The Mini Cooper Convertible is bigger than ever but can it prove its prowess as an enjoyable winter mode of transport without relying on the drop-top factor?
We all know convertibles and summer go hand-in-hand, so when the newly launched 2016 Mini Cooper Convertible arrived in the CarAdvice garage in the middle of a winter cold-snap, the idea of cruising around with the top down didn't seem as appealing as it would have had the weather been warm and sunny.
But that's the point, whether it be winter or day-after-day of relentless rain, convertibles have to be as functional, comfortable, and almost as fun with the roof fixed firmly in place.
So does the Mini deliver in this regard? We had the perfect storm of cold conditions and intermittent rain to find out. Not what I'd had in mind for getting to know the Mini Convertible but that was the hand I was dealt.
The 2016 model marks the start of the new generation. The Cabrio name has been dropped in favour of Convertible, and the Mini is bigger and more spacious than it was before. The Cooper is the entry-level variant, priced at $37,900 before on-road costs and it has a 1.5-litre three cylinder direct injection turbocharged petrol engine teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission.
With a 2.0-litre four cylinder petrol engine, paired with a six-speed sports automatic transmission, the Cooper S is the next step up and is priced at $45,400. If you prefer a more enthusiastic alfresco driving experience, there is a John Cooper Works variant for $54,900.
When it comes to convertibles, the Australian market is a little starved for choice but the Mini is the cheapest four-seater with a fully retractable roof.
The Fiat 500C has four seats and is priced from just $22,000, however you could argue that the roof is more of an extended sunroof. Similarly, both the Abarth convertible at $31,500 and five-seat Citroen DS3 cabrio at $36,590, though cheaper than the Mini, have the same style roof as the Fiat. The Mazda MX-5 would be more of a competitor if it had more than two seats. It's priced from $31,990.
The Holden Cascada would be the Mini's closest competitor, priced from $42,990 and from there there it's quite a jump to the Audi A3 Cabriolet that starts at $48,600. However the retro Mini has a distinct fun and funky flair about it that these more conservatively styled cars don't, for example the Mini logo that is projected from the driver's side mirror is a fun touch and is standard.
Optional packages on the Mini include 'Chili' which adds leather upholstery, sports seats, 17-inch wheels, LED headlights, daytime running lights and fog lights, navigation system and driving modes for $3500.
The 'Multimedia Pro' package includes an 8.8-inch display, voice recognition and touch controller, Harman Kardon sound system, head-up display and digital radio for $3650 when ordered with the 'Chili' package. There are also 'Convenience' and 'Control' packages that add extra safety features and driver assistance functions.
As well as the 'Chili', 'Multimedia Pro' and 'Convenience' packages, our test car has a few other additions including metallic paint ($800), seat heating for both front seats ($490) and run flat tyres ($260) bringing the 'as tested' price to $51,250 plus on-road costs. It's hard to tell whether this is good value or not, particularly given that the extensive list of options actually equates to close to 35% of the standard purchase price.
I mentioned that the new Mini Convertible is bigger than before, in fact it's 98mm longer, 44mm wider and 1mm taller and that all adds up to a more spacious feeling cabin – even with the roof up.
Sadly the Mini and I weren't a good fit. I found it difficult to get the seat, steering wheel and head-up display all positioned in a way that put me in comfortable driving position and offered clear visibility of both the instrument cluster and head-up display.
I just didn't fit! Thought it's worth pointing out that my issue in this regard was an anomaly among the members of the CarAdvice team that got behind the wheel. In fact Matt found it easy to get comfortable and he's taller than me.
That said, the seats themselves were comfortable, offering firm support, good side-bolstering, and despite the fact that I couldn't find the right combination, there is a lot of adjustment in the seats with plenty of scope to accommodate both short and tall drivers.
Our Mini is fitted with the 8.8-inch display, which is part of the optional package, rather than the standard 6.5-inch screen and it's controlled via the rotary dial and buttons located near the gearshift. As well as satellite navigation, there is also rear parking sensors, and a rear-view camera with guidelines that comes up crisp and clear on the display.
