2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible review
Isaac Bober’s 2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The new Mini Cooper S Convertible arrived earlier this year boasting a new platform and engine and a more mature drive experience.
2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Price from $45,400+ORC Warranty three years, unlimited kilometres Safety 4 star ANCAP (Mini Cooper hatch – tested 2015) Engine 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol Power/Torque 141kW/280Nm Transmission six-speed manual (standard) Body 3837mm (L); 1727mm (W); 1414mm (H) Weight 1230kg Fuel Tank 45 litres Thirst 5.8L/100km
BOTH THE MINI Cooper and Cooper S Convertibles were launched earlier this year sitting on a new modular platform that forms the basis of not just the updated Mini line-up, but also a bunch of new front-drive BMWs. The convertibles followed the Down Under launch of the hatch early last year with the updated Cooper and Cooper S hatchbacks recently (June) falling into line with the convertible range.
What is it?
The third-generation Mini is arguably the best yet, and it’s the same with this Convertible Cooper S variant and replaces the second-generation model that had been on-sale since 2009. As mentioned earlier, the new Mini sits on an all-new modular platform that allows flexibility and scalability and inter-brand (Mini and BMW) platform sharing.
This new Mini Convertible is bigger (read: roomier, although this is a relative term) and more refined than ever before. The Convertible Cooper S also boast a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that offers more firepower than its predecessor, as well as improved fuel economy and general drivability.
Mini Convertible Cooper S doesn’t really have any competitors, although some will likely compare it to a Fiat 500C which they shouldn’t because this thing is bigger, more powerful, more expensive and delivers the full roof-down experience. Some might point to the MX-5 as a competitor, but it’s a rear-drive sports car and this thing is a front-drive hot hatch, but a well driven Cooper S Convertible won’t be disgraced, so, maybe comparing the two isn’t so silly afterall, but I digress.
What’s it like?
The Mini Cooper Convertible is priced from $37,900+ORC while the Cooper S variant, which we’re testing, is priced from a not-cheap $45,400+ORC. But, for that coin, both vehicles are well specified 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.
From the outside you’ll be hard pressed to pick the changes between this new Mini Convertible and the old model, but there are actually quite a few subtle differences. And these start with 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 now and takes around 18 seconds to open or close and can be opened or closed at up to 30km/h.
While we’re on the topic of the roof; despite the chilly weather in our week of testing we did drop the roof when I had the whole family on board, and I’ll come back to the practicalities of the seating shortly, and, with the heater cranked to 28 degrees (its highest setting) found that we did have to raise it again fairly soon after dropping it. See, while when the roof is lowered and the windows are raised the front seat passengers are fairly protected from buffeting, but those in the back might as well have their heads poked inside a hurricane… not that my kids complained.
There is a small wind deflector that you can put up and while this helps a bit, it’s still pretty blustery in the back. That said, almost no drop top is free from swirl inside when the roof is down. And, if I’m honest, the only time it’s actually worth owning a convertible and dropping the roof is on a cold, clear winter’s day when the heater’s cranked up. Magic. The fact the roof also offers a sunroof function which just folds back a section of the fabric is kind of cool.
Before we get too deep inside the thing, let’s just quickly finish off on the outside. To my eyes, the new Mini Cooper S Convertible looks good. Despite only being a smidgen bigger than the old car, its proportions seem to be less dinky than before and, dare I say it, muscular looking. Indeed, my four-wheel driving landscaper described it as a “fast looking thing”… but I wouldn’t go quite that far. The speaker of the house took it to work on and showed it around her office to gauge opinion on the looks and both men and women gave it the thumbs up. What do you think?
Back to the inside. 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 a Mini. The driver’s seat is looks like it’s been designed to look good rather than be particularly comfortable, and for me it felt a little too small and I’m an average-sized bloke and, on longer journeys the under thigh of my right leg started to pinch as it was sitting on top of the seat’s side bolstering.
Over in the backseat it was impossible for me to sit behind the front seat when set to my driving position and I mean impossible as in there was nowhere for either 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, meaning you’ve got to squeeze and contort yourself through the gap and then fall into the back seat. 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 and 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 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 the quality of the map display is first rate the usability of the system is a bit of a letdown.
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. Indeed, if you’re a bit older then loading and unloading really will be a pain in the back as you’ve got to reach over the down-folding boot lid and lean right in with outstretched arms to reach inside.
Under the snub-nosed 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. We spent the week alternating between Sport and Mid and unlike a lot of these systems there’s a noticeable change to the weight of the steering in Sport which feels much heavier…
…the Mini gets a 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. Now, while I might lament the loss of the steering feel from the older Mini Cooper S, I have to admit the new setup will appeal to a wider range of drivers while still offering some zing.
In the old days, chopping the roof off a car to make a convertible used to mean the convertible version was always heavier because of the additional bracing required to keep the thing from becoming all floppy in the middle. Not so these days and despite being bigger and running a bigger engine, a greater use of lightweight, high-strength steel means the new Cooper S Convertible weighs the same 1230kg as its predecessor from 2009.
Even across poor surfaces the Mini Cooper S Convertible is wobble free, feeling every bit as taught as its hatch sibling. 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.
The engine note is nice and quiet at around town speeds, but hardens up under acceleration with a nice little crack and burble on overrun. And the automatic blip function when downshifting means you’ll never need to heel-and-toe again. Shame.
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.