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Car reviews - Mini - Convertible - Cooper

Our Opinion

We like
Aesthetics, handling characteristics, connectivity, charisma and ancestry
Room for improvement
Rear vision with roof down still average, boot compromises, ride, rear legroom

Mini logo28 Oct 2016

By STUART MARTIN

Price and equipment

THE entry-level open-topped Mini is cheerful and cheaper, having had a price cut of $4800 with the more standard fare.

The list price starts from $37,900, which means you’ll really want to lust after a Mini Convertible over its hard-topped sibling, which is $8900 cheaper, lighter and a little faster.

A number of other sporty machines also slip in under that price point – it’s in the same ball park as the most expensive Mazda MX-5, but slots in beneath less sporty drop-tops like Holden’s Cascada or the Renault Megane coupe/cabrio just on the other side of $40,000.

The Toyota and Subaru in the sportscar segment – tin tops but sporty nonetheless – also sit well below the Mini’s asking price.

Standard equipment for the Cooper Convertible includes a new soft-top with the ability to remove forward section, dual zone climate control, dynamic cruise control (with a mild but effective braking function), keyless start, colour-adjustable LED interior lighting, puddle lights with the driver’s side displaying a Mini logo, a grippy three-spoke sports leather multifunction steering wheel, power-adjustable and heated exterior mirrors, cloth trim, an infotainment system with a 6.5-inch screen, as well full Bluetooth and USB connectivity.

It’s grown 98mm in length and is 44mm wider compared to its predecessor, but retains the hallmark styling sadly the six-speed automatic is the only gearbox listed as being on offer, although some literature had mention of a no-cost manual option with the same number of ratios.

The road test vehicle had a few option boxes ticked – metallic paint adds $800 and white bonnet stripes boost the asking price by another $200.

Wheel size was upped to 17 inches for an additional $1150, with chrome exterior, white mirror cap, interior style additions and a wind deflector all contributing $960 to the options bill.

Satellite navigation within a larger 8.8-inch screen is an $1100 option, run-flat tyres are an extra $260 and the Mini Control package (which includes the auto-braking driver assistance package, tyre pressure monitoring, adaptive LED headlights and LED foglights) adds $2600 to take the as-tested price to $44,970.

Interior

Squat and stumpy in looks, the (just) four-seater convertible has plenty of aesthetic appeal and looks more like a proper Mini than many of its the overgrown siblings elsewhere in the showroom.

The cabin is, as expected, very snug, with a high waistline that isn’t always popular with juvenile rear occupants, but four small adults will get by without needing remedial physiotherapy thanks to slight increases in length and width.

The driver can get reasonably well set up behind the grippy three-spoke leather-wrapped sports steering wheel, but at 191cm we’re not sure anyone is going experience the same level of comfort when seated behind us.

The cosy cloth-trimmed cabin is lit with LEDs that can change colour and it has a quality feel to the materials and overall layout, the latter being very much Mini.

Some of the instruments, with round dials galore, starts to look a little tacked on but it gets away with it.

It also means some controls – mainly the infotainment buttons between the front seats – are difficult to access easily, given close proximity of the handbrake, but the centre stack toggles for ignition, stop-start fuel saver and the stability control are easy enough to use.

The open-air experience (with its own naff timer) is available in 18 seconds from the new soft-top at up to 30km/h, which offers the choice of a targa-top “sunroof” opening with its integrated sunroof function – the maker claims its a quieter, more refined operation that can be completed by remote control or from behind the wheel at speeds of up to 30km/h.

Roofing of black fabric is standard but it is also available with an integrated woven graphic featuring a black and grey Union Jack motif as an option.

The bootspace is up 25 per cent to a paltry 215 litres (reduced to 160 litres with the roof down and stowed), which is able to grow via split folding rear seat backs.

The rear tailgate opens downwards which can make loading awkward, although it can support up to 80kg and the benefits of its Easy Load function (that raises and locks the soft-top frame when the roof is closed to help expand the load area) is cumbersome and can catch on loads being put in or out.

Engine and transmission

In a former life the Cooper was a poor substitute for the snappier S models but it’s less of an issue now – the lower-spec engine feels far more useful than earlier base model powerplants.

The new Cooper Convertible is propelled by a 1.5-litre single-scroll turbocharged direct-injection three-cylinder.

The characterful engine is flexible and enjoyable, with the Double VANOS camshaft timing adjustment for intake and exhaust valves, as well as the Valvetronic intake valve control system.

In this form it delivers 100kW at 4400rpm and 220Nm (plus an extra 10Nm on overboost) from 1250rpm, an extra 10kW and 60Nm over its predecessor.

