Fleet News

Mini Cooper S convertible

MINI

Review

NINE out of 10 people have, apparently, encountered a MINI – current or original – whether through owning, driving or travelling as a passenger

Emma Lowndes, marketing manager for MINI UK, revealed this fact to journalists at its Oxford plant on the day the 500,000th new MINI rolled off the production line.

She then asked us to close our eyes for a moment and remember a MINI experience – relating to the present or previous incarnation of the car – that stuck in our minds.

Lowndes duly reported that the majority of us were grinning, which speaks volumes for the reverence with which the car is treated in this country.

The fact that my personal MINI experience involved wearily searching for a petrol station on a balmy summer night as the fog drew in and while frozen food thawed out in the boot was irrelevant.

To be fair, this was several years ago in an original Mini, and the fuel gauge on the car in question was a pathological liar, lulling me into believing there was more than enough for the remaining four miles home. Things are rather different now.

This special day in the history of the new MINI coincided with the launch of the Cooper S Convertible, probably the final variant to become available in the lifetime of the current car, as well as some minor changes to the rest of the range.

For the launch of the Convertible, the Cooper S has gained an extra 7bhp and 7lb-ft, while the equipment list includes parking sensors, 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic stability control and traction (ASC + T), sports seats and sports suspension and greater use of chrome and leather than lesser models.

It joins the Convertible versions of the One and Cooper that went on sale at the beginning of summer.

For those unfamiliar with the Convertible, all come with a fully electric roof, that initially retracts to an ‘open sunroof’ position before rolling back to sit on top of the boot lid. The MINI hatchback range has also been refreshed to take on board modifications brought in with the Convertibles.

A new five-speed transmission now features in One and Cooper models, with modified gear ratios that improve their performance.

The MINI One now accelerates from 50mph to 75mph in fourth gear in 11.9 seconds instead of 12.8 seconds. Torque on the Cooper has been improved slightly, and a 10th of a second shaved from its 0-62mph dash time. Acceleration in fifth gear from 50mph to 75mph has been boosted to yield a second less than the previous time of 14.5 seconds. The Cooper S benefits from the power and torque boost seen on the Cooper S Convertible.

All variants have new headlight units with the optional xenon lights also gaining modifications to boost their effectiveness, while One and Cooper models have new front and rear bumpers.

Inside, changes include a new storage area under the central instrument panel, more spacious door bins, a larger rear cup holder (a request from MINI’s American customers), a larger rear-view mirror, a side sun visor for the driver, improved side support on the rear seat side bolsters, a passenger grab handle and standard rev counter (previously an option on the One).

Trevor Houghton-Berry, general manager for MINI, said: ‘Clearly we did not want to change a winning formula – customers love the friendly face and retro interior of the MINI. This model update is merely a few subtle tweaks.’

New colours and interiors are also available, giving credence to the theory that with the range of variants, engines, options and colour choices available, it is possible that only two in 100,000 MINIs are the same.

MINI has also taken the opportunity of the minor changes to the range to increase prices by an average of 2.5%.

Behind the wheel

IT’S no accident that the current generation of the MINI remains true to the lively temperament and sharp handling of the original.

However, it is also able to deliver the BMW premium car experience to the small car sector, an achievement impossible to most other small cars. So while the enormous central speedometer and rocker switches hark back to the original, the materials and build quality deliver a superior feel.

The latest version of the MINI One continues in the same vein. The rear seats are only suitable for transporting adults short distances and luggage space is minuscule by the standards of modern superminis – compare 150 litres to the 270 available in the Volkswagen Polo or the 353 in the Honda Jazz.

But buying into the MINI philosophy means you have already accepted these compromises and want a car that conveys more about your personality and attitude.

This fundamental principle is felt even in the 90bhp MINI One, which takes less than 11 seconds to reach 62mph from rest and turns in with a crispness usually reserved for a sports coupe. The new transmission really makes a difference in the mid range, offering greater confidence – and more importantly, speed – when overtaking.

The gear change is as short and slick as ever, and the wheel-at-each-corner stance provides significant levels of grip when cornering and a dogged resistance to body roll. You really need a stopwatch to feel the difference in performance between the standard Cooper S and the Convertible variant.

The ragtop is 100kg heavier thanks to the judicious use of steel three times thicker than on hatchback variants in key areas of the car to aid rigidity.

Yes, the Convertible will take a fifth of a second longer to reach 62mph from rest, but the difference does not feel so pronounced in everyday driving. The car will still dive into tight bends with the flick of the wrists and grip for longer and harder than you might expect.

With the roof down, the windows rattle a little over the worst bumps, but there is no scuttle shake and to all but the most discerning of drivers it will feel just as sharp as the standard Cooper S. Buffeting is low and the rear windows can be raised if there really is too much air swirling around at speed.

As well as the performance, much of the appeal in the Cooper S lies in the wail of the supercharger, accidentally reminiscent of the original Mini and its A-series engine.

Verdict

CHANGES to the MINI range are in response to customer feedback and should help the car maintain its appeal for the next few years. The Cooper S Convertible is an essential addition to the range and few small convertibles can match its blend of performance, quality and character.

Model: MINI One Cooper Cooper S Conv
Engine (cc): 1,598 1,598 1,598 supercharged
Max power (bhp/rpm): 90/5,500 115/6,000 170/6,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 103/3,000 111/4,500 162/4,000
Max speed: (mph): 112 124 134
0-62mph (sec): 10.9 9.1 7.4
Fuel consumption (mpg): 41.5 38.7 32.1
CO2 emissions (g/km): 164 175 211
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 50/11
Transmission: 5-sp man (One, Cooper); 6-sp man
Service interval (miles): 10,000 then 15,000
On sale: Now
Price (OTR): £10,780-£17,595

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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