Mini drops the top on the Cooper S, but charges well for the privilege.
The original Mini had an apt name, it was indeed small. Now however, each new model grows ever larger, just like the new Cooper Convertible. With its new BMW front-drive platform, the third-generation Convertible is bigger in all dimensions. It still looks much the same, but it’s longer now by 98mm, is 45mm wider too (track widths out as well) and it’s slightly longer in the wheelbase.
The growth is all for extra cabin space, but the gains are marginal. It’s not like you buy a small convertible for practical reasons but leg room in the rear is still tight and the seat back too upright to be viable for adults. Think of it as a 2+2, and even then it was a squeeze for the kids in their car seats, but with the roof down, they loved the ride. The boot is slightly larger but still tight, especially with the roof down, and the opening is meagre. Its comic roll bars are gone, the new model featuring pop-up rollover protection should things go pear shaped.
It’s not the fastest soft top in town, taking a bit over 15 seconds to retract, but it’s all done with one button pressed (and held) and performed in near silence up to speeds of 30km/h. Once folded it sits up proud on the rear deck which obscures your rearward view. There’s a bit of buffeting top down, but it’s not intolerable.
The convertible top can retract its front section, targa style, so you can let some sunshine in without going fully topless, but it’s suited more to town speeds as it’s fairly blustery above 80km/h. The Mini Convertible manages to look good both top up and down, save for the aerial on the top of the windscreen. While the rear view is compromised with the roof in place, the Convertible has a reversing camera to help.
The Mini’s cabin design is still an acquired taste, but the latest generation is slightly more conventional. It gets heated seats, which helps you enjoy roof down driving in the cooler months. However, the AC struggles in the heat; top down in traffic on a sunny day it got mighty warm in the cabin. It got so hot I had to put the roof back up.
At $53,900, the Mini Convertible is an extravagant $11k more than the Cooper S 3-door, while the auto adds a further $3000. It’s kitted out with leather-trimmed sports seats, Harman Kardon hifi, dual zone climate air, a 6.5-inch screen for the infotainment with nav, smart key, LED lights, and airbags for front passengers but there are no active safety whatsits. The options list is mainly concerned with cosmetic trinkets and the must-have $350 Always Open Timer, which records the time spent driving with the roof down.
The Convertible has the same engine as the S hatch, the 2.0-litre turbopetrol outputting 141kW and 280Nm, but with the chassis strengthening, it’s heavier, quoted at 1295kg, though our tester scaled up at 1367kg. While it’s still a reasonably fun drive, it feels heavy, not lithe like the hatch. The steering is quick, the Convertible turning swiftly but you know that the hatch does it so much more incisively. Its ride is stiff too, and when you hit the bumps at speed, they can send a shimmy through the cabin. The regular 1.5-litre turbo Cooper Convertible probably doesn’t suffer from such a hard ride and might be a better option, but we’ll never know as only the Cooper S is offered here in New Zealand.
The turbo four pulls well from 1500rpm, building nicely through the midrange, with still some left at the top for faster flings. The power-on traction is sorted nicely via the e-diff, well managed brake intervention nipping wheelspin and taming torque steer, even on slick surfaces. The S sounds reasonable too, at least in Sport mode with an accompaniment of crackles, pops and burbles from the exhaust. Figure on average fuel use for general commuting of nine point something. While the odd Mini still goes out the door with a manual gearbox, Convertible buyers would be better served by the auto, for the six-speed is quick but smooth, even at flat chat.
It’s difficult to talk up the Convertible when we clearly prefer the cheaper, better handling hatch, but as far as small, premium drop tops go, there’s no direct rival for the Cooper S.
|Mini Cooper S Convertible
|1998cc, IL4, T/DI, 141kW/280Nm
|6-speed auto, front-wheel drive