JUST IN TIME FOR WINTER, MINI AUSTRALIA HAS LAUNCHED THE FIRST TWO MEMBERS OF ITS ALL-NEW MINI CONVERTIBLE FAMILY.
Available in three-cylinder Cooper and four-cylinder Cooper S form, Mini’s new drop-top packs in more equipment, better efficiency and more power - yet at a lower price.
Almost everything has been improved. Not just interior quality and packaging, but the way the car drives is markedly better than it was before.
And we should know: on a launch route that incorporated brilliant sunshine, miserable rain, country roads and even a visit to a skidpan, we had ample opportunity to test the breadth of the new Mini Convertible’s capabilities.
Vehicle Style: Convertible
Price: $37,900 (Cooper Convertible) to $45,400 (Cooper S Convertible)
- Cooper Convertible - 100kW/220Nm 1.5 turbo petrol 3cyl | 6sp manual or automatic
- Cooper S Convertible - 141kW/280Nm 2.0 turbo petrol 4cyl | 6sp manual or automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.1 l/100km (Cooper manual) to 6.1 l/100km (Cooper S automatic) | tested: 8.0 l/100km (Cooper manual)
The F57 Mini Convertible is the third generation of Mini drop-top, and launches initially as a three-cylinder, 100kW Cooper or a four-cylinder 141kW Cooper S. A much hotter JCW variant will join the range in the second half of this year.
Lobbing in at $37,900 for the base Cooper and topping out at $45,400 for the Cooper S, the new Mini Convertible is up to $5750 less expensive than its predecessor.
An automatic transmission is also a no-cost option now (thanks to uptake of the slushbox being around 85 percent in the previous generation), which further sharpens the value equation.
- Standard equipment: Dual-zone climate control, central locking, reversing camera, power windows, power roof, rear parking sensors. Cooper S adds: cloth/leather upholstery, front sports seats, LED headlamps, LED foglamps.
- Infotainment: 7-inch colour display with AM/FM/USB audio, Bluetooth phone and audio integration. Cooper S adds: satellite navigation.
- Cargo volume: 215 litres roof up, 160 litres roof down, 50/50 split rear seatbacks.
While many convertible derivatives in this size class wind up looking awkward and ungainly once subjected to a roofectomy (remember the Megane CC, or even the Colt CC?), Mini deserves applause for making a convertible that remains true to the design of its parent car.
In this case, that’s the Mini three-door hatch, the mainstay of Mini’s lineup. Compared to the hatchback the convertible has got identical sheetmetal south of the shoulder line, but with the hatch replaced by a bottom-hinged tailgate.
View it in profile with the roof up though, and the silhouette is very close to that of the three-door Cooper. The “C-pillar” is by necessity much thicker and you don’t get that expansive wraparound glasshouse of the hatch, but roof up or roof down, this is an attractive car.
One major aesthetic upgrade for the all-new F57 generation Mini Convertible is the deletion of the rear roll hoops that were fitted to the previous two generations. They never looked like they belonged, they blocked vision through the rear window and we’re glad they’re gone.
In their place is a pyrotechnically-actuated rollover bar, which deploys in an instant if a rollover is imminent.
But what of the rest of the interior? Well, that’s improved hugely too. With the move to a new-generation platform, the new Convertible adopts the same excellent interior furnishings as its hatchback cousin.
Quality soft-touch materials abound, the speedometer migrates to the steering column, the infotainment system is hugely improved (though the Cooper Convertible in base form doesn’t come with standard sat-nav) and fit and finish is top-notch.
It’s damn close to drum-tight, too. Out on the road with the roof up there’s only the slightest creak from the roof when traversing choppy surfaces, and scuttle shake with the roof down is minimal.
The electrically-folding roof is easy to operate too. Hold the roof switch backwards once and the front panel will slide rearward to create a sunroof-like opening. Hold it back again, and the roof glides away almost silently in just 18 seconds.
No clips to unfasten, and it’ll operate at speeds up to 30km/h. The launch drive also saw plenty of rain along the route, but there was no sign of water ingress around any of the roof’s many seals.
There’s a hint of roof-up wind rustle along the top edge of the windscreen though, and road noise is pronounced - especially on the optional run-flat tyres.
Roof down, windows down and with the (optional) wind deflector stowed in the boot, it’s easy to converse in the Convertible at highway speeds. There’s some wind rustle and a little bit of turbulence, but not enough to be bothersome.
