The World's Cheapest EV Convertible Is Delightfully Awful
Issuing time:2023-10-31 18:43
What is it?
For years now, the convertible lifestyle has been reserved for those who are at least mildly affluent. In the United States, for example, the most affordable convertible is currently the 29,000 USD Mazda Miata. But take heart, my fellow middle-class people, for a revolution is at hand, and it comes in a very tiny package. At 14,000 USD, the Wuling Hongguang MINI EV Cabrio is bringing the convertible lifestyle to the masses.
Not so cheap anymore
The MINI EV’s “shrunken MPV” aesthetic was a hit from day one, and that charm hasn’t faded. Even as the tiny EV market goes from sparse to crowded, the MINI EV remains the king of the club. The addition of the convertible top only emphasizes that fact by leaning heavily into the silliness of the car’s original proportions. Admittedly, the effect is best enjoyed when the top is down, as a MINI EV Cabrio with the top up look like an especially unsavory type of insect.
The Cabrio rocks the same 145 R/12 wheel and tire combo as other models, giving it a contact patch a bit wider than a scooter. These are in sharp contrast to the doors, which are about as long as a city block. They’re also noticeably heavier than the hard-top MINI EVs that I’ve driven, perhaps due to the need to add rigidity to a structure that was compromised by removing the roof and insure the Cabrio doesn’t have the chassis rigidity of a cooked noodle. Then again, maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
One of the more intriguing choices on the MINI EV are the cutlines out back that would seem to indicated the existence of a trunk opening. Upon closer inspection, I was unable to find any way to open this phantom trunk. Instead, the Cabrio makes due with a zippered pocket behind the seats that allows access to a large cargo area underneath the top. The space inside is plentiful, but actually accessing the items you store inside is more than a little but of a pain. First, you must move at least one seat all the way forward, allowing you to full unzip the opening. Then you must get down on your hands and knees to reach deep within the cargo hold to retrieve any items, usually via much groping and cursing, till you find what you were looking for. The process feels very much like you are helping the Cabrio clumsily give birth to a suit case.
More for less
The interior design of the Cabrio is more or less identical to standard MINI EV, which means seats like a public bus and a plastic quality like a public toilet. Ergonomics are severely compromised by the sheer narrowness of the platform, with the wheel wells jutting into the passenger compartment so far that the pedals are essentially equidistant from both passenger and driver. It has a manual handbrake, and a transmission knob that feature only Reverse, Neutral, and Drive, there is no Park. Instead, you simply pull the aforementioned handbrake, much like you would a manual transmission car.
There are also manual locks on the doors, no touch screen, and a very old school display for the radio. The only LCD screen is the 7-inch instrument cluster. Yet, the Cabrio still has Bluetooth and two USB ports in the front row, allowing you to play audio through a sound system that has twice as many speakers as other MINI EV models. That last part feels less impressive when you realize the standard cars have only two speakers. This is also the first new car that I've driven in a long time, regardless of powertrain, that has a physical key that must be inserted and turned.
Opening and closing the top is a mix of manual release/lock and electronic raising and lowering. It’s an undramatic affair that takes very little time to accomplish, though the vehicle won’t allow you to operate the top above 20 km/h.
Somehow, it’s worse
The MINI EV Cabrio rocks the same 26.5 kWh battery pack as the Wuling MINI EV Game Boy, but the addition of the soft top means CLTC range drops from 300 to 280. It’s safe to assume that number isn’t remotely achievable with the top down. Despite the steep price increase, the Cabrio still makes due with slow charging. That means 8.5 hours to a full charge…
While it pains me to admit it, the driving experience of the Cabrio is even worse than that of the standard MINI EV. It has the same oxcart ride and the same single rear mounted electric motor making 30 kilowatts and 110 Newton meters of torque, however, it's 90 kg heavier than the standard MINI EV, so it's even slower.
The steering is also, somewhat amazingly, even rubberier, and vaguer than the last MINI EV that I drove. You as the reader of this review have about as much of an idea of what the MINI EV Cabrio’s front wheels were doing as I did while driving it. The steering wheel in this car also has a weird and terrifying habit of darting and flicking back and forth in my hands at any speed over 40 kilometers per hour or so. Let me tell you, that is not a pleasant experience.
The soft top results in NVH that is cartoonishly bad. You no longer have the talking inside of a tin can feeling of the original MINI EV, but wind noise, tire noise and motor whine are essentially omnipresent at every speed. Don’t even get me started on what it's like to be passed by a large truck in this thing. The whole vehicle sways back and forth and the sound is deafening. It feels like the truck is riding shotgun with you.
Unlike similarly priced vehicles like the BYD Seagull. This thing has very little in the way of safety equipment, apart from an airbag for the driver and one for the passenger. It also doesn't have any kind of cruise control, let alone driver assistance system. It does have a speed limiter of sorts. InEco mode, the MINI EVs top speed is a mighty 81 km/h. If you switch it into sport or normal mode, and you’ve got the guts, you can see 105 105 km/h on the digital dashboard. that’s great, except this car is supposed to be electronically limited to 100 km/h.
It’s only then that the magic of this pint-sized cabrio starts to become apparent. In the right weather conditions, with the right music, and with the right views, it’s absolutely delightful. It doesn’t hurt that you are everyone’s friend when you’re driving this car. It’s a magnet for positive attention. Looking to pick up a potential partner? Leave your Ferrari at home, and drive the Mini EV Cabrio.
Unfortunately, the use case is pretty limited, even more so than your average drop top. When the weather is less than perfect, the Cabrio once again starts to lose its charm. The AC and heating are weak, so if the weather is slightly hot or slightly cold, you’re out of luck. I had about a 45-minute drive back to our office when I picked this thing up, and in order to preserve the range, I drove it back to the office with the top up and windows closed. I had the AC on full blast, but I was still soaked in sweat by the time I arrived at our offices. That was in beautiful, mild weather.
So, in order to enjoy this car to its fullest, you need to drop the top, but doing so will destroy your mileage, and since it takes 8.5 hours to fully charge, that’s a serious problem. I expect the world’s cheapest convertible comes with some compromises, but this thing, it’s just not very useable.
This is now the third time in three years that we've reviewed the MINI EV, and it's come a long way in terms of both price and style during that time. The first MINI EV we drove was a sub-5,000 USD vehicle, making it attainable for a large number of households. The Game Boy version upped the price to about 10,000 USD, but provided a variety of upgrades to range, power, and even space. This convertible is the most expensive by far, costing an eyewatering 14,000 USD. That might not be a lot for a convertible, but it’s a whole heck of a lot to ask for a MINI EV.
I know there are those who are going to be upset at me for the way that I wrote about the Cabrio in today's review. I attribute this phenomenon to the powerful charm of the MINI EV, a car so cute that criticizing it feels like bullying a puppy. But the truth is, it's just too expensive. Unlike the original MINI EV, it costs too much to be considered practical, affordable transportation for low-income families here in China. But it's also too impractical to be considered as a daily driver for a middle-class family that could afford it. As a result, I'm afraid that like most convertibles, it's just going to end up being a plaything for the rich.
Wuling Hongguang Mini EV Cabrio
Power: 30 kW, 110 Nm (40 hp/81 lb-ft)
Range: 280 km CLTC
Top Speed: 100 km/h
Wheelbase: 2010 mm
CDM Price (as tested): 14,000 USD
Article classification: Electric Vehicles