Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: July 13, 2016
In my opinion, the MINI Cooper was always born to be a convertible. Sure it’s got real track potential with its John Cooper Works tunes and upgraded parts, but I’ve always envisioned the Cooper as a drop-top boulevard cruiser that is comfortable to drive, offers modest practicality, attractive looks, and unique appeal. To me, the MINI felt more at home on Ocean Drive than it did attacking pylons in an empty parking lot.
While there was a drop-top MINI offered for the first and second generation Coopers from 2005 - 2013, it wasn’t very good. The ride was rough, the chassis was unbearably jittery, and it carried too much weight for it to drive like its more focused hardtop brethren. It was like trying to get a marathoner to run a circuit wearing a backpack filled with bricks, with his legs tied together, on an IV drip of diazepam.
Now in its third generation, MINI aims to please the hairdressers and avenue lurkers with a new drop-top that is more rigid and comfortable than before. Moreover, it features updated technology, an array of potent engines, and it rides on a new BMW platform. Offering space for four and unlimited open-air excitement, the new Cooper S Convertible just might have what it takes to be the perfect driving partner on a sunny afternoon.
Let’s talk about looks first. Aside from the fabric roof, there isn’t much to compare between the hardtop and softtop Coopers. Regardless of their hat, the MINI is undeniably cute, even in this new Melting Silver paint with a Union Jack flag woven right into the fabric top. It definitely wouldn’t be my first choice in paints – the new Caribbean Aqua would be my personal favourite, and is a clever throwback to the classic MINI colour palette.
Inside paints a similar story. As a premium vehicle, there are a plethora of neat features found throughout the cabin. While the layout is more cluttered than say, a 228i Convertible, it does have its unique appeal with a glowing circular infotainment unit, nifty airplane inspired switches top and bottom, and a laser gun head-up display that pops out when you need it.
The seats are incredibly supportive – I can’t seem to stress that enough – and even with the top up, the amount of headroom is phenomenal. Defying the “mini” stereotype, gifted drivers standing even 6 feet 5 inches tall will have no problems wiggling about. But who cares what it’s like with the top up – convertibles are all about the open air!
The MINI even has a new feature called “Always Open Timer,” that provides a readout of how many hours you have driven with the top down. I’m not sure why this would come in handy – perhaps it would be useful as a timer to reapply that SPF 100 sunscreen.
On the practical side, the MINI also comes with a rain warning feature that will notify the driver if inclement weather is heading its way so you can prevent water from hitting those precious seats. Neat. There is a unique sunroof option too that opens the roof halfway in a sort of “targa” position, offering fresh air when you don’t feel like fully exposing yourself to the public.
The front seats are noticeably void of excess wind buffeting and the easy-to-attach wind deflector proves to be incredibly useful when cruising along at triple digit speeds. It does attach and hover over the rear seats though, so you can only make use of it when there’s only one other friend you need to drive.
Don’t expect passengers sitting in the back to be just as comfortable as the driver either – it’s better suited for children and luggage than it is for actual adults who enjoy their knees unscathed. Furthermore, the Cooper S Convertible doesn’t have the most practical trunk– a bottom-hinged hatch with just enough volume to swallow up a big haul of groceries.
Ironically, the rear view is actually better with the roof up – when the roof is down, the fabric is folded and stacked into a sort of Golgi Apparatus and hinders the view. However my biggest concern with the interior was with the center armrest – it is the most annoying hunk of plastic ever created. Not only does it get in the way of the handbrake but I can barely reach the rotary dial without succumbing to carpal tunnel.
Even when you fling the armrest upwards to its most rearward position, it still nudges against your elbow when you’re trying to shift gears. I much prefer the center console layout offered in the Clubman, where the armrest is nicely integrated and flush with the seats, and they also come with an electronic handbrake to save space.