If you really want to minimise follicular disturbances, putting the windows up and deploying the wind deflector helps cut down cabin air movement.
But it’s not all rosy. Rear vision with the roof lowered is terrible thanks to the top roof panel that sticks up, spoiler-like, right between the rear view mirror and the traffic behind you. Over-the-shoulder vision is also compromised when the roof is up thanks to the thick fabric “pillar” that encloses the rear seats.
And though the new Convertible is 98mm longer, 44mm wider and slightly taller than the model it replaces, the rear seats are incredibly tight for anyone but small children.
Legroom in particular is in short supply, unless front seat occupants are willing to sacrifice some of their own legroom. It’s a little more generous that before, but not by a significant margin.
Boot access is also tight through the small tailgate opening, though if the roof is up you can widen it by manually tilting up the base of the fabric roof. The good news here is that luggage capacity has improved by 25 percent, with 215 litres of roof-up capacity, and 160 litres with the roof down.
ON THE ROAD
- Engines: Cooper Convertible - 100kW/220Nm 1.5 litre turbocharged petrol inline three, Cooper S Convertible - 141kW/280Nm 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol inline four
- Transmission: Six-speed manual or automatic (paddle shifted automatic in Cooper S), front-wheel drive.
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
- Brakes: Ventilated disc front, solid disc rear
- Steering: electric power steering
Do people buy style-driven convertibles like this one for their driving dynamics? Perhaps not, but for those who do we can happily report that the new Mini Convertible is just as delightful to pilot as its tin-top siblings.
Thanks to some extra underbody bracing the Convertible’s chassis doesn’t feel as floppy as some other convertibles (though it’s not as rigid as the Mazda MX-5), and it holds onto the road tightly.
Mini was even confident enough in the Convertible’s performance to let us loose on a skidpan, where the car demonstrated that it’s got the same neutral, almost tail-happy balance as the hatch.
Turn-in is crisp, it corners flat and it brakes superbly. That goes for both the Cooper and Cooper S as well.
Though the Cooper S has a power advantage, on the tight confines of a skidpad the three-cylinder Cooper wasn’t just able to keep up, we managed to set our fastest time - the second-fastest of the whole group - behind the wheel of a base Cooper manual.
On fast country roads you begin to notice the Cooper’s relative lack of urge, and with 100kW and 220Nm that’s understandable. It’s got excellent low-end torque, but those seeking a swifter set of wheels should look towards the 141kW and 280Nm Cooper S.
Though the majority will tick the box for the six-speed automatic, the manual is particularly good fun in both models. With a light throw, clearly-defined gate and an easy-to-use clutch, the manual delivers an extra level of driver engagement.
That’s not to say the automatic is no good. Far from it, in fact, especially with the Sports Automatic that equips the Cooper S. There’s no such thing as a dud transmission in this lineup.
The ride is firm, but given none of the Cooper Convertibles available were equipped with the standard 16-inch wheels (17-inch alloys were the smallest wheel we could find, and all Cooper S Convertibles at the launch had 18-inch rolling stock), we can’t vouch for the base model’s ride comfort.
It only really gets brittle over deep pockmarks and corrugations, and retaining the standard 16-inch alloys will likely improve ride comfort further.
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, pyrotechnic rollover hoop.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
As far as four-seat convertibles go, the only real rival at a similar price point is the Audi A3 Cabriolet.
Its price overlap is marginal, however, with a starting price $48,600 for the base A3 1.4 Attraction. Add some options to a Cooper S Convertible and that gap closes quickly, but as far as retail pricing is concerned the Mini Convertible is a sharper deal.
Beyond the Audi, Mazda’s MX-5 holds a great deal of topless appeal - especially if you’re a keen driver - but it lacks the premium posture and four-seat configuration to be a true competitor.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Mini Convertible has grown better with age, and while some may bemoan the gradual swelling of its external proportions, there’s no denying that this is one of the better-looking sub-$50k four-seat convertibles on the market right now.
And truth be told, it’s got universal appeal. At a 57:43 percent female:male split, almost as many males buy roofless Minis as women.
And when the product is now this good, who can blame them? The only real negative here is a claustrophobic back seat, but that’s to be expected when making something as tiny as a Mini hatchback into a convertible. A Tardis, this ain’t.
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