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2016 Mini convertible review, test drive

29th Feb 2016 1:56 pm

The new Cooper S looks bigger and better, we find out what it’s like to drive.

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  • Make : Mini
  • Model : Cooper

The new Cooper S is one of our favourite Minis. It blends the British brand's cheeky retro looks, has a powerful petrol motor, and thrill-a-minute handling. And because the iconic looks never fade or age, it's a car that manages to look timeless or ageless. Mini is now looking to increase the appeal of the Cooper S by lopping the top of the car. Due to reach showrooms in India this month, the new Mini convertible promises to be far superior to the previous convertible sold here. But what exactly is it under the skin?

What is it? 

The new third-generation (modern day) Mini convertible is larger and offers more interior space than its predecessor. Based on the UKL platform, the new convertible has a longer wheelbase at 2,429mm, a wider front and rear track for the front and rear axles and the new Mini convertible also boasts a smarter use of space.

Because the roof has been lopped off, the new Mini convertible also gets plenty of additional bracing; the roof usually contains many of the car's important structural elements and getting rid of it means you compromise on the rigidity of the 'tubular' monocoque chassis. It's like slicing the top off a tube, and leaving only a 'U' shaped structure that bends much more easily. So you get loads and loads of additional structural bracing. There's some in the area under the radiator, there's plenty under the doors and there are two large 'V' shaped braces under the passenger area too.

All this extra stiffening has led to a 115kg increase in weight over the three-door Copper S hatch; the convertible now weighing 1,275kg. The car in India will initially come in Cooper S trim with the strong 189bhp 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine under the hood. The gearbox is a traditional six-speed automatic, featuring steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. The front axle gets a quite effective electronic differential lock that helps give it loads additional traction.

What's it like on the inside?

Climb into the cabin and apart from the familiar dash you get on the hardtop, with the big circular central display and oversized steering wheel, you also get sports seats on this car. And this new car feels larger on the inside than the earlier car. There’s noticeably more shoulder room and larger footwells than before and the rear seats are now clearly quite useable too. The width of the rear seat has increased and there's a bit more legroom as well. Luggage-carrying capacity, never one of the Mini Convertible’s great strengths, has also increased by 35 litres to a larger-than-ever 215 litres with the roof in place and 160 litres with it lowered. As before, the rear seats receive standard split-folding backrests.

Also new on this car is a fully-electric cloth hood that comes with a Union flag embossed on the roof. You can now open and close in 18 seconds, even when the car is at low speeds. The fit is snug and tight, which is nice and you can even slide the top back partially, as one would a sunroof, for a partially open feel.

Unlike most convertibles, the hood however folds and parks itself without a cover, spoiling the lines of the car somewhat and impacting rear visibility. Additional safety kit includes a reinforced windscreen frame and pop-up roll bars that extend from behind the rear seats when sensors detect a rollover.

What's it like to drive?

The Mini may look like a grumpy old British bulldog, and it clearly is heavy set compared to the original much smaller car. But be under no illusion, when you are on it, this car has the heart of a terrier. And what it loves to do, is to get its teeth set in and tear up a set of corners. And that feels special, especially if the conditions are right and the roof is open.

It drives well, because it gets many of the fundamental bits right. The electro-mechanical steering in 'Sport' is well weighted and provides a nice direct feel, giving the driver confidence. The brakes are well up to the task, strong and sharp, and what's special is that they help shave speed with so much accuracy on entry into a corner, you tend to carry loads of speed.

There is a hint of body roll in tighter corners, but it is nicely controlled and never gets uncomfortable. And the fact that it is a convertible, that normally has a less stiff chassis, doesn't seem to affect it too much. Yes, it does feel very different from the regular hardtop Cooper S, especially when you are trying to extract maximum performance and it doesn't feel as tack sharp to drive either. It has a bit less bite in the front end and it is a bit slower to react to a flick of the wheel; but in isolation, with no reference to the hardtop, it's still seriously fun. A bit 'rounder' because the chassis receives its own unique tuning with individual spring and damper settings; but it's still a fun car.

It also plays the happy open-top cruiser well. In comfort, the suspension feels supple enough to take on most bad roads in its stride. Bigger bumps do have the potential to upset it and then there is a bit of a tremor and some scuttle shake over bigger potholes and this is likely to get worse on our poor roads. But comfort for the most part is good, and the solid build of the car with the open top allow you to enjoy a cruise through city streets or mountain roads, whichever you choose.

What makes the experience even nicer is the zinger of an engine under the hood. There's a general sense of urgency at low revs, it feels strong in the mid-range and then the top end is just special. Extend it and it snarls, howls and spins so hard to the redline, you have to ask: Does it really have a turbo? And I just love the blat-blat from the exhausts on the over-run in 'Sport'. Unsurprisingly performance is very strong; 0-100kph takes just of 7.2 seconds and that the Mini can seriously entertain; and it does.

Should I buy one?

Mini has done an excellent job with the new multi-talented convertible. To begin with, it is more spacious and comfortable than the earlier car. The hood is snug and works in a slick manner, the car rides decently and refinement levels are pretty good too. Yes, rear visibility is poor and that makes it difficult to reverse, and the boot is tiny, making a bit impractical for long drives. Still, it is a car that is likely to work well as both, a closed coupe and open top cabriolet.

And then there's the fact that the new Mini convertible is an excellent drive too – it drives like a proper Mini should. Performance is now seriously strong – the new car is almost as sharp as the Cooper S. The only downside, is that the new Cooper S convertible is likely to cost in the region of Rs 38 lakhs; which means it's likely to be one of the most expensive under-four-metre cars there is (not sure you can technically call it a hatch).It's however likely to be one of the cheapest convertibles from a luxury brand available in India. And that could be reason enough to want one.  

Copyright (c) Autocar India. All rights reserved.


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