2016 Mini Convertible Review

The new Mini Cooper Convertible is a little larger than before, but retains much of the retro charm of the outgoing model. It's still a great little driver's car too, with engine variants and gearbox options to suit most buyers.
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The 2016 Mini Convertible is now a ‘Convertible’, not a ‘Cabrio’, according to the manufacturer. That's just one hint that things have changed ever so subtly for the improved retro small car.

Following our international test drive in the United States, we’ve now been able to test the new and improved Mini, priced from $37,900 plus on-road costs, on local roads.

The 'new', new Mini is a little bigger, more fuel efficient and has a bit more tech tossed into the mix as well. You can read our full pricing and specifications story here.

The 2016 Mini Convertible won’t suit everyone, but as every manufacturer who dabbles in retro re-releases knows, that isn’t really the point. Appealing to core fans is important, but so is appealing to style-focussed buyers who might be considering other vehicles in similar - or indeed related - segments.

Interestingly, Mini reports that for buyers of the outgoing Cabrio, it has seen a ratio of 57:43 per cent, female to male - which isn’t as heavily skewed towards the ladies as you might have expected. It seems blokes like a topless Mini almost as much as girls do.

The Mini Convertible is now 121mm longer, 44mm wider, and 1mm taller than the model it replaces. There’s also 28mm added to the wheelbase and all of that extra space, according to Mini, has gone into the interior, meaning there should be a feeling of spaciousness that wasn’t evident before.

At launch, we managed to fit (squeeze maybe) four adults into the Mini, but there’s a few factors to mention here before you start thinking the Mini is now a Tardis. One: we had the roof down, so getting in and out was easier than it would otherwise have been. And two: both front seat passengers needed to be seated further forward than they would have liked, which would be an issue for long-legged drivers especially. That test did prove, however, that the Mini is capable of accommodating four adults for shorter journeys.

What you do notice almost straight away is the extra width in the cabin around the shoulders of burlier blokes if you have two up front. There’s more than enough adjustment in the seats, and the steering wheel adjusts for rake as well as tilt to ensure drivers of all heights will be able to get comfortable. There’s a hidden rollover protection system in this new model, which not only removes any potential eyesore from the interior, but also ekes out a little more second row space.

The boot is also easily accessible, even with the top down. The boot lid flips down rather than up, has a loading height that isn’t an issue to access, and has enough room for a decent amount of luggage on a road trip - up 25 per cent, according to Mini. As Matt noted in his international drive, there are no second row airbags, but there are ISOFIX points - which seems a little strange to me.

We liked the folding soft top, which can be ordered with an embedded Union Jack for an extra $900. I have to admit the motif does look cool, even if it isn't worth spending the $900 on. I reckon plenty of people will.

The roof also has a clever sunroof function, meaning you can retract just the front section if you want, rather than folding the whole roof back. We tested the roof, both raising and lowering, and it does indeed work at speeds up to 30km/h - handy when you drive into a rainstorm, as we did at launch. Some models allow you to raise and lower the roof via the key fob, but it is as simple as pressing a button above the centre console in all models. The whole exercise takes only 18 seconds.

The usual bones of contention with soft-tops relate to noise and water. We can report that even up to 110km/h on coarse chip surfaces, the Mini’s soft-top is impressively quiet and well insulated. When locked into the closed position, it’s also taut, meaning there’s no material flapping around either. Rain was no issue - quite heavy at times during the launch - and there’s no river of water that runs into the cabin when you open the doors after a rain storm either - another bugbear with some less civilised convertibles.

With the top down, you’ll probably want either the front windows up, or the rear windows up as well at highway speeds, but the Mini is never uncomfortable even with all the glass down. Having the windows up just reduces the buffeting a little and also reduces the wind noise. It makes having a conversation easier without having to raise voices too much. At speed, with the top closed, there's not much to report in terms of wobbling, squeaking or lack of refinement. The Mini Convertible plays the pretend hardtop role quite well for instances where you won't or can't have the roof open - an important point for most buyers.

One factor the soft-top does impact negatively on though is rear three-quarter visibility. As expected, visibility in that direction is compromised by the solid sides of the material roof and there’s really not a lot you can do about it. It impacts backing out of parking spaces in shopping centre carparks, for example. The Mini is small enough that you can work out how to work around it, but the fact there is such a large blind spot there isn’t ideal. A reverse view camera and parking sensors as standard on both models does mitigate this issue to some extent, though.