That brings about a claimed 100km/h sprint time of 8.7 seconds (a 2.4 second improvement) while the lab-derived fuel consumption result has dropped by 1.6 to 5.3 litres of 95RON PULP per 100km.

Our time in the little convertible saw the trip computer reading 9.0L/100km at an average speed of 43km/h, which included plenty of commuting and some more amusing drives as well.

Among the fuel-savers on board is the automatic idle-stop system, which while not the quickest in the market is by no means the slowest either.

The six-speed auto does its bit for fuel economy as well, making good use of the torque on offer and delivering an efficient cruising speed, and while there are no paddle shifts the driver can DIY with the selector to good effect without adding the $325 Sports mode option.

Ride and handling

You wouldn’t get into a squat little brat of a car like this one and expect a boulevard ride to equal a Rolls Royce and that is true to form – it’s a vehicle that rounds off the bumps with some degree of dexterity but in the end its still a little choppy on the rough roads.

Not unnervingly so, and you could commute in it daily without concern, but get it away from motorways and main roads and point it into some bends.

The wide stance and wheel-per-corner set-up promises bite into bends and it delivers – which is a good thing as you’ll want to carry corner speed to offset the lower horsepower quotient on offer to the right foot.

As mentioned, it’s far less anemic than earlier incarnations and can power out of bends with some degree of vigour, but there’s not enough from the engine to elicit torque steer or scrabbling for grip.

Ride quality is a little choppy on broken bitumen and its stumpy dimensions can make it something of a handful if limits are exceeded (a difficult scenario to produce, it has to be said) without electronic backup, but it does hang on.

Mini says the rigidity of the body structure has been improved in the absence of the roof by adding model-specific bracing elements, including additional front and rear torsion struts, a stiffening plate beneath the engine and stiffening of the side sills.

Safety and servicing

Inherited from its German masters is a solid range of active electronic safety systems within the stability control umbrella, as well as anti-lock and corner brake control functions and an electronic diff lock.

The ability to keep its four brake discs dry and compensate for fade under duress are also worthy of note, although less of an issue than it might be in the S models.

A reversing camera and rear parking sensors help slot the little convertible into parking spaces, something hindered (as is general driving) by the top-down position of the folded soft-top - it obscures much of the rear vision to the extent that a police car’s interest would only be obvious from the view of the light bar in the mirror.

Perhaps a function that leaves the rearview camera on whenever the roof is down could be feasible.

Dual front and side airbags (but nothing rearward of the B-pillar) help protect occupants, as does an integrated rollover system in lieu of the fixed hoops of earlier models – it automatically raises the bars when the car’s sensors detect a rollover.

Rain-sensing wipers and headlights that respond to inclement weather are fitted, as are foglights, a tyre pressure warning for the run-flat tyres (are an extra $260) and the Mini Control package (which adds the driver assistant package, tyre pressure monitoring, adaptive LED headlights and LED foglights) adds $2600 to the asking price.

Coverage extends to a three-year unlimited kilometre manufacturer’s warranty and Mini offers a Mini Service Inclusive package for maintenance starting from $1080 for five years or 80,000km for scheduled servicing cover, while the more expensive Plus customer gets scheduled servicing and selected maintenance items.

Verdict

The Cooper Convertible is a far more palatable proposition than that presented by its predecessor, delivering an entertaining – if not scintillating – driving package, as well as composed road manners and enough usability to make it feasible on a daily basis.

Pricing is better but still making the most of an appealing image and ancestry, for hard-charging purist sportscar drivers there are better options but the gap is not as wide as it once was.

Rivals

Audi A3 Cabriolet from $48,600 plus on-road costs
A solid step up in price from the rest of the rivals but the little A3 drop-top is a much-improved machine, more masculine in its demeanour and a composed and competent package. A back seat, a half-decent boot that doesn’t have to hold a folding hardtop and a 103kW/250Nm low-pressure turbo engine all put it in the frame, but the asking price might make life harder for it.

Mazda MX-5 from $31,990 plus on-road costs
Not a direct rival given seating numbers, the fun factor commonality brings it into the frame given its price. Versatility points go to the Mini for being able to do the school run but the two-seater Mazda’s poise and purity also score. The 1.5-litre four is far from a price point power plant but the two-litre (which starts from $34,490) has a meatier mid-range for the money.

Holden Cascada from $41,990 plus on-road costs
Holden’s drop-top has the seats to compete but it’s 125kW/260Nm powertrain is hauling a hefty mass, which puts it more into the cruiser category, where once the Cooper Convertible also slotted. A comfortable cabin space beneath the triple-layer soft-top is also something for which the Holden gets points, as well as a features list with digital radio reception, auto high beam and leather trim among its highlights.

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