MINI is a brand that tugs at the heartstrings of most car enthusiasts, regardless of preferred brand. The fun-loving British marque is able to do something that most other automakers cannot, and that’s develop cars that make its drivers smile. And making a driver smile is exactly the mission of MINI’s latest creation, the MINI Cooper S Convertible.
We’re fans of MINI here, as we like pretty much every car that it makes. MINIs prioritize fun over all else and that’s an important factor to remember when discussing the MINI Cooper S Convertible. The reason that’s important is because this Convertible model of the Cooper S is designed for one purpose, to add open-top fun to the MINI experience. MINI doesn’t care if it adds some weight or loses some torsional rigidity. Last time we checked, the MINI Cooper S wasn’t a supercar that defined its performance by shaving tenths of a second. No, the MINI Cooper S defines its performance by putting smiles on faces and how can you not smile when driving a drop-top MINI Cooper in the beautiful California sunshine?
On the outside, the MINI Cooper S Convertible looks very good, retaining the classic MINI looks while also looking like an attractive convertible. But it doesn’t look too dainty, like some small convertibles tend to,*cough* Audi A3 *cough*. The soft top folds flat into the trunk, which now opens tailgate style, but it does eat up quite a lot of the Coupe’s practicality. But then again, who needs practicality when you have the wind and sunshine in your face and a growly exhaust note in your ear?
On the inside, very little has changed, if anything at all, as MINI’s new interior design has been much better with this latest generation. It still has its quirks about it, like the center red start/stop toggle, and it is very small, but is just fine ergonomically. Is it as easy to use as a BMW interior, or as attractive and well built? No, but it’s fun and interesting and it shakes things up a bit. Many German interiors are a bit too serious, so MINI’s typical British humor is quite refreshing. It’s good to get some Monty Python every now and again.
But quirks aside, the interior is just as well built and filled with as many quality materials as the Coupe. With the top up, it’s quieter than expected on the inside and MINI does a nice job of filtering out road noise. With the top down, the cabin is also quite calm and serene, with very little buffeting, as the Convertible’s windscreen is more upright and the shoulder line has been elongated. And to keep drop-top passengers safe in case of a rollover, two pyrotechnic-controlled aluminum rollover bars eject from behind the passengers’ heads when the car detects a rollover. The windscreen and A-pillars have also been reinforced in case of a rollover.
Engine and transmission options remain the same for the Cooper S Convertible, as the sole engine offered is a 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that develops 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, with the latter available at just 1,250 rpm. The standard Cooper Convertible gets MINI’s 1.5 liter turbocharged three-pot, making 134 hp a 162 lb-ft of torque.
When mated to a six-speed manual, the way a MINI Cooper should be, the Cooper S Convertible is capable of 0-60 mph in 6.8 seconds (6.7 with the six-speed auto w/ paddle shifters). So it’s not far off its Coupe counterpart. We drove both the manual and automatic variants of the Cooper S Convertible and both were great, though the manual was more fun, obviously. The clutch was light and easy to use, even in traffic, and the throws were short and precise, allowing quick, accurate shifts. The automatic can be almost as fun on a windy road when using its steering wheel-mounted paddles and shifts are even faster this way. But if it were our choice, the three-pedal car would be the one we’d have. We’ve already driven other Cooper S models before and quite enjoy this powertrain, as it’s smooth, punchy and makes a great, growly sound.
Through Los Angeles, Malibu and on the famous Mulholland Drive, we drove the MINI Cooper S Convertible the way it was meant to be driven — hard. What surprised us most was how the Convertible variant barely felt any different from its Coupe or 4Door counterparts. It felt solid and firm, without any of the jiggliness that often plagues convertibles. Steering is heavy and direct, but not overly so. It’s agile without ever feeling twitchy. The suspension is firm, but never too much and it always felt supple and composed. However, with Sport Mode selected, the shocks did have a bit more sharpness to them.
Speaking of Sport Mode, the MINI Cooper S Convertible, like all MINIs, is available with three driving modes; Sport, Normal and Green. Sport Mode does the usual stiffening up of suspension and steering components as well as sharpening throttle response and giving the driver a “Motor Hard!” message in the infotainment screen. Normal is, well, normal and Green is for efficiency purposes, so it dulls throttle response, will race to the highest gear with an automatic and engages the Auto Stop/Start feature. Green Mode also gives you a cute little “MINImalize!” message. MINIs are fun, aren’t they?
The brakes arrest your fun at the stoplight while you await the next green. These aren’t BMW M3 brakes, but they also don’t have to be, as this little MINI doesn’t require insane stopping power. Its binders are smooth and trustworthy.
Overall, the MINI Cooper S Convertible is exactly as advertised, the same MINI driving experience but with the benefit of being able to feel the air through the cabin, smell all of the wonderful smells and hear the growly little exhaust note. This little convertible isn’t worried about its weight gain or torsional rigidity loss. Instead, it’s concerned with making that grin even bigger, by offering all of the typical MINI fun with the addition of the outside elements to enhance the experience. Some may poke fun at a convertible MINI Cooper, calling it a “Chick Car” and the like, but like the commercial says “This car doesn’t car what you call it.”