2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible Review

Able to trace its heritage back to 1959, the Mini has long been a cool car. But is the all-new, third-generation Mini Cooper S Convertible a cool car?
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Tegan Lawson recently scored some seat time in the all-new Mini Cooper Convertible and thought it was plenty of fun. Well, since then, I got my chance to sample the new third-generation Mini drop-top, but I got to party with the more powerful 2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible. Bring it on.

It’s hard to be cool, but some cars have been doing it for longer than others. And the Mini has been at (or at least near) the top of the list for more than 50 years.

Able to trace its heritage back to 1959, the Mini is an undeniable classic. Always has been. Always will be. But now in 2016, is the latest F57 Mini Cooper Convertible a cool car?

With Mini trading the term ‘Cabrio’ for ‘Convertible’ for its new soft-top, the entry-level Mini Cooper Convertible is priced from $37,900 (before on-road costs) while the Mini Cooper S Convertible tested here starts at $45,400 (before on-road costs).

Sitting $9500 below the $54,900 flagship John Cooper Works Convertible, our Pepper White Cooper S teams a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.

With 141kW of power at 6000rpm and 280Nm of torque between 1250-4600rpm, the Cooper S is 29kW and 40Nm down on the 2.0-litre turbo in the JCW Convertible, though, 41kW and 60Nm up on the base Cooper’s turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder.

The mid-level Cooper S auto claims 0-100km/h in 7.1 seconds and 5.8 litres per 100km – 0.1s faster and 0.4L/100km more fuel efficient than its six-speed manual equivalent. And, while we netted 10.7L/100km over our week with the car, in the claimed stakes, the new Cooper S is 0.5s quicker to 100km/h and 1.0L/100km more economical than its 135kW/240Nm turbocharged 1.6-litre second-generation R57 predecessor.

Despite being priced $5750 below the previous Cooper S Cabrio, the new Mini Cooper S Convertible is not short of equipment.

Keyless start (via a start/stop toggle switch), LED headlights, daytime running lights and fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, automatic dual-zone climate control, a rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, and four airbags are all standard.

Cruise control is also included, along with a 6.5-inch infotainment display screen with satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming.

Doing their combined best to add some toughness to the fabric-lidded Mini are 17-inch light-alloy wheels, a subtle bonnet scoop, chrome exterior accents, centrally-mounted chrome exhaust tips, Cooper S badging and sill plates, sport seats, and a three-spoke, red-stitched, multi-function JCW leather steering wheel.

Other neat touches include Mini-logo puddle lamps, interactive LED ambient lighting, Diamond Carbon Black cloth/leather upholstery, and Black Chequered and Piano Black interior accents.

Even with all this taken into account however, the Mini is still far from being ‘cheap and cheerful’.

For context, the Cooper S Convertible is $8810 dearer than a manual-only Citroen DS3 DSport Convertible and $3200 shy of an entry-level Audi A3 Convertible.

Add in the $8590 worth of options fitted to our tester and you’re looking at $53,990 (before on-road costs) for a front-wheel-drive, three-door convertible.

A few of the options we’re talking about? A wind deflector ($400), heated seats ($490), 18-inch alloy wheels with run-flat tyres ($700), and Mini’s ‘Control Package’ ($1500), comprising ‘active’ (adaptive) cruise control, forward collision warning, city braking, high-beam assist, adaptive headlights, and tyre pressure monitoring.

Mini’s $2700 ‘Multimedia Pro Package’ is another add-on fitted to our test car, bringing with it an up-sized 8.8-inch display screen, a flip-up-style head-up display, ‘Professional’ navigation, and a 12-speaker harman/kardon stereo with DAB+ digital radio – the latter having no problems belting out tunes.

Not only cheaper than its predecessor, the new Cooper S Convertible is also bigger… in more ways than one.

At 3850mm long, 1727mm wide, and with a tare weight of 1269kg, the third-generation Cooper S is 121mm longer, 44mm wider, and 44kg heavier than its second-generation sibling.

Boot capacity has increased compared with the old Cabrio, the new Convertible offering buyers 35 litres more space than before with the roof down and 45 litres more space with the roof up – now 160L and 215L, respectively.

Sitting on a 28mm longer wheelbase, with wider tracks front and rear, the 2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible is a neat-looking thing – our tester helped out by black bonnet stripes (a $200 option) and black mirror caps (a no-cost option). And, skilfully positioned in Melbourne’s graffiti-tagged St Kilda, the drop-top Mini looks ‘right’.

Nestle into the mildly-bolstered, manually-adjustable, Union Jack-stamped sport seats and the eye can’t help but dart around the busy – though more premium feeling than before – cabin. Attention easily jumps between the LED-ringed central screen, rubber and chrome climate control dials, and the plethora of buttons and toggle switches strewn throughout.

It’s also hard to ignore Mini’s well-established circle theme. From the chrome and plastic door handles, to the door-speaker surrounds, outboard air vents, analogue speedometer, gear lever surround, cup holders, iDrive controller, steering wheel, and even the steering wheel control D-pads (left for cruise control, right for audio/phone), there are circles everywhere.

Space up front for two is reasonable and roof-up headroom, too, is quite good – it’s obviously even better with the roof down though.

