You might not notice the differences upon first sighting, but the new MINI Cooper S Convertible expands on a top to bottom redesign rolled out in 2014. So while the new MINI is still quite recent, it calls back to the original, and intervening years, and feels familiar in a pleasing way. That should be comforting news to the legion of MINI fans out there who’ve made the little whips such a success— there’s nothing worse than when a carmaker completely reworks a model, jettisoning everything that was good about the outgoing car into obsolescence.
Let’s start with the most relevant bit— the MINI Cooper S Convertible is quite agreeable in its topless operation— the lid lays down nearly flat, providing good rear visibility. Meanwhile with the windows and wind deflector up, you can actually talk to your copilot without going hoarse. That said, if you need to haul around a third and fourth passenger, the deflector has to go, but it’s still pretty manageable and (possibly) your friends are worth it.
The top opens electronically in two stages, and there’s also a sunroof function when you just want little extra air. But should you open the full top, it only takes 18 seconds, and it’s impressively quiet. The soft top, once open, sits just over the boot, which while an awkward compromise aesthetically, is par for the course in the segment.The overall quality of the setup is quite impressive, and it gives the impression of quality and reliability, although only time and experience can really tell that tale.
Inside the materials have a premium feel and the ergonomics are well thought out and engaging. I noticed that even the taller drivers in our cohort seemed to fit in the cockpit, albeit at the expense of rear seat legroom. That’s not unusual in this vehicle class and the level of adjustment offered to the front seats is quite robust. And while the interior clearly retains that essential MINI DNA, nothing from the previous version is actually in there.
This new MINI Cooper, with its longer wheelbase, offers a more forgiving ride that will be appreciated by dedicated roadtrippers. There’s also a good bit more space for your gear, just like the hardtop, cargo space is improved by a healthy 25 percent. While the older car could be unsettled by relatively minor potholes or gaps, the new car is more adept at smoothing over these challenging bits. We found the car to be quite comfortable as we toodled around the sleepy beach towns of central California.
The car is powered by a 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4, producing 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. Power is transmitted to the front wheels via a 6-speed Automatic transmission. MINI’s lauded go-kart feeling is maintained here due to suspension technology that’s setup for each specific model. The wide track and long wheelbase, single-joint strut front axle and multilink rear axle with increased stiffness and reduced weight all combine to give the car its sporty driving dynamics. It’s also a modern, technologically enabled car that sports Dynamic Stability Control, Dynamic Traction Control, Electronic Differential Lock Control, Performance Control and available Dynamic Damper Control, sports suspension and more.
We’re at the dawn of smart car (no, not those super-extra-mini Daimler jobs) and will be seeing a more and more app-centric motoring experience treading ever so lightly on the already full-blown phenomenon of extremely distracted drivers. The Mini is full of apps that, depending on your level of interest in that sort of thing (and likely which generation you belong to) will range the full gamut from excellent to annoying. There’s plenty of handy metadata on offer about efficiency etc. and all kinds of kitsch that almost approaches the level of automotive emojis. But keep in mind, this is basically BMW’s navigation and connected apps suite, just through the Mini lens, and there’s quite a lot of depth there.
On the recommended options list you have a driver assistance bundle that combines active cruise control and pedestrian recognition with active braking, and speed-limit-sign recognition. There’s also an excellent head up display on offer, for those of us who get tired of glancing down at the speedo. Although to be fair, your eyes only have to move an extra degree or two just to look at the actual dial.
For a bit of extra LED bling, there’s a larger ring of these bright diodes bordering the car’s main screen, and they allow for fairly detailed colour customisation, if you’re into that sort of thing. You can set the ring-o-bling as a rev counter, hitting the red at 20-past. Or, if you have the parking sensor option, it can be set to light up more and more the closer you get to whatever’s lurking behind you. You can also pair it with nav, ticking off the distance to your final destination. Other times, if you don’t have it set up for some purpose, it just sort of fizzes away like the light show at a poorly attended night club, which can be a bit annoying.
But really, you have to dig deep to find fault with the new MINI. While the car is only nominally related to it’s truly British forbearer, it’s also only technically related to Bimmer. That’s great, they have some of the best tech around, but the car is really it’s own thing and that’s quite an accomplishment in a market niche that features quite a few featureless vehicles.
And so, I have a conclusion of my own: if the last 16 years of Mini are any indication, I expect we’ll see at least 16 more, and that’s an extremely conservative estimate. I do wonder though, given the car’s slowly creeping girth, if the 2028 model will finally accommodate tall people in back.