If you love the joys of open-topped driving, the MINI Cooper Convertible is the car for you
(Nov 11): Some cars have reputations that can be summed up in one word — “sporty” brings to mind a Ferrari, and “luxury”, a Rolls-Royce. When I think of “fun”, the first car that pops into my head is the MINI, a car known for its go-kart-like driving experience and quirky colours and configurations. So, imagine how much fun it would be to drive a MINI convertible?
The MINI has gone through some dramatic changes since its inception more than 50 years ago; it can hardly be called mini anymore given its bigger size. In fact, there is now a MINI sport-utility vehicle available — the Countryman — while the Clubman is pretty hefty too. For my latest MINI test drive, however, I decided to downsize a little to a three-door MINI, and one without a roof. Well, it does have a roof, but it is retractable (in 13 seconds).
MINI likes to refresh its cars regularly and the Cooper Convertible was not going to be left out. This latest model has plenty of changes to mark it out from its predecessor. For starters, its characteristically circular headlamps now sport ringed daytime running lights, which also double as turn signal indicators. And as a clear reference to the brand’s British origins, the LED rear lights of the new MINI appear in a Union Jack design. An illuminated Union Jack also features in the cabin — a nice touch from Germany’s BMW, which has owned MINI for 25 years.
Inside, it is still typical MINI styling with its kitsch and retro design, but that is not to say it is lacking in technology and gadgets. A new 6.5in infotainment display (with Apple CarPlay) takes centre stage on the main console. The gear shifter has gotten a makeover, borrowed from parent company BMW, and looks slick and modern, not just in its design but performance too. This controls a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, replacing the outgoing six-speed automatic one, which in turn controls a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder engine that produces 136bhp and 220Nm of torque. This is the same engine as before, but it is powering a lighter car — thanks to the use of more carbon fibre.
A new 6.5in infotainment display (with Apple CarPlay) takes centre stage on the main console
Not only does that make for a faster ride, but it also cuts down on carbon emissions by 5%, which is more good news. However, if going fast is more important than saving the planet, then just shift into Sport mode and away you go. Paddle shifters behind the steering wheel allow you to change gears yourself if you want more driver input. The throttle then becomes more responsive and everything stiffens up, along with growling exhaust notes. This oversized go-kart will get from 0 to 100kph in 8.7 seconds, which is not record-breaking but still a lot of fun. And that is even before we get to the convertible aspect of the car.
With the push of a button, the roof folds down and you get an even more go-kart-like feel with the wind rushing into the cabin and the noise all around you as your soundtrack. You can put the windows up as this does a pretty good job of shielding you from the wind rush, but I prefer to experience the full force of the elements in a convertible car.
MINI Cooper Convertible
$153,888 including COE
Engine: 1499cc, three-cylinder, in-line, 12-valve
Fuel consumption: 5.6L/100km
0 to 100 kph: 8.7 seconds
Top speed: 206kph
It is invigorating and energising to do this, as long as it does not rain, of course. Instead of a strong cup of black coffee in the morning, a drive along the expressway with the top down has the same effect. It wakes you up and gives you a natural buzz for a few hours. Yes, it is hard to talk to your fellow passengers with the top down, but that is a small price to pay. This three-door MINI also feels a bit more grown-up in its handling — it is sturdy and stable to drive, and glides over the tarmac with ease.
Boot space is a little squeezed to make room for the folded soft top — providing a challenging 160 litres — but you cannot have everything I guess. Convertible cars are not for everyone, which is why our roads are not jam-packed with them. But if you are someone who loves the joys of open-topped driving, especially in a cool and trendy car, then the MINI Cooper Convertible could be the answer. I myself was a MINI owner in the early 1990s and still have fond memories of what fun it was to drive it. And I am sure today’s generation of MINI drivers feel the same way about their car. It is an honourable tradition that I hope will continue for many more generations.
Justin Harper is a freelance journalist with a passion for all things fast