Getting into the back seats is a touch ‘fiddly’ with the roof up, but it’s simple enough to move the front seats forward to gain access.

Mini claims 18 seconds for the electronic roof to open and close – the same as the previous Cabrio – and, along with being able to be activated at up to 30km/h, is attached to a partially-open setting available from closed at any speed.

Strangely, once in the back, the two rear seat bases are slightly off-set to the seats in front, with the cut-outs forcing your bum inwards and your knees out – effectively pointing you toward the outside of the car.

With next to no toe-room and only minimal legroom available back there too, the two ISOFIX-compatible rear seats are best reserved for small kids or bags.

Dropping the 60:40 split-fold rear seats down – which can be done via boot-mounted releases – gives you additional load space, though, be aware, this results in a high load lip between the seat-back bases and the boot floor.

Another point worth noting is the Mini Convertible’s tailgate. Rather than opening up, the weighty tailgate drops down. And, while this does provide you with a handy ‘table’ rated to support up to 80kg, if you need to access the boot, ensure you’ve parked with a bit of additional space behind you to avoid any nasty ‘mishaps’.

Keeping things urban and, around town – just like the base Cooper – the Cooper S is a fun little device to slice through traffic in, and makes nipping in and out of narrow streets and laneways a cinch.

Leaving the standard engine stop-start technology on or off is a personal preference, however, regardless, in normal (or ‘Mid’) mode, the 2.0-litre turbo feels a touch too docile, with the engine, throttle, and gearbox all a little slow and doughy to react to inputs.

‘Green’ mode offers more of the same, but select ‘Sport’ – for “Maximum go-kart feel” – and it genuinely alters the drivetrain’s characteristics, awakening a much sharper, keener side to the little Mini.

Although the engine is happy cruising around at 1500rpm – and it will pick up from those sort of revs – there’s significantly more punch and eagerness to be had between and beyond 2500-3000rpm.

Blast up a freeway onramp, settle into a highway cruise, and there’s no getting away from it: with the roof up, it’s loud inside the Mini.

Although generally sticking to James Ward’s ‘Roof Down Unless Raining’ (RDUR) convertible mantra – despite the occasional three-degree Celsius Melbourne night – with the roof in place, it all but sounds like you’ve left a window slightly open or have a door ajar.

Wind noise, road noise, and noise from outside traffic all easily penetrate the cabin, turning the Mini’s interior into an auditorium of transportation – the odd creak and rattle occasionally joining the symphony, particularly when traversing less than perfect roads.

Look right with the roof up and over-shoulder vision is fine thanks to the two-door’s lack of a chunky B-pillar. However, there’s little point ever looking over your left shoulder as you’re simply confronted by a black hole made up of the passenger seat headrest and an expansive C-pillar.

Depending on the situation you find yourself in, the Mini’s standard rear-view camera does help, though bear in mind, front sensors will cost you an additional $700 and increasingly more common blind-spot monitoring technology isn’t even an option.

Head out of town and while the Cooper S feels sufficiently planted on the road – sitting flat enough through bends to maintain the model’s long-touted ‘go-kart-like’ handling – over rutted and coarse-chip surfaces, road noise is further increased and the already-firm ride shifts from being noticeably busy to borderline unsophisticated.

A key part of this is the scuttle shake and body flex the Mini suffers from – an issue that tends to plague cars that have had their roof cut off.

Hit a decent bump at the front end and you feel it work its way through the chassis – a bit like a wet dog shaking itself dry. New platform or not, and despite Mini claiming a “highly rigid body structure with model-specific bracing elements”, the effects are clear, as the rear-view mirror will vibrate enough to see the image in it blur.

What’s odd though, is while the Cooper S is firm enough to ensure you well and truly know when you’ve struck a cat’s eye, or are negotiating tram tracks, speed humps, or cobbled streets, you actually feel the majority of any impact through your bum, the seat, the pedals, and the floor, rather than through the detached and slightly wooden ‘Servotronic’ electronic speed-related power steering.

Still, teamed with one of the best sport modes getting around (with no shortage of grin-inducing exhaust pops), the 2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible is largely able to provide keen drivers with a rewarding and entertaining open-topped driving experience.

Although it lacks some feedback and real engagement, in ‘Sport’ mode, the Cooper S nicely blends sharp and direct steering with improved throttle response and more decisive gear changes.

Given these rather positive attributes, the Mini’s questionable brakes are an even greater letdown.

Inoffensively attached to a soft and progressive pedal when dealing with the daily grind, drive a bit more ‘enthusiastically’ and the pedal quickly becomes spongey, with decent retardation only coming as the pedal gets ever-closer to the floor.

Overall, however, the lidless Cooper S is a legitimately capable and more than reasonably quick little urban-focussed city car. That said, its model-specific suspension is unquestionably firm, it continues to battle scuttle shake, it offers limited space and practicality, and its value proposition is somewhat skewed.

Is the latest Cooper S Convertible a cool car though? Well, it may not be the cheapest light car getting around and it may also suffer from a few niggles and idiosyncrasies that make it less than perfect, but, as many a Mini has done before it, compared with what else you can buy for similar money, the 2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible has an innate ability to put a smile on your face – roof on or off. And, arguably, all while still being cooler than most…

Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible images by Tom Fraser.