Car reviews - Mini - Convertible - range
Minimal body flex, roomy cabin, cheeky and unique styling, more affordable price
Room for improvement
Manual gearbox ratios, slow roof operation
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19 Apr 2016
BROWSE GoAuto’s range of previous Quick Tests and reviews and you will get an in-depth feel for the range of Mini powertrains and options on offer, including the ones that power the new Convertible, with both the 1.5-litre three-cylinder Cooper and 2.0-litre Cooper S engines carrying over unchanged.
Specifications and equipment levels are also similarly aligned with flagship Cooper S versions getting the most generous list of kit, but entry-level Coopers have not been left out in the cold with some notable inclusions as standard.
What we are here to examine though is how the removal of the little British car’s roof has effected the experience of ownership, and why Mini says the extra $11,250 over the Cooper hatch and $8450 on top of the price of the Cooper S is worth going the extra mile for.
For a start you get a car that looks like no other and Mini says that in recent market research, 60 per cent of its customers did not consider any other brand when choosing a new car, such is the allure and individuality of the Mini styling.
But in addition to the unmistakable aesthetics that apply to all members of the Mini family, the new Convertible has the added charm of a folding fabric roof.
With the soft-top in place the little cabrio has a classic convertible appeal with the large expanse of matte black fabric contrasting well with the range of colours on offer. Two stand out visual elements are the new Caribbean Aqua blue paint and the optional roof that has the Union Jack woven into the fabric in grey and black.
Inside, the high roof height allows plenty of headroom regardless of the occupant height and seat position (not quite as much as with the roof open, of course) and with a slight increase to dimensions the Mini Convertible has a roomy feel on board.
With the front seats rolled forward a touch, we managed to fit in four adult males (a couple of whom were a little above average proportions) and although the four-up arrangement would not be comfortable for long, it is quite okay for a quick blast into town.
That increase to width and length has not spoilt the overall exterior effect and, while it is obvious the Mini certainly isn’t as mini as it used to be, the new Convertible has not undergone an ugly growth spurt.
Cracking the roof open is a very simple process thanks to the fully powered electrical operation and not the electro-hydraulic system of the previous generation. In silent surroundings it is hard to notice any sound from the mechanism.
Full opening and closing takes 18 seconds each way, which feels quite long in practice, especially as the roof will only do its thing at speeds of up to 30km/h. You could take a chance in stop-start traffic, but a sudden easing of congestion will have you dashing for the nearest lay-by with partly opened top.
If the Convertible is optioned with Comfort Access, the roof can be operated remotely using the lock and unlock buttons – a very handy feature for venting the cabin on hot days before entry, or for shutting the top if rain threatens to interrupt a catchup with friends and you don’t want to leave your cafe table.
With the top closed, the Convertible cabin is a cosy and well sealed space with better than expected sound insulation, but spending too much time indoors is a waste of drop-top Mini – precisely why the Always Open timer has made a comeback.
The stopwatch records how long you spend with air-in-your-hair but for its new generation, the gauge has evolved into a virtual feature in the infotainment system. It’s a pointless and typically playful Mini feature that we can't help but like.
Once open for business, the Convertible makes sense. Unlike some more pretentious cabriolets, the Mini is charming and glances from passers by were more of approval than spite.
As a true full-height roof convertible, the Mini allows an airy panorama when driving topless and open-top competitors such as the Fiat 500 and Citroen DS3 do not offer the same complete opening. Top marks here.
With a bit of speed, the Mini’s large open cabin can get a bit on the blustery side but its only a problem when the air temperature is on the chilled side.
With the windows up and the optional heated seats at full power, 16-degrees was just about tolerable.
If the second row is vacated, Mini’s optional wind break can be installed which does a good job at cutting interior turbulence even further still, although it does limit the rearward view in addition to the stowed roof, which gathers up atop the boot like a folded pram hood and partially obscures the rear view.
With our attention to the front we were pleasantly surprised by the Mini’s manners through twistier roads. Despite cutting the roof off, the Mini engineers have maintained a good level of body rigidity and while the extra bracing might not look like much, the work has resulted in only a small handling penalty over the solid-roof versions.
Understeer is exacerbated marginally – especially in feistier Cooper S versions, and there is a little scuttle shake but far less than many full convertibles on the market.
The Cooper’s diminutive 1.5-litre three cylinder may seem a bit asthmatic on paper with just 100kW and 220Nm of torque, the bantam engine does better than expected, and all but high-speed overtaking attempts are executed with ease and fun.
The baby three-pot also has a satisfying sound and even managed a little pop and crackle on overrun when paired with the automatic, which is standard on the Convertible.
When paired with the no-cost optional six-speed manual, the Cooper was more involving and will appeal to the driving purist, but excessively wide Autobahn ratios detracted from the experience and we would prefer a more closely bunched box of cogs for spicier acceleration and a little more fun.
True driving enthusiasts should opt for the four-cylinder turbocharged Cooper S, which accelerates strongly and produces a lovely turbo induction and exhaust note, with a delightful overrun pop-pop-pop that sounds like someone trying to get out of the boot.
Mini has invested a lot of careful targeted effort building a reputation as the fun car brand with a youthful persona and the new Convertible ties in beautifully with that strategy.
The little drop-top range maintains all of the Mini family appeal but adds an even greater dose of playfulness and for less than its predecessor. In its previous generation the Convertible cost customers between $2450 and $3400 more than this one.
Mini’s Convertible is a fun little drop-top in its own right, with more practicality that you might imagine, but when you try to find a direct rival to compare it with, you’ll find it is quite unique.
And when the barmy John Cooper Works version arrives later this year, the topless Mini is set to take another big step up in the fun stakes.
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