What are you driving?
It's a MINI Sidewalk, and your next question will be 'what's a MINI Sidewalk?' And my answer will be... I'm honestly not sure. I mean, MINI officially says that it's a 'high-specification new model, a limited edition with just 150 available for UK and Irish customers' which I guess is fine, but Sidewalk? What does that even mean? It's hardly a classic name from MINI's past. It's not Cooper. It's not 1275GT. It's not even Radford. It's kind of... meaningless.
Well, meaningless in historical terms but meaningful in the sense that it's basically an all-options-in model of the MINI Convertible, ostensibly for those who really, really want a fully-equipped model but can't be bothered with all that tiresome options-box-ticking. So, as standard, the Sidewalk comes with 'Deep Laguna' metallic body paint and exterior mirror caps, along with special bonnet stripes with pin lines and 'Sidewalk' side scuttle badging. It is also fitted with unique door entry strips and an exclusive 'Arrow' design soft top roof that can be opened or closed electronically in just 18 seconds.
There are unique 17 inch 'Scissor Spoke' two-tone alloy wheels, plus special leather seats with 'Sidewalk' badging, and it comes with the Navigation Plus Pack featuring an 8.8-inch touchscreen display, satellite navigation with Real Time Traffic Information (RTTI), wireless phone charging and Amazon Alexa functionality. The Comfort Plus Pack includes heated seats, and a rear-view camera with parking sensors at both the front and rear of the vehicle, and parking assistant. The Sidewalk Convertible also has a Harmon Kardon Hi-Fi system, head-up display and driving modes that allow the driver to switch between Comfort, Eco and Sport driving styles. Finally, there's a wind deflector that folds up and fits into the tiny boot.
Mechanically, it's a standard Cooper S model, so you get the four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 192hp, and a seven-speed dual-clutch 'Steptronic' automatic gearbox. The price tag for all of that? €47,840. Gulp.
Name its best bits
OK, OK - let's set aside the price for a moment and concentrate on what's good. The MINI still looks good, albeit some of the recent styling updates seem to have bulked it out, visually, when slimming down might have been a better option. The convertible top looks a little awkward up or down (did anyone say pram?), but we guess it does allow you to cut a little extra dash.
Inside, while it might be a stylistic mess (why oh why did MINI get rid of the cool, big central speedo and then stuff a rectangular screen into the round hole left behind?) the MINI's packing some excellent build quality, and those new front bucket seats are lovely. Space, as ever with a post-2000 MINI, is at a premium, but with a bit of juggling and squeezing, you can just about fit a family of four in, as long as those in the back are tolerant of having their kneecaps adjacent to their earlobes.
The engine's a belter. Outputs of 192hp and 280Nm don't sound much, and you can see how the Sidewalk's hefty equipment weight penalty eats into the 0-100km/h time, but it's astonishingly willing, and makes a delightful growl when you rev it hard. We'd much, much prefer a six-speed manual gearbox to the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, but as far as auto boxes in small cars go, it's good - nipping quickly between gears and allowing for an entertaining noise from the exhaust on down-changes. It's even reasonably economical - we didn't quite hit the heights of MINI's official 5.2 litres per 100km, but we pretty easily dipped below the 6.0 litres per 100km mark, which isn't bad for something knocking on for 200hp.
And, of course, the MINI is fun to drive. Because of course it is - ever since Alec Issigonis turned his resolutely rational small car design loose in 1959, and we all cottoned on to how much joy it could give to a keen driver, that's really been the MINI's raison d'être. Now, again, the weight of all those extra toys, and the lack of rigidity that's the inevitable consequence of chopping off the roof, mean that the handling isn't as sharp as you'd find in the hatchback equivalent. Turn-in is a little less incisive, steering feel not quite so natural and you can feel a touch more understeer if you push on. Even so, on a bleakly sunny winter's day, with the top down and the seat heaters burning; with the hedgerows whipping past your peripheral vision in a green blur, this pricey MINI can be big, big fun.
Anything that bugs you?
Obviously, the price. I mean, it's just a lot of money for a MINI, even taking the convertible top and all the extra toys into consideration. It really is just too much, especially when you consider that you could get a basic Cooper S hatch, which is actually more fun to drive, for under €30k. Also, in spite of being able to squeeze four in, it's wildly impractical (even if we love the silliness of the bottom-hinged boot, and the fact that by releasing a couple of levers, you can actually lift up a slab of the rear bodywork and the roof to be able to load in bulkier items).
And why have you given it this rating?
MINIs are great. And convertible MINIs, on the right day, with the right attitude, can be greater still. Even so, we'd ditch the toys and the roof and just have a standard Cooper S, thanks.
What do the rest of the team think?
There's no denying that the price of this car is exorbitant, regardless of the very high standard specification and the limited production run. That aside, the leather upholstery is lovely and the exterior paint colour is particularly gorgeous. The Cooper S drivetrain is fun and fast enough and it's still a sporty car to drive, regardless of the more flexible structure. Demonstrably, it makes more financial sense to buy a regular Cooper S Convertible and spend a bit more on choice options, but I guess the Sidewalk model serves to show what can be done on that side of things.
Shane O'Donoghue - Editor