WHILE IMAGE IS EVERYTHING TO THE 2016 MINI COOPER S CONVERTIBLE, PERFORMANCE HASN'T BEEN NEGLECTED.
It’s that balance of cheeky style and brattish handling that sets MINI apart from other small cars.
Being a convertible helps too, of course. MINI reminds us that there’s no need to be so darn serious all the time; this latest Cooper S Convertible arrives as a headful of fresh air.
Vehicle Style: Convertible
Price: $45,500 (plus on-roads) $53,990 as-tested
Engine/trans: 141kW/280Nm 2.0 turbo petrol 4cyl | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.1 l/100km | Tested: 7.7 l/100km
In the process MINI has trimmed the price, with the new Cooper S starting from $45,400, a handy reduction of $5650 compared to its predecessor.
There’ll be a more raucous John Cooper Works model later this year, but for now the Cooper S tops the range, matching a zingy engine with drop-top style, and staying true to MINI’s fun-to-drive ethos.
TMR spent the coldest week so far this year with MINI’s little tan-enhancer and even the depths of Melbourne’s winter couldn’t wipe the foolish grins off our faces.
- Standard equipment: Dual-zone climate control, cloth/leather seat trim, LED ambient lighting, Always Open timer, flat-bottomed JCW steering wheel, driving mode selector, LED head and fog lights, 17-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 6.5-inch colour display with AM/FM/USB audio, Bluetooth phone and audio integration, satellite navigation
- Options fitted: Multimedia Pro Package (8.8 inch central monitor, head-up display, 12 speaker harman Kardon audio, DAB+ digital radio) $2700, MINI Yours leather interior and Nappa steering wheel $2150, heated front seats $490, black bonnet stripes $200, 18-inch alloy wheels $700, piano black interior trim $250
- Cargo volume: 215 litres roof up, 160 litres roof down, 50/50 split rear seatbacks
Just like the three-door hatch it’s based on, the Cooper S Convertible delivers all of MINI’s relentlessly retro cues in a slick, modern way.
The ‘old-school’ central speedo now houses a multi-function LED light ring used as a status display, and framing the infotainment unit, there’s a little speedo and tacho pod mounted to the steering column, and everywhere you look the switchgear adopts a retro flick-switch style.
Up front, things are as you’ll find them in the hardtop, and despite the MINI’s snug dimensions, front seat-space is more than decent in every direction.
New owners stepping into a MINI for the first time may find the upright windscreen, positioned a long way away, a little unusual, but if this isn’t your first MINI you’ll feel right at home.
Soft touch surfaces cover the upper and parts of the lower dash, and the door trims, with thickly padded armrests, and high quality piano-black plastics used as trim highlights.
The toggle switches at the base of the centre stack do feel a little bit rickety, and are not really in keeping with the interior's otherwise impressive appointments.
With the fully-lined roof up, the Cooper S Convertible looks and feels impressive, and the two-stage roof operation allows for a sunroof-style opening, or a fully dropped top.
In trademark MINI style, the roof stacks itself atop the boot opening, but rearward visibility suffers with the top folded. MINI has also ditched the previous model’s exposed roll-over hoops, giving a cleaner top-down look.
The boot is bigger than before, and the opening to fill it is a little tight, but can be enlarged slightly with a roof release mechanism for when the top is up. You’ll find 215 litres available with the roof in place, or 160 litres with the top folded, plus 50:50 folding rear seats.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 141kW/280Nm 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol inline four
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
- Brakes: Ventilated disc front, solid disc rear
- Steering: Electric power steering
Due to their roofless construction, convertibles are commonly less rigid than their hardtop counterparts, and less fun to drive as a result.
That certainly isn’t the case with the MINI Convertible. With a solid chassis free from flex or ‘sogginess’.
Thanks to that rambunctious Cooper S engine, which produces 141kW of power at 6000rpm and 280Nm of torque all the way from an astonishingly low 1250rpm until 4600rpm, the MINI Convertible is a very willing little performer.
More than just straight-line speed though, the tightened-down suspension delivers precise cornering, reduced body roll, and quite impressive sporting verve.
MINI uses the go-kart analogy a lot (a picture of a kart even appears on the central display when you select Sport mode) and it really isn’t out of place. With a connected feel and fast reflexes, the MINI is about as close to a go-kart as you can get.
In fact, with a spot of sunshine in the sky and the top folded, even mundane trips to work, or to pick up a litre of milk, turn into fun little jaunts that will entice a sneaky smile.
Although our tester was tied to a six-speed automatic, the Cooper S still felt brilliantly lithe and agile. Purists however will likely stick to the available six-speed manual, but the auto is no penalty box.
Best of all is the cheeky little engine note that sounds like the MINI’s attempt at blowing raspberries to other road users, capped off with a precise “BRAAP!” with each spirited upshift.
As a package, the Cooper S Convertible is cohesive and well-resolved, there’s a clearly systematic approach to engine, transmission, suspension and steering, which harmonise to create a highly appealling whole.
It’s also true that the majority of MINI Convertibles will likely be confined to city and suburban environments, tackling commuter duty and local errands instead of bolting to the coast for the reckless weekend away.
To that end, despite its sporty undertones, the suspension is comfortable enough to deal with sheep humps, dips and broken pavement despite the larger, optional 18-inch wheels. Similarly, the steering, accurate and well weighted, frees up in low-speed situations like parking.
ANCAP rating: The Mini Convertible has yet to be rated by ANCAP
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist, dual front airbags and front side airbags, and a pyrotechnic rollover hoop are fitted as standard.
MINI’s Control Package is also available (as fitted) and adds forward collision warning, city braking, high beam assist, active cruise control, tyre pressure monitoring, and adaptive cornering headlights for $1500.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Australian market lacks a large field of compact drop-top competitors, but those that are sold here are all darn good units. Audi’s A3 Cabriolet is the closest in size, but depending on your choice of engine and accessories, the price can come out at more than the MINI.
Conversely the Citroen DS 3 Cabriolet is a cheaper option, but it’s manual only and more of a hatch with a large folding than a true convertible. If driving dynamics are your priority then the Mazda MX-5 is hard to go past, but this one is a strict two-seater.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
MINI aficionados may not agree with the brand’s move into the SUV class, or the introduction of a five-door hatch or wagon, but few can argue with a proper MINI ragtop. That’s as quintessentially MINI as you can get.
The Cooper S package is iconically MINI too, and when the two combine in the MINI Cooper S Convertible there’s nothing but good things to report.
We’ll admit, this is nothing like a ‘proper’ old Mini from the 60s or 70s (it starts every time and is weatherproof for starters), but the added safety and refinement are always welcome in a modern context.
Your hair sailing on the breeze and a wide-open smile should be enough to convince you of the charms of this little fun-bucket. But if you need an extra prod, the newly reduced price ought to do the trick.