Forget expensive Italian and German sports cars, says Brent Davison, because Mini’s latest Convertible makes standing-out in the crowd a relatively inexpensive exercise that doesn’t diminish the fun factor.
HIS NAME WAS WRITTEN proudly in that kind of brash, bold script a young man might use.
“Cooper S” it said in a manner designed to capture the attention in the same way the topless look captured the imagination and I knew he was the one I wanted to drive. Drive crazy, that is.
It was love, it was lust, it was the need to have a good old down and dirty fling, it was the vibe….. Hang on, it’s all starting to get a bit “The Castle” here when I was really chasing a bit of Mills and Boon.
Never mind, because whichever way you choose to look at, this was auto eroticism in a whole new way and no matter how you look at Mini’s latest Convertible, it always comes up with the same few descriptive words: Fun, Mischievous and Cheeky.
The launch of this third-generation Mini Convertible shows that cheeky has gotten better, the fun factor has been ramped-up and the mischief quota is just as high as it always was.
Not surprisingly, it has become a weeny bit more civilised and easy to use but it still has a bit of a larrikin streak engineered in and that means never going unnoticed in the little jigger.
Or not-so-little jigger because the jigger has gotten bigger, a little noticeable on the outside, a lot more noticeable on the inside. In real life it is 98mm longer and 44mm wider than the outgoing car with most of the growth pushed inside with a wider, longer cabin giving 36mm more knee room for back seat passengers. Still modest, but better.
The big improvement? Luggage capacity, which is up by 45 litres to 215 litres with the roof raised. Still not vast though and two small suitcases and two laptop bags was enough to hit “slam it hard and hope for the best” levels.
Carrying capacity can be increased by folding one or both of the standard 50/50 split-fold rear seat backrests though which neatly sidesteps the issue of backseat passengers complaining about being cramped so it isn’t all doom and gloom, is it?
By the way, in case you thought I was suggesting Mini was now a much bigger car then take heart in the fact it is still a sub-4.0-metre car (3821mm long) which, with its 1727mm width, is still small enough to park in a broom cupboard.
Every open-topped car needs to become a closed one at some stage or another and Mini Convertible is no different. Yet it is very different to many of its market rivals.
For starters, it is a folding cloth-top, not a folding metal roof and it stows mostly above the waistline of the car rather than folding completely into the boot. And instead of offering-up a low, sleek roofline that makes for difficult and undignified entry and exit, Mini’s roof makes life easy getting in, getting out and while you are in there.
So generous is the headroom you could probably wear a top hat while the roof was raise (although I’m not sure why you’d want to) and couples with a desperate need to, um, couple can do so without needing to roll back the canvas, so to speak. Try doing that in a Mazda MX-5 or Fiat 500C!
As a bit of a bonus the roof can be opened (or closed) in 18 seconds using either an interior switch or a button on the remote control unit. Even better, it can be operated at speeds of up to 30km/h which means no more waiting at traffic lights or trying to pull over in traffic when the rain comes.
The roof also boasts a positive and a negative. The positive is that it features a sunroof design which allows the bit above the front seat to be opened while the rest stays closed. The negative is that it creates a huge blind spot at the rear quarter, not good for drivers wanting a quick head check before changing lanes.
With that bit of excitement out of the way we should probably turn to Mini’s mechanical motivation and the fact that, along with higher equipment levels and astoundingly lower prices, this third-generation car gets a pair of sweet new turbocharged engines paired with new automatic transmissions.
The first new engine, for the entry-level Cooper model, is a 1.5 litre, three-cylinder unit that delivers a very healthy 100 kilowatts of power at 4400rpm and 220 Newton metres of torque at a ridiculously low 1250rpm, enough to take it from 0-100km/h in 8.7 seconds and achieve a 5.3 litres/100km average fuel consumption figure.
The 2.0 litre, four-cylinder engine in the sportier Cooper S develops 141 kilowatts from 5000 to 6000rpm and 280 Newton metres from 1250rpm all the way through to 4600rpm, giving a 7.1 second 0-100km/h time and 5.8 litres/100km combined fuel consumption number.
Both Cooper and Cooper S come with a standard six-speed automatic transmission which is quick and easy, with ratios designed to match each engine’s torque and power curves. Cooper S’s transmission also gets steering wheel-mounted shift paddles and yes, if you really are a masochist, Mini will swap the luvverly auto for a six-speed manual complete with clutch pedal for no extra (or lesser) cost.
In fact this latest Mini drop-top also shows that it can go beyond the old “something for nothing” claim by offering higher equipment levels for the reduced price. Talk about having your cake and eating it too!
Take the Cooper model for example. It spoils its owners with a reversing camera, dual-zone, climate-control air-conditioning, dynamic cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity for mobile phone and music pairing, multifunction steering wheel and park distance control warning buzzers.
Cooper S takes everything from the Cooper and adds a funky leather-wrapped steering wheel, powerful LED headlights and foglights, sporty front bucket seats with combination cloth and leather trim, satellite navigation, a head-up speed display and adjustable driving modes that let drivers set for ‘Green’, ‘Mild’ or ‘Sport’ performance settings.
Both cars, not surprisingly, boast safety features that include dynamic stability control, anti-lock brakes, a fully-integrated rollover protection system, four airbags, automatic rain-sensing windscreen wipers and auto-on headlights.
For this model Mini has also moved the speedometer from the huge central housing to a compact one right in front of the driver so no longer does your nervous passenger (or the truck driver three back) need to know how rapidly you are proceeding.
The downside? The “switches everywhere” layout, with some of the switchgear on the lower edge of the dashboard and some mounted above the rear-vision mirror, has been carried over from previous models.
Mini, please! It just isn’t funky, cool, classy or retro to do that anymore, it is just plain stupid!
As a true drivers’ car, the convertible Mini has taken a couple of really big steps. The first is the extra performance sparkle added by the new family of engines. The three-cylinder is anything but underdone and the four-cylinder borders on being weapons-grade in a small, tactical thermo-nuclear device kind of way.
The second big step is in chassis development which might sound a bit boring but really is not.
The chassis and body structure is already a fairly rigid affair and suspension is independent all-round with front MacPherson struts and a multi-link rear design.
Convertibles suffer a problem though and it is that cutting-off the roof makes a nice stiff sedan into a floppy convertible and most of us know what that feels like.
To get around that, Mini’s designers have added triangular bracing elements from the front back and from the back forward with the top of the front one attached beneath the engine and the rear one at the axle and the broadest part of each triangle attached beneath the side sills, stiffening the body without adding too much weight. Brilliant!
Things to make your Mini cool? Take the roof. The standard one is black fabric but in a nod to its British origins, it is also available with an integrated woven graphic featuring a black and grey Union Jack motif as an option.
Exterior personalisation is huge, with a range of 10 metallic and four solid colours available, 15 choice of alloy wheel pattern and a number of interior personalisation packs covering dash and trim colours.
Pricing? Mini Cooper Convertible comes in at $37,900 which $4800 cheaper than the outgoing car and Cooper S Convertible starts at $45,400, an astonishing $5750 below its predecessor.
So there you have it. New Mini Convertible is cheaper, quicker, greener, bigger, better equipped and a little bit sexier on the one hand and just as silly and annoying in some respects on the other.
It still handles like a go kart but the ride is smoother and the interior is surprisingly quiet when the roof is raised.
Most importantly Mini is still a rebel in many ways, makes even a mundane drive memorable and leaves you smiling at the end.
And isn’t that what auto erotica is all about?