school, courtesy of a remote control Porsche and various LEGO sets. He later studied advertising and graphic design at Humber College, which led him to writing about cars (both real and digital). He is now a proud member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), where he was the Journalist of the Year runner-up for 2021.
More by Kyle Patrick