Which Mini and which Mazda are we talking about?
This is the Cooper, the boggo Convertible. A Cooper S or JCW just aren’t in the MX-5’s price or power ballpark. That’s fine, though, because right now the most basic Minis are usually the best. It costs £2,850 more than the hard-top, at £18,495, before you get busy with the spec. This one’s got very busy with many options, so it stacks up to a silly £25k.
Since it’s up against pricey opposition, we’ve brought along Mazda’s biggest gun, which in sports-car terms is still a bit of a water pistol. It’s the 2.0-litre MX-5, rocking a standard limited-slip diff, a world-class six-speed manual and 158bhp for the rear tyres to play with. For this, Mazda asks £20,495 from you, in SE-L trim.
Photography: Simon Thompson
Which one’s got the cleverest soft-top?
Most dinky drop-tops (stop blushing, Fiat 500C and DS 3 Cabrio) cheat at rooflessness by keeping their roof rails, so they stay stiff, but all you get is an XL sunroof. The Mini’s a proper convertible, with a fully electric top that opens in 20 seconds. This still knackers rear visibility, though rear sensors are at least standard.
You don’t just unlatch the MX-5’s roof manually, you also thrust it down until it clicks into its cubbyhole. Superbly packaged, foldable in three seconds flat, without ever leaving the driver’s seat. If you like a keep-it-simple, back-to-basics attitude with as little as possible to go wrong, the little Mazda’s roof will be right up your alley.
Does a turbo triple beat a revvy four-pot?
Mini first. This is an enthusiastic little motor but here it’s utterly smothered by eco test-bent gearing. The six-speed shift is slick, but the long ratios and 135kg of stiffening snuff out the torque, Result? It’s sluggish…
The MX-5 couldn’t be more different. Its outputs are hardly thrusting, but with just a tonne to push, a zingy rasp to the throttle response and über-tight gearing, it zips along, begging to be wrung out. That’s the benefit of keeping everything simple. And despite Mini claiming 57.6mpg to the Mazda’s 40.9mpg on the official cycle, it’s the Mazda’s that’s much more frugal in real life. It scores an easy 37-40mpg on a run, to the Mini’s middling thirties.
Who’s king of chuckable roadsters?
Despite its stuck-in-treacle urgency, decapitating the Mini doesn’t hurt its playfulness. The wheelbase feels short and the whole car agile, so it responds keenly to mid-corner inputs, if you fancy cocking about a bit. The driving position is more sorted than the cramped Mazda’s too, and we prefer its heftier, more accurate steering.
Initially, it’s actually the Mazda that feels less sporty. Not just in how light ’n’ twirly the steering is, but the softness. The angles it adopts as it rolls into bends are downright alarming at first, but trust grip is there and it turns dull mini-roundabouts into an autotest treat. You drive the Mini hard once, just to see how it copes (and end up fairly impressed). The Mazda, on the other hand, is something you’ll delight in provoking every single day you drive it.
So, while the Mini maintains a sweet chassis, it lacks the go for this cash to enjoy it. It might not be as high-quality a product on first touch, but the Mazda hits the basic cabrio bullseye, and wins this quick twin test.