For better or worse, MINI has come a long way. While the company used to be known for small and affordable compacts, its expanded range of cars are larger than ever before and carry an equally larger price tag. But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed about the new MINI, and that’s how much fun it delivers.
Engine: 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder
Power: 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic or 6-speed manual
EPA Fuel Economy (MPG): 25 city, 34 highway, 29 combined (automatic)
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 9.7 city, 7 highway, 8.5 combined (automatic)
Price (USD): Starts at $30,450, As Tested: $38,250
Price (CAD): Starts at $34,971, As tested: $43,811
But one surefire way to up the fun factor is to chop off the roof, especially in the gorgeous summer weather we’re seeing these days. Fortunately, the MINI Cooper S Convertible maintains all of its charm even when it’s missing its top.
Stylish inside and out
Visually, it’s a bit tough to tell this generation of MINI from the last one, but once you get up close to the car, you’ll notice how much larger it is, in addition to the cartoony-looking exaggerated headlights and tail lamps. Naturally, the MINI we tested came with a number of customizable elements, including the Union Jack on its soft top. Buyers can customize the wheels and mirror caps, add racing stripes, and there are a number of extra cost paint options available, too.
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The interior is also snazzy. Featuring the Chesterfield, Malt Brown upholstery, the seats are done up with a quilted pattern that would normally seem out of place in a cheap compact, but the MINI strives to be something a bit more than that. Fit and finish in the cabin is solid, while other quirky cues are to be found throughout, including toggle switches instead of buttons. The MINI’s British charm is all here, with the car featuring an “Openometer” that tallies up how much time you’ve spent with the roof down, and cute messages on the display when you adjust the driving modes, like “Lets MINImalize” when you select the Green mode and “Lets Motor Hard!” when you switch into the Sport mode.
The central console is also lined by a giant glowing ring that changes in context to what you’re doing. Adjust the HVAC, and it mimics the temperature gauge. Put it into sport mode, it the ring acts like a glowing tachometer. Some people might think it’s a bit of a gimmick, but I loved it and it’s something unique that barely any other cars are doing these days.
Adding to the premium-looking seats are a number of features. Our tester included navigation system, heated seats, a head up display, backup camera and parking sensors. The roof is also powered and can also be operated remotely, so you can close or drop the roof from a distance.
BMW + MINI
It’s worth mentioning that the MINI brand is owned by BMW and, therefore, these cars aren’t really British, but the plant that makes these quirky compacts is still in the U.K. (at least for now — who knows how this Brexit stuff might affect MINI). There is a lot of sharing between BMW and MINI. In fact, a variation of the platform underpinning the MINI is used in the BMW X1. Contrary to what BMW tends to use for its vehicles, this is a front-wheel drive platform, but is rigid and sporty enough to feel at home in both brand’s products.
The sharing between the two brands goes beyond the platform as well. BMW provides the turbocharging tech in the engine, meaning this 2.0-liter four-cylinder puts out 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. It sounds good, though there is some sound-system trickery in place to subtly enhance the sound of the car through the speakers. Still, there are no complaints from me, as the car’s engine note pairs nicely with its playful personality. There’s plenty of passing power and the turbo means there’s nice grunt down low.
Offered with both automatic or manual six-speed transmissions, our car featured the latter and would be the preferred setup. Not only is the shifter well defined and easy to use, the Cooper S Convertible featured automatic rev-matching when downshifting, so you look like a pro during every shift. The downside is that fuel economy is rated at 27 MPG combined with the stick, and bumps up to 29 MPG combined with the automatic.
Still Drives Like a MINI
On the road, the MINI’s fun driving dynamics are still present, though ever so slightly muted by the extra weight gained in the transition to becoming a droptop. Steering is still excellently weighted and responsive, while the chassis remains sharp. There’s barely any cowl shake and the car is planted, all while absorbing bumps nicely. For a compact, the Cooper S Convertible drives excellently. As mentioned before, there are additional drive modes, which pair with our tester’s dynamic controlled dampers and can dial in some stiffer suspension settings if needed. Alternatively, the car can be a bit more laissez faire in the Green mode, limiting throttle input and encouraging you to use less fuel.
If you love to drive, you won’t be disappointed with the MINI because it’s far more engaging than other compact cars, and convertibles that drive this way are even more rare. It trumps the pokey Fiat 500 Cabrio and is more engaging and agile than the VW Beetle. Darting in and out of traffic is even easier with the roof down, although rearward visibility is hindered. With the roof up, there’s a moderate amount of noise insulation. It’s not a luxury car with the roof up, but there’s quite a bit of noise filtered out.
There is very little to dislike about the Cooper S Convertible. For starters, you may start getting the urge to call the trunk a “boot.” The cargo area is quite small, though the rear seats fold down if more space is needed. There’s a wind deflector that completely negates the use of the rear seats, which are pretty much useless anyway, and finally, there’s an arm rest, but it gets in the way of the hand brake.
The bigger problem comes with the price tag. While the MINI has grown in size and personality, the cost has increased accordingly. The Cooper S Convertible starts at $30,450 in the U.S. with no options. That’s a lot of money for a compact convertible, but the way ours was outfitted, the price jumped to $38,250.
The Verdict: 2016 MINI Cooper S Convertible Review
Is it worth it? It depends if you value what the MINI offers. Few compacts convertibles deliver such a combination of style, performance and technology. The MINI Cooper S convertible seems to have it all, but it doesn’t come cheap.
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