The new Mini Cooper S Convertible has grown up, got a little bit bigger, has a stronger engine and costs less than it used to. There’s a lot to like…
This third-generation MINI Convertible Cooper S is arguably the best yet, replacing earlier this year, the second-generation model that had been on-sale since 2009. Like the rest of the Mini range, the Convertible sits modular platform that allows flexibility in vehicle design and inter-brand (Mini and BMW) platform sharing.
The Mini Convertible is slightly bigger, thanks to the new platform, and the Cooper S variant we’re testing boasts a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that offers more firepower than its predecessor, as well as improved fuel economy and general drivability.
The Mini Cooper Convertible is priced from $37,900+ORC while the Cooper S variant is priced from a not-cheap $45,400+ORC. Both vehicles are well equipped for the money, with the Cooper offering: dual zone climate control, dynamic cruise control, three-spoke sports leather multifunction steering wheel, Mini Visual Boost multimedia system with 6.5-inch screen and Bluetooth and USB connectivity, Rear View Camera with guidance lines, rear Park Distance Control, DSC, rollover protection system, four airbags and rain sensing windscreen wipers and lights.
The Cooper S adds: cloth/leather upholstery, sports front seats, John Cooper Works leather multifunction steering wheel, LED headlights, Mini Navigation System and Mini Driving Modes.
It’s pretty hard to tell the differences between the new Mini Convertible and its predecessor, but there are a few key subtle changes, and chief among them is the fact the new car is longer (+98mm), wider (+44mm) and higher (+1mm). The headlights and grille are all classic new Mini with some very minor tweaks, as are the air intakes, bonnet scoop and brake ducts on the Cooper S. The new Convertible also gets a “new” textile drop top which is electric and takes around 18 seconds to open or close and can be opened or closed at up to 30km/h. It also features a sunroof function which allows just a small section of the roof to be opened.
But, as much fun as we all like to think a convertible is when the sun is shining and the roof is down, the reality is an altogether different thing with the sort of turbulence inside the cabin you’d normally associate with a hurricane. Okay, so the buffeting inside the Mini with its roof down might not be quite that bad but it’s not great either, and if you’re sitting in the back of the thing you’ll cop the worst of the wind swirl. So, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
As mentioned, the Mini is now bigger, slightly, and while this does make the interior roomier, roomy is a relative term when used to describe the inside of a Mini. The driver’s seat looks like it’s been designed to look good rather than be particularly comfortable, and for me it felt a little too small and unsupportive on longer drives.
Over in the backseat it was impossible for me to sit behind the front seat when set to my driving position; I literally had nowhere to put my feet or legs. Even my seven-year old son complained that he had no legroom and that was when I pushed the driver’s seat further forward than was ideal for me.
Climbing in and out of the back isn’t as easy as it might seem either with the front seats not tilting or sliding forwards far enough. So, as much as my kids enjoyed the Mini, I wouldn’t recommend it for young families.
The dashboard continues the typical new Mini styling but the large circular infotainment unit that dominates the dashboard and controls multimedia and communication as well as the satellite navigation isn’t the easiest of infotainment units to use. It’s controlled via a large BMW iDrive-esque dial controller and shortcut menu buttons down near the gear selector but without familiarity it’s less than intuitive to use and comes off as an afterthought.
And while I’m griping, Mini has made a big deal of the boot growing by 25% or from 150 litres to 215 litres and while, for a small car like the Mini that’s not too bad, the boot is so awkward to access that it might almost not even have a boot.
Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine making 141kW from 5000-6500rpm and 280Nm of torque from 1250-4000rpm. This is a 6kW and 40Nm increase over the second-generation model. Our test car ran a six-speed manual transmission but a conventional six-speed automatic is also available as a cost option. The Cooper S Convertible will get to 100km/h in 7.1 seconds and drinks a combined 5.8L/100km and we got pretty close to that at 6.0L/100km across a week of driving in city, town, country and on the highway (600km-plus).
Unlike the Mini Cooper, the Cooper S adds Mini driving modes, offering Sport, Mid and Green which tweak steering and throttle response or, in the automatic, gearshift response. The Mini also gets a new speed-sensitive electric power assist steering system and while the steering is very effective in that it’s stable on centre at highway speeds and accurate on turning, it’s not particularly feelsome and, if I’m honest, lacks the typical Mini twitchy, direct, go-kart feel through the wheel. That might see a tear form in the corner of my eye, but I’m a realist and I reckon most people will find the steering pretty good; most won’t know what they’re missing out on…
Despite being a convertible which, in the old days, meant rough surfaces would see the things rattle and flop around due to the missing roof, the Mini Cooper S Convertible is wobble free, feeling every bit as taught as its hatch sibling. And that’s thanks to a greater use of high-strength lightweight steel.
But it’s when you start to push the thing along a more challenging road that you realise just how big an improvement, dynamically speaking, this new model is over the old car. The ride is firm but with enough compliance to avoid becoming skittish and the balance is excellent as is the grip which there seems to be an immense amount of.
There’s minimal body roll or torque steer and while this new Mini Cooper S Convertible feels more mature than its predecessor it’s just as much fun, is faster, and almost as engaging to drive quickly.
Looking at the engine’s numbers it’s clear to see the Mini Convertible should be a pretty flexible thing to drive and that’s indeed the case. It’ll pull cleanly and strongly from low revs in a higher gear than you’d expect, but give it your full size-11 from a get-go and this thing feels properly quick accelerating hard right up until redline.
Our test car ran the standard-fit six-speed manual transmission and this immediately feels less sprung than the unit in the old car. And this is good as it allows a more natural shift between gears, but the ‘box takes a little getting used to thanks to the longish lever and the tightly-spaced gates and the clutch lacks feel.
Safety-wise the Mini Cooper S Convertible gets four airbags, traction and stability controls as well cornering brake control which automatically applies the brakes to the inside wheel if it detects understeer. There’s a rollover protection system which will see bars shoot up from the headrests in the seats if the car detects a rollover is imminent, heated rear window (good for a convertible), rain-sensing wipers and strong LED headlights for both main and high beam, as well as LED daytime running lights.
The new Mini Cooper S Convertible feels like a more grown-up car than its predecessor and while some who loved it for its twitchy sporty nature might lament the maturity there’s no doubting its appeal will grow because of the changes. Indeed, the Mini Convertible is now a car that you can comfortably drive around in without feeling like you’re on your way to a racetrack.