The Mini Cooper S is one of my favourite front-wheel-drive cars on sale today.
The BMW brand has been doing some pretty neat stuff lately. With the new M2 (reviewed here) and the insanely luxurious 7-series, they’ve indisputably been on a roll lately. The Mini sub-brand has been somewhat living in the shadow for the past little bit. Despite an all-new Clubman (reviewed here) this year, there just hasn’t been much excitement. In order to rekindle this appeal, there is a new family of ragtops. Considering our little family has a huge soft spot for the little cars, we eagerly picked up the keys to a 2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible for a road test.
One undeniable fact about the current Mini lineup is that they just aren’t as small as they used to be. I’m not referring to the iconic micro-car that inspired the current models – I’m referring to the original 2002-2006 R50 Mini, a properly small car even by modern standards. The second-generation model grew a bit in 2007, and the third-generation car (introduced for 2014) is even larger. It’s still a subcompact, but it’s a premium entry that’s largely an impulsive, fun purchase as opposed to a practical one.
The new Mini Cooper S Convertible is very obviously a Mini, and its styling holds true to this fact. The two-box design, large circular headlights (LED on our test vehicle) and quirky center-mounted dual exhaust are Mini Cooper S trademarks, and the car also has a hood scoop to differ it from the standard three-cylinder model. The convertible has a fabric top, imprinted with a Union Jack on our tester, and has a slightly different overall stance than the two-door hatchback. The trunklid opens downward, and there’s significantly less cargo space in this model.
Something neat about all three generations of Mini Cooper is that they are all powered by completely different powertrains. The first-generation got a neat supercharged four-pot, which was then replaced by a turbo 1.6L for the second generation. This one boots along courtesy of a 2.0L turbocharged inline four-cylinder. This motor pushes 189 horsepower at 5,000RPM and 207 lb-ft of torque at 1,250RPM. With a weight of just under 3,000 lbs., the Cooper S with the soft top pulls to 100 km/h in 6.3 seconds, which is nearly a half second quicker than its predecessor.
The new turbo four-cylinder is an extremely responsive motor, with tons of versatility and fun noises throughout the powerband. It’s smooth, refined, and exactly what should be expected from a BMW family vehicle. It feels good and punchy on the lower end of the rev range, though turbocharger lag is particularly pronounced here, and the car is confidence inspiring in the midrange too. Up at highway speeds, the new Mini Convertible is still peppy, but begins to run out of breath if fast passes are needed. Things are turned up another notch in the John Cooper Works model (reviewed here), but the standard Cooper S is more than enough for most Mini fans.
It’s reassuring that in a world of CVTs and hybrids, Mini still offers a manual transmission right across their lineup. Though most will opt for the six-speed automatic (similar unit as seen in the BMW i8), the six-speed manual equipped on our tester is the one to have. Shifter throws are effortless, and the clutch is rewarding to operate. It’s not as good a gearbox as the one in the outgoing Honda Civic Si (reviewed here), but a Mini can be relied on to provide a thoroughly enjoyable experience whether you’re commuting to work or taking a spirited drive through the countryside. One complaint I have about the shifter is that there is no lockout for reverse, which is located just to the left of first. This means that it’s quite easy to knock the car into reverse unintentionally when setting off from a traffic light. I can only imagine this issue getting bigger as the car ages and the shifter bushings begin to wear out.
In the handling department, the Mini is king. Aside from perhaps the Ford Fiesta ST (reviewed here), the Mini Cooper S is one of my favourite front-wheel-drive cars on sale today. Despite having electric steering, there is a decent amount of feel/analog connection between the driver’s fingertips and the front wheels, as the Mini happily and eagerly points itself where directed like a surgeon’s scalpel. As with any other FWD application, push the car too hard and it will understeer, but if your goal isn’t a track rat, and an effortless daily commuter with personality, you won’t be disappointed. Plus, with the Mini’s personality, it’s sure to be a hit at the weekend autocross, too.
Mini rates the Cooper S Convertible at 10.0L/100km in the city and 7.0L/100km on the highway. The added weight of the convertible mechanism and the new turbo four-cylinder engine have taken a toll on the Cooper S’ fuel economy, as our test averaged about 8.2L/100km on 91-octane premium fuel. The combined rating of 8.7L/100km isn’t too far off our own observation, but it’s important to remember that the forced induction means the Cooper S needs premium fuel to run properly.
Opening the door reveals Mini’s usual quirky interior. Our test vehicle was equipped with some nice brown leather seats, with a luxurious pattern stitched onto them. Ergonomics and switchgear are decent enough, with the few oddities we have come to expect from a Mini. Third-generation models have the power window controls in the proper place on the doors, and developments like this are almost indicative of the fact that the Cooper is growing up in multiple ways. The optional center armrest, a necessity for most, doesn’t play well with the parking brake, which knocks up the armrest when fully pulled up.
The Mini Cooper Convertible, with the three-cylinder engine, starts at just $27,990. Let’s add a few thousand and you’re at $32,240 for the Cooper S tested here. The Melting Silver Metallic is an extra $590, and there’s a small charge for the hood stripes and Union Jack on the convertible top. The Essentials Package adds a wind deflector, heated seats, Park Distance Control, and fog lights for $1,200. For another $1,200, the Loaded Package adds Dynamic Damper Control, intelligent key, a front center armrest, rain sensor with auto headlights, and automatic climate control. The LED Package adds LED headlights for $1,150. Lastly, the Wired Package with Navigation adds $1,500 and includes a host of tech. Add on a few miscellaneous options and the sticker on our car was right around the $42,000 mark.
The convertible top is one-touch operation, and effortlessly drops down when asked. There is a “sunroof” feature which retracts the top enough to get some sun without fully lowering it, too. The ragtop model does add a little bit of weight to the car, but it’s nothing significant. The reality is, Mini does a lot of things right, and being a sub-brand within the BMW family, they now have a build quality standard. If compared to the original classic icon, it’s very easy to write off the car calling it obese or artificial. When comparing it to today’s subcompact hot coupe/convertible segment, the 2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible is actually a pretty compelling pick.