2016 Mini Convertible Cooper S first drive review
The latest Mini is one of the best small cars money can buy, yet the Convertible has always been more about glamour than driving fun. Can the new Cooper S change that?
- Convertible is the latest model to join the revamped Mini line-up
- Now larger and more spacious, with fully electric cloth roof
- On sale in April, priced from £18,475 for a manual Cooper
However, the Convertible fits perfectly with most Mini buyers, bringing an added dollop of glamour to the tried and tested recipe of chic retro styling and go-kart handling. Except, of course, the previous model - whisper it - wasn’t actually that good to drive, with some real flex in the chassis, added weight, a cramped interior and so-so interior plastics and fit and finish.
This new version aims to rectify all those problems in one fell swoop, though. Based on the latest chassis platform, it’s considerably bigger than before, and this larger footprint translates directly into more space for those in the cabin. The boot is bigger, too, apparently by nearly a quarter, and the folding cloth roof has been redesigned, although it’s still plonked above the boot when you fold it down.
To find out if the driving experience has also improved, we’re testing the sportier Cooper S, which has a new 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that makes a healthy 189bhp at 5,000rpm. As with the rest of the range, though, there is a pair of three-cylinder models, too: the Cooper has a petrol engine with a more modest 134bhp, and finally there's a frugal 1.5-litre diesel unit in the Cooper D.
The Cooper S comes on 17-inch wheels as standard, the windscreen is swept further back so the car seems lower to the ground, and it also gets the customary (cosmetic) bonnet vent, too. The grille, air intakes, fog lights and headlamps all seem to fight for your attention in the limited real estate available up front, but this does leave the sides completely clean for a sleek profile.
Find yourself a sunny spot, open up the new folding roof automatically using the key fob (a process which now takes around 18 seconds) and nestle yourself behind the wheel, and you find a high-quality interior that perfectly matches the new-found maturity of the design.
Practicality was never a strong suit for the Mini Convertible, but the company has taken strides to make this drop-top at least a bit more of a useful everyday proposition. Yes, the rear seats are still pretty tight for adults, but kids will now be comfortable on longer trips. And, the boot has grown by 40 litres to a 215-litre capacity with the roof-up, or 160 with it folded down.
The back seats split and fold as standard, and the boot hatch itself doubles as a sturdy bench if you fancy taking a break from driving for an impromptu roadside picnic. There is also a clever double hinge on either side to increase the size of the boot opening, so that you can squeeze a small suitcase in without feeling like you’re trying to shove it through a letterbox.
The Cooper S we tried was fitted with both the optional sports suspension and adaptive dampers – with three different driving modes to switch between. Around town, where you’re contending with cobbles, speed bumps and so on, the ride is still a touch busy, but it jiggles you around considerably less than its predecessor ever did. On smoother, faster stretches of Tarmac, it's balanced and agile, but supple enough to make longer journeys much less tiring.
Zinging the new 2.0-litre engine round to the top of the rev range is just as exciting as it was before, but despite only a modest increase in power, it feels burlier in the mid-range. Drop a few gears in the positive six-speed manual gearbox and the in-gear punch is enough to make overtaking slower traffic a breeze, although at higher speeds, wind buffeting becomes an issue.
The stiffer body should also mean less squeaks and rattles from the vastly improved interior over the life of the car, and again, even on the worst surfaces, it’s hard to detect too much flex in the body, which bodes well for the hotter John Cooper Works version, which is due to arrive in April.
Even the top-spec Cooper S should be relatively affordable to run, too, with forties mpg easily achievable as long as you’re not attacking every corner, a relatively low 139g/km of CO2 emissions, and fixed-price servicing. The pricing is still premium, though, so picking a few too many of the options will transform this likeable £22,430 convertible into something seriously expensive.
Equipment levels are reasonable, and while rear visibility (roof down or up) is still pretty poor for such a small car, the Mini compensates with rear parking sensors and a reversing camera fitted as standard on every single model in the line-up. The Chili pack remains an essential addition, though, and heated seats, LED headlights and a multifunction steering wheel are all extra.
- Model: Mini Cooper S Convertible
- Price: £22,430
- Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol, six-speed manual
- Power/Torque: 189bhp/207lb ft
- 0-62mph: 7.2secs
- Top speed: 143mph
- Economy: 48.7mpg
- CO2/BIK tax liability: 139g/km/22%
- Boot space roof up/down: 210 litres/160 litres