The new Mini Cabrio is called a Convertible – so that you know it is not the same as the old Cabrio. It has a stiffer chassis, a bigger boot and a slicker roof.
WHAT IS IT?
The Convertible version of the all-new Mini. It is here to tempt those who worship the sun and still want to have fun.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
Because the last one was just a tiny bit wobbly, for a Mini: we’re curious to see whether they have engineered out the scuttle shake. And also because Minis can be a hoot to drive.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
We still think this car would be more fun with the manual gearbox that’s available in other markets, but that complaint aside it’s a fantastic looking fun-mobile that’s amusing to drive. It’s not very practical, but what convertible is? The target market will love it.
PLUS: Styling; go-kart handling; bigger boot; cool interior with hip and trendy multimedia; new roof is smooth, quiet and quick.
MINUS: No manual gearbox (because nobody wants one); could use more power (but JCW version is coming); slight understeer at limit; too quiet.
THE WHEELS REVIEW
SOME cars seem made for a manual gearbox, and the Mini has always been one of them. But the new Convertible will be the first Mini variant where that’s not offered, at least in Australia (if you insist, they’ll build you one as a special order).
Apparently the number of people who like to use a clutch in any BMW product, even the M3 and M4, is now around five per cent or lower, and the demand for it in the most female-friendly of the Minis was seen as being roughly zero (40 per cent of buyers are male, however, and should be ashamed of themselves).
My memory of the automatic version, which I have shunned, was that it was woeful, and didn’t allow you to stretch the Mini’s small but willing engines properly.
Fortunately the new Mini Cooper S Convertible’s six-speed Steptronic sports transmission is pretty good, particularly if you shift with the big, sporty-feeling paddles. (Sadly, you only get them with the $45,400 Mini Cooper S version. The $37,900 Cooper gets a non-sporty transmission).
The only problem is the noise you get as you shift, which sounds like either a polite cough or a stifled fart.
Normally a convertible version of a fun car like this - and it is still, as all Minis have been, overwhelmingly fun to drive - allows you to enjoy all the noises more. But other than a very occasional, golf-clap burble on the overrun, the Cooper S version we tried at the international launch in Los Angeles (29 degrees and sunny in winter, no wonder all the rich people live there) is a bit too quiet, or restrained.
We weren’t offered a drive of the Cooper’s three-cylinder, 1.5-litre engine, with 100kW and 220Nm, but can confirm the 2.0-litre four-cylinder’s 141kW and 280Nm is fast enough to put a smile on your face. But then it’s hard not to start smiling as soon as you see the Convertible with its hat off.
You might have a bit of a smirk at the optional Union Jack decoration, which has been woven into the fabric roof in something called a Herringbone pattern, or at the Mini Connected App, which syncs with your phone and offers a Rain Warning, telling you to close your roof if there’s precipitation imminent. (Simpler, older folk will no doubt still use their eyes to spot clouds in the sky.)
But the Mini’s cheery design - it looks so similar to the old Mini Cabrio that they had to change the name to Convertible so it would feel new - and roof-down sunniness are pure fun.
The cabin feels large and airy, particularly with the new roof off), as long as you’re sitting in the front. (The roof is now fully electric, much quieter, and drops in 18 seconds at speeds up to 30km/h.) Rear-seat passengers will smile a lot less, because leg room is still notional. With the roof up, you do have to suffer a significant blind spot over both shoulders.
The boot is now 25 per cent bigger, however, which means it’s gone from pointless to just about usable (215 litres with roof up, 160 with it down).
On a winding road, the go-kart feel that the brand espouses is yours to enjoy, and this new, tauter version, which features a stiffening plate under the engine for more torsional rigidity, has far less scuttle shake. There is a small, playful amount of understeer on hand if you really push.
Pushing hard, or driving aggressively, is not really a habit for most buyers of the Convertible Mini, however, much like changing their own gears. It’s more about cruising, soaking up the rays, seeing and being seen. Which makes it a perfect fit for LA, where the sun always shines.
Model: Mini Cooper S Convertible
Engine: 1988cc turbocharged four-cylinder
Max power: 141kW @ 5000-6500rpm
Max torque: 280 Nm @ 1250-4000rpm
Transmission : 6-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 7.2 secs
Fuel economy: 5.8L/100km
On sale: April