Viljoen’s Pass, Villiersdorp – We took a circular route along the coast past Gordon’s Bay, across to Villiersdorp, and back to Somerset West to try the new Mini Cooper and Cooper S Convertible.
Right… so it’s the convertible version of the latest generation Mini… any different to the three-door hatch then?
Besides the folding canvas roof, not really. The drivetrain options are exactly the same as the hatch. There are two engines: the 3-cylinder 1,5-litre turbopetrol that puts out 100 kW and 220 N.m, and the 4-cylinder 2,0-litre turbopetrol that’s good for 141 kW and 300 N.m.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard, with the six-speed Steptronic auto as an option. A further option on the Cooper S is the six-speed Steptronic sport that offers shorter shift times and comes with paddle shifters and a launch control function for the robot racer brigade.
It’s as quick as the hatch?
Not exactly. As most convertibles are, this one is quite a bit heavier than its tin-topped sibling… 126 kg to be exact (1 295 kg vs 1 169 kg). Cut the roof off and you need some extra metal to strengthen and brace the chassis. That, for the Steptronic transmissions, translates into a marginally slower top speed (228 km/h vs 233 km/h for the Cooper S, and 206 km/h vs 210 km/h for the Cooper), as well as 0 – 100 km/h acceleration (6,7 sec vs 7,1 sec for the Cooper S, and 7,8 sec vs 8,7 for the Cooper).
So tell us about the roof then
Well, all in all it’s quite impressive. Fully automatic and electrically powered, the roof takes just 18 seconds to fully open or close, and features integrated rollover protection. You can flip it up or down at speeds of up to 30 km/h and, like the previous generation, it has a sliding roof function that effectively gives you a sunroof of up to 40 cm long. This can be operated at any speeds.
The fabric roof is black, but there is a nifty option – and one sported by our press car –that features black and grey Union Jack motif on the roof. Done in a contrasting herringbone pattern, it’s a nod the iconic Union Jack-painted roofs of previous generation Minis.
Any changes inside?
Nope. It’s the same glitzy combination of shiny black plastic, chrome detailing and soft-touch rubber, characterised by horizontal lines intersected by ellipses and circles found in the hatch. Not doubt bang on trend and all that, it’s none-the-less a little too ladies handbag for my tastes… particularly with the disco lights around the big, circular centre display. The new Mini Clubman, as a counterpoint, as a more subdued and refined interior (read our test in the new March issue).
One point to note is that there is a surprising amount of boot space in the new Convertible - noticeable more than in the previous generation derivative. Mini claims it's 25 %, offering 215 litres with closed top and 160 litres with the top open.
So it is one for the ladies then?
I think we can safely say that. The Mini guy certainly did at the press briefing. And the ladies did appear to like the last generation with some 165 700 units worldwide between 2009 and 2015. Of that number, 1 015 were sold in South Africa. That said, this is the only convertible in the premium hatch section, so some of the lads may opt for this over the similarly priced two-seater Mazda MX-5.
I take the ride and handling are the same as the hatch?
Pretty much. Pushing it up Viljoen’s Pass outside Villiersdorp, the convertible displayed almost no scuttle shake – something that can’t be said of the previous generation – and there was very little discernible flex in the chassis. Only during the latest of braking and turn-in can you feel the lack of rigidity compared to the hatch.
Reflecting the more grown-up feel Mini’s designers have tried so hard to imbue in this bigger, new-generation Mini, the ride on all derivatives is softer and more refined. Personally, I preferred the more go-kart-like feel of the previous cars – it was Mini’s very distinctive calling card among the hatch brigade and that’s now been lost.
But doesn't this one have a go-kart mode?
In name, yes. Optional on the Cooper, but standard on the Cooper S convertible, Mini’s three Driving Modes – Green, Mid and Sport – can be toggled between by the rotary switch at the base of the gear or selective lever. Twisting it clockwise to Sport sees a little go-kart graphic appear on the big centre screen and the accelerator and steering sharpen up. If the car is fitted with the Steptronic transmission and the Dynamic Damper Control program map, these too will bring out their A-game.
The overall effect though is far from dramatic and, even in Sport mode, this Mini isn’t anywhere as go-karty as its predecessors.
I’m sensing you weren’t crazy about it?
Look, for what it is, the Mini convertible is a very good car. This generation is an altogether more sophisticated machine and its target market will love it. I’ve no complaints with the build quality and it certainly does what says on the tin. It is expensive, but Minis have always been premium priced, and my criticisms are pure personal preference.
I’d get a tin-top over a convertible any day of the week and twice on Sundays, and I miss the older Minis’ more challenging handling. There isn’t a great deal of difference in real-world performance between the Cooper and the Cooper S and, particularly when it comes to the convertible, I would opt for the less powerful and cheaper Cooper.