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Pocket rocket

Justin Harper
Justin Harper • 5 min read
Pocket rocket
The Mini Cooper S convertible delivers a ride that is raw and natural compared with bigger saloon cars.
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The Mini Cooper S convertible delivers a ride that is raw and natural compared with bigger saloon cars.

If you are onto a good thing, then it’s worth milking it. This philosophy seems to be taken to heart by Mini as it brings out yet another version of its popular compact car. This time, it’s the Mini Cooper S convertible, which brings the soft-top option to the sporty little car’s third-generation line-up.

Taking the roof off a Mini is quite a radical step, given how good it looks with a permanent hard top, which normally comes with the Union Jack painted on it. The cars have become classics, from their original tiny shape of the 1960s to their much bulkier modern version under the ownership of BMW.

It’s a breath of fresh air to see a quirky Mini on the road among the sea of homogenous and dull saloon cars that dominate the motoring landscape. Minis have become bigger and faster over the years and the Mini Cooper S was a real eye-opener for me when I test-drove it, given the car’s surprising amount of power and torque.

So now comes the convertible version, which gives Mini enthusiasts even more choice from the growing list of models and variants. The soft-top is essentially the Cooper S without the hard roof. Pretty much everything else is the same, even the Union Jack on the roof (although it is cleverly woven into the fabric of the soft-top roof).

While BMW has owned Mini for more than 20 years, it has taken a while for any premium or luxury features to be incorporated into its smaller sibling. But the Cooper S now includes some classic BMW touches that give it a more up-market feel. These include comfy leather seats and a state-of-the-art 8.8in LCD screen. The cabin itself is still fairly compact and a bit of a squeeze, to put it diplomatically, but you would never expect to get the same level of comfort and leg space as a C-class Mercedes-Benz, would you? This is that go-kart feeling after all, to quote the Mini sales pitch.

With the roof down, the fun factor increases exponentially. Strangely, it feels like a different car from the Cooper S when it is essentially the same vehicle, with just a different top. The roof operation is smooth and fairly seamless, while you have to hold your finger on the switch throughout the 18 seconds it takes for the roof to retract.

The lack of a roof puts you far more in tune with your surroundings. You can see, hear and smell the environment around you much better, while you whizz by buildings and other cars. The two-litre four-cylinder version packs a punch, producing 192bhp and 280Nm of torque, which can be briefly boosted to 300Nm. The engine is incredibly responsive to your throttle input, while the six-speed automatic transmission always shifts smoothly.

Like most modern cars, there is a choice of driving modes, although the range is not as wide as BMW’s. Handling is best in the Sport mode, where the dynamic dampers firm up and the steering becomes heavier and more direct. Around corners, the car feels extremely stable and offers lots of traction. On my test drive, the Cooper S Convertible felt agile and nimble, with ample power and excitement to keep you stimulated.

The pocket rocket made the ride feel raw and natural compared with a bigger saloon car where you are less likely to feel the lumps and bumps on the road. As a result, I felt very connected to the car and the road. If it had been a manual car, it would have been a very nostalgic driving experience for me, having owned an old-school Mini more than 20 years ago.

There is no question the Cooper S convertible is a fun car to drive. In fact, it is one of the most enjoyable cars I have driven for a long time. But before you buy one, you need to decide whether this level of excitement can outweigh the luxury and comfort you may be giving up for another car in its price range. I would pick the Mini anytime, as it brings out your inner child. It also handles really well, so there is no sacrifice when it comes to the driving experience.

Indeed, the car can do the century sprint (0 to 100kph) in a pretty impressive 7.1 seconds, which feels much faster with the top down. And the six-speed automatic transmission is really smooth when using the paddle shifters. If you are young, fun and looking to make a statement, few cars can compete with this one. If you are not so young, then what a great opportunity to relive your youth.

Engine: 1,998cc, four-cylinder, in-line
Power/torque: 192bhp/280Nm
Fuel consumption: 5.8l/100km
0 to 100kph: 7.1 seconds
Top speed: 228kph

Justin Harper is a freelance journalist with a passion for all things fast.

This article appeared in the Options of Issue 743 (August 29) of The Edge Singapore.

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