The engines under the hood are the same in the hardtop. Our Cooper S is rocking a BMW B48 inline-four engine that is turbocharged and produces a respectable 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque from as low as 1,250 rpm. Being a BMW engine, it comes equipped with technology from its German overlord like direct injection, TwinPower turbocharging, and Valvetronic.
The result is one of the smoothest driving MINIs I’ve ever experienced. Power delivery is near instant, with a surge of torque right from the get go and a meaty rev up to the redline. There is always a bit of lag with these turbo-fours but once the spooling gets going, the Cooper S keeps pace with even the quirkiest hot hatches on the market.
Our MINI was mated to a 6-speed manual transmission (an automatic is available at an extra charge) and while it’s nice to row your own gears, MINI programs it with automatic rev-matching downshifts. What that means is when you’re downshifting say, from fourth to third, the systems will automatically blip the throttle for you so you get a smooth transition into gear. Heel and toeing becomes obsolete, and the only way to turn it off is by deactivating the stability control and hitting up Sport Mode. Beginner manual drivers will love this feature, but hardcore “save the manual” addicts will nevertheless find this frustrating.
Piloting the massive gear shifter is rewarding, and clunking it from third to fourth has never felt better, like slipping into a perfect sized glove. Though the gates are far apart and the shifter quite notchy, it doesn’t get in the way of the experience.
The clutch pedal has a little too much travel for my taste – the 228i has the better one in this regard – and the gear shifter is also farther from arm’s reach that I would have preferred. Sure, call me picky, but adjusting my seat any closer would squish my knee against the dashboard.
Even though it weighs more than the hardtop variant due to extra stiffening and panel reinforcement, the Cooper S is still a blast to drive. The steering is sporty and weighs a good amount, the gearbox is tuned to perfection, the MINI feels nimble around corners, eager on the straights, and ultimately does not feel bogged down by its newly acquired belly. Roof up or roof down, the Cooper S is nothing short of pure driving pleasure at regular speeds, but push it too hard and the unmistakable glory of understeer makes itself incredibly apparent.
I was a little disappointed by the exhaust noise too. Sure it’s entertaining to hear the pops and burbles when revving it up and lifting off the throttle, but the remainder of the powerband is lacking that crucial crescendo. Even with the top down with a front-row seat to the exhaust out back, it leaves me wanting, because isn’t a convertible all about hearing more of that soundtrack?
Being a MINI, options add up quickly and can present itself with a porky price tag. The Convertibles aren’t cheap, with starting prices of $27,990 for the base Cooper, $32,240 for the Cooper S, and $39,740 for the John Cooper Works (JCW).
The S and JCW trims can be hard to justify, especially when compared to the number one selling roadster on the planet: the Mazda MX-5, which starts at just $31,900. The MINI is a premium drop-top after all, and while both the Cooper S and MX-5 option out to around the same in the end, the Cooper has two extra seats and comes with more features. Also making a compelling argument are the Fiat 500 Convertible and the Volkswagen Beetle Convertible, both offering drop-top fun but at a lower price and with a more economical features list to match.
There are a good number of convertibles out there that offer more performance, a superior ride, and arguably better looks, but the MINI is unique in the regard that it's iconic and infinitely customizable. What I love most about it is that you aren’t sacrificing much by choosing the drop-top – it presents the best compromise for customers looking for premium quality, city compactness, and a quirky unisex appeal. Performance and privacy are compelling arguments for opting for the solid roof, but the Cooper is always going to be a car that feels the most comfortable naked, with its top off cruising into the sun.
型号 Model: 2016 MINI Cooper S Convertible
顏色 Paint Type: Melting Silver
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $32,240
試車售價 Price as Tested: $42,230
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,495
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 3,858 / 1,727 / 1,415
車重 Curb weight (kg): 1,354
引擎 Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder
最大馬力 Horsepower: 189 hp @ 4,700 - 6,000 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 207 lb-ft @ 1,250 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 6-speed manual
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
油耗 Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 10.0 / 7.0 / 8.7
油耗 Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 9.5