When you think of iconic cars legends such as the McLaren F1, Ferrari F40 and Mercedes-Benz 300 SL often enter the mind. At the other end of the spectrum there are small nifty city cars like the Fiat 500 and, of course, the Mini Cooper.
2016 saw the debut of the all new Mini Cooper S Convertible and I was flown over to arguably the best place in the world to test such a car – California. Mini introduced the car as the new edition of the first and still the only premium convertible in the small car segment. When you consider that the only real competitors come in the form of the Fiat 500 and Citroen DS3 cabriolets they are not wrong. That is not to say that this new car did not have to prove itself, quite the contrary, the previous generation Cooper S Convertibles have been so successful that there is pressure on the latest iteration to be better than ever.
Under the hood the Mini Cooper S Cabriolet features a 2-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine with MINI TwinPower Turbo Technology producing 192 horsepower and 280 newton meters of torque. There is also an overboost function that allows for 300 newton meters for limited periods of time under full throttle. This means the Cooper S Cabriolet will sprint to 100 km/h in 7.2 seconds or 7.1 when equipped with the optional 6-speed Steptronic sports transmission with shift paddles. The top speed of the car with the 6-speed manual is 230 km/h and 228 km/h with the auto.
Having been acquainted with the specs and stats it was time to grab a car, drop the top and head into the buzzing streets on LA. City streets are arguably the natural habitat for such a car and over the bumps and potholes of the most congested roads in the world it was reassuring that there was little to no flex or shimmying in the chassis that is often found in convertible cars. The chassis strengthening was clearly very good, however, the ride of the Cooper S was noticeably hard.
I was behind the wheel of the automatic at first and the gearbox was very well suited to city driving. As with previous cars, a lot of the switchgear and the entirety of the the iDrive system had been carried over from BMW models, no bad thing. The controls were intuitive and the navigation screen very clear and easy to use. one draw back was the heads up display, a pricey option, that unlike conventional systems that project directly onto the windscreen, projects onto a small perspex upright that is not very aesthetically pleasing. The interior, as with its predecessors, is very quirky and instantly recognizable as a Mini. The quality of the plastics could also be better.
As I pulled off Hollywood Boulevard and began to climb the steep roads leading up into the hills it was time to engage Sports mode and shift the gearbox into manual to see if the Cooper S really does possess the ‘Go Kart’ handling characteristics that Mini boasted in the mornings press presentations. The traffic cleared and the scenery ribbons of tarmacs begged to be explored.
Although it is front wheel drive, the Mini really did feel very darty and agile, even when pushing hard understeer was not ruining the experience. The steering is fairly artificially heavy in sport mode but the car responded very well to subtle input changes.
The automatic gearbox was slightly frustrating as even when in manual mode upshifts would automatically engage. It was also a little sluggish on downshifts, but I had to keep in mind that this car is designed for sporty driving, not to set blistering times around the Nurburgring. In spite of that the car did sound very entertaining in sport mode with the exhaust crackling and popping on lift off. It may be artificially programmed but still brought a smile to my face!
Following an impressive lunch at The Sunset Malibu that had Mr. Fine Dining jumping with joy, it was time to jump into a Cooper S with a manual gearbox, something I had been looking forward to all morning. Immediately I hit a gorgeous canyon road with views to match and started rowing through the gearbox. It was a joy. The manual transmission is much better suited to the car and allows a dimension of engagement that the auto could not match.
All in all the Mini Cooper S Cabriolet is all that you could want and expect from a premium convertible hatch. The build quality matches that of a BMW and the car proved that it handles city streets and town driving very well indeed. Furthermore it impressed when being pushed beyond what it is designed to do, this really is a car that you can enjoy the sunshine in with family and friends or alone on a quiet country road.