Overall the Mini interior manages to retain its old-school charm without being too kitsch, even if some of the details are a little grating. For example, the central armrest gets in the way when it’s down and when it’s up, ensuring we could never quite work out where to position it. The 8.8-inch infotainment screen fitted to one of our test vehicles - as part of a $2700 multimedia pack - is crisp and easy to understand, and the addition of the BMW control system is a welcome enhancement to the Mini’s portfolio. Even the smaller 7.0-inch screen works well enough. There isn’t quite enough sensible storage though for bottles, larger smartphones and wallets, despite the interior being otherwise comfortable.

We were surprised by just how much movement there is in the front seat position, especially down into the cabin. Should you wish to, you can really drop the seat down into the floor so you feel like you are sitting down in the cabin, not up on top of it. It affords the illusion of a more sporting drive even if you aren’t hooking in and, for some owners, that will be more than enough.

From launch, two engine variants will be available with both manual and automatic transmissions. Perhaps the most intriguing, despite being the most diminutive, the three-cylinder engine once again works beautifully in a Mini platform. The little engine, which actually measures in at 1500cc, makes 100kW and 220Nm, and the six-speed manual’s ratios are perfectly spaced to work within the engine’s best power and torque bands. In fact, we couldn’t find a flat spot in roll-on acceleration up to 100km/h no matter how hard we tried. An ADR fuel usage claim of 5.3L/100km is pretty efficient too. (We'll need a proper week-long test to verify, of course.)

The gearshift itself is positive and direct, the clutch action light, and together they encourage a fun drive, especially on twisty country roads. Our launch drive takes us out onto rural coarse chip roads, which at 100km/h, won’t be the three-cylinder’s domain, and yet the little Mini eats that surface up effortlessly. The chassis is taut, which you expect from a vehicle that can handle well, but the Mini Convertible is never uncomfortable. It’s a genuinely engaging, roarty and fun platform that people who enjoy driving will love. It goes to show that bigger (and more power) isn’t always better and isn’t always necessary either.

Performance enthusiasts will undoubtedly opt for the larger four-cylinder engine powering the Mini Cooper S Convertible though. It measures in at 2000cc and generates a healthy 141kW and 280Nm, and while the three-cylinder is definitely fun, even the automatic gearbox can’t dull the extra grunt of the larger four-cylinder unit. ADR fuel use is only slightly higher at 5.8L/100km, so the bigger engine is still efficient.

There’s a steady surge of acceleration from a standstill with the four-cylinder engine burbling away under the stubby bonnet and there’s no loss of power right up to redline. The larger engine doesn’t make the Mini feel heavier or more lumbering either, although the smaller engine still puts a smile on your face despite being less powerful.

What the larger powerplant does do is almost lift that model into another segment, in a way. it feels like a different car despite wearing the same sheetmetal. Buyers on a budget though can rejoice in the cheaper Mini still being a barrel of laughs.

This new Mini delivers on the promise of lively, evocative handling, ride quality and tactile response to driver input - even over bumpy roads at speed. The chassis is balanced and composed and is taut enough that it doesn’t flop around, while still being comfortable enough to soak up bumps and ruts. The steering is still sharp and responsive, and there’s an element of the much referred to ‘go-kart’ feel you get from quality vehicles at this end of the spectrum.

Matt reported from the international launch that this new model’s suspension is much more sorted than the outgoing model, and that’s very much the case locally too.

The new Mini Convertible looks to be a genuine bargain drop-top in the Australian market for those buyers wanting a vehicle with a point of difference, not to mention visible curb appeal. People love the Mini wherever you go. It’s a modern-day Beetle in that way, putting a smile on everyone’s face.

We think Matt’s international score of 8/10 for the range is spot-on and we look forward to spending more time behind the wheel when the Mini makes it’s way into the CarAdvice garage.

Not all retro cars work the way their makers intended, but in convertible guise, the Mini definitely hits the mark.

MORE: 2016 Mini Convertible pricing and specifications
MORE: 2016 Mini Convertible - international drive