The infotainment system is funky and fun with cartoon pictures and graphics scattered throughout, including an image of the car wearing sunglasses when you scroll through the menu to check the outside temperature.
The drive mode selector is a switch at the base of the gearshift which can be used to select either sport, mid or green mode. It also scores dual zone climate control – cranked to 25 degrees during most of our time with the car – and below the controls for that is a row of toggle switches for a variety of things including push button start and turning park assist and auto stop/start on and off.
The interior has a retro disco vibe, with brightly coloured LED lighting, circular design elements and the inclusion of a few different types of material including black, chrome and textured surfaces. It's beautifully finished and all of the funky features combine to give it a fresh and fun ambience.
Via buttons on the steering wheel you can activate cruise control, answer the phone, engage voice control and change the radio station as well as the volume.
Though the cabin does feel spacious, this is still a small car and storage needs have been considerably well accommodated for. There are decent sized pockets in the doors, two cup holders in front of the gear shift and a storage nook that houses the AUX, USB and 12V outlets. In fact, the boot space is pretty impressive too – compared to its previous incarnation anyway.
The cargo volume is up 25 percent to 215 litres, however with the roof stowed away that drops to 160 litres. The boot was a little awkward to open; the door swings down and is quite heavy so you have to get the right angle to make it less cumbersome which proved a little tricky with full hands. At first glance, the boot opening seemed like such a small space that even a carry-on suitcase would struggle to squeeze through the gap.
However there is a nifty easy load function that raises the rear window to allow for larger items, and for extra convenience there is a tiny cargo cover (there's not much to cover), side storage nets and seat fold handles to expand the cargo space if need be.
If you do want to use the rear seats for passengers rather than for luggage, then two adults can just squeeze in, though the hidden rollover protection system has chewed up a little bit of space. Outside elbow room is a little tight, but there is lots of headroom even with the roof fixed in place. The seat base is comfortable but angled towards the back and there is decent under thigh support.
It was freezing when I hit the road, so with the heater blasting, it was time to test out the roof. The button is located above the rear vision mirror, and with the first press it will open to just beyond the driver's head like a sunroof. The second press sends it further back to fold up behind the rear passengers.
Should you encounter a spot of bad weather, the roof can be closed (or opened) at speeds of up to 30km/hr in just 18 seconds.
With the windows up to reduce wind buffeting and the heater on it was comfortable, even with the chill in the air, and it wasn't too noisy. Without the extra structural support provided by the roof, the body retained a quite solid feeling with just a bit of shake evident in the rear-view mirror from time to time.
The roof didn't stay down for long, the weather wasn't willing to cut us a break and even though the sun was out the odd shower would pass over. Pleasingly there wasn't any flapping noise from the soft folding roof when fixed in place, though engine and road noise is apparent.
The little three-pot produces 100kW and 220Nm and while it doesn't have the pep of the Cooper S model, it certainly brings a decent amount of the Mini's much-hyped 'go-kart' feel, particularly in sport mode.
It's an enthusiastic little engine that sounds good and offers decent character but bear in mind, it can be a little over-enthusiastic when re-firing after stop/start is engaged.
Off-the-line it's raring to go and when you put your foot down you may find yourself quickly hitting the brakes because it takes off quite quickly. The six-speed automatic gearbox is good and responds rapidly and appropriately to what you ask of it.
The steering can be a little bit heavy at times and the ride is on the firm side but that seems to be synergetic with the 'go-kart' character of the driving experience.
The claimed combined fuel consumption is 5.3-litres per 100 kilometres, and we recorded a figure of 9.7L/100km which was still unexpectedly high, though most of our time in it was spent in sport mode and in urban traffic.
Mini offers a five year/80,000km servicing package at a one-off cost of $1080, and it comes with a three year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
The Mini Cooper Convertible is a funky, fun and clever car and along with the quirky features it is also surprisingly practical for a small car. And yes, convertibles can be just as enjoyable to drive in winter as they are in summer – the Mini Convertible has proven that.
Click on the photos tab for more images by Sam Venn.