Whereas the standard Mini hardtop has really strayed from its roots, adding size and weight for the worse, the changes have had an interesting influence on the ragtop 2016 Mini Cooper convertible. What was once a compromised version of an already limited-use city car is now more practical and justifiable little convertible. But as with all fun-loving Minis, the charming quirks come at a cost.
More Space Inside
On the upside, the new UKL platform makes the Mini Cooper longer and wider. In addition to more breathing room in the rear seats, the Cooper convertible adds 1.6 cu. Ft. of cargo space, for a total of 7.6 cu. ft. with the top closed. It’s enough for two small suitcases or so, and that’s before folding the rear seats. It is somewhat of a pain to wedge larger bags through the small opening at the rear, but a handy “easy-load” latch system raises the folding top’s position temporarily. It works well, but there are lot of pieces and seals involved. The whole thing seems like something that would cause major headaches outside of warranty. For the biggest suitcases, you’re better off heaving them into the back row over the doors.
The added practicality is critical for the drop-top Cooper, making it a viable competitor to the funky Beetle Cabriolet, and even the larger but more bland Audi A3 convertible.
From the driver’s seat, the standard Mini Hardtop feels claustrophobic with its short windshield, high beltline, and high cowl. With the top up, that’s still the case in the Mini convertible. Flip the switch on the headliner to activate the fully electric top and you feel like you’re in a totally different car. With the sky above, suddenly the Cooper convertible feels airy and relaxing, which after all, is really the point of a small front-drive convertible. The top can either fold halfway to reveal only the front row, or you can hold the switch again to fully fold the canvas down. It takes 18 seconds to close or open, at speeds up to 18 mph.
No matter how you slice it, though, visibility is a problem. Despite replacing the old metal roll hoops with a space-saving deployable roll safety mechanism, it’s still impossible to get a clear rear view. With the top down, the folded canvas it stacked high on the trunk like an accordion; when it’s up, the rear-seat headrests block the edges of the rear window. Blind spots are giant and infuriating with the top up as well, especially while backing out of parking spaces.
Sunshine only ups the smiles
Mini has done a great job of making it drive like any other car in its lineup. We start in the Cooper S, and the familiar quick steering and useful low-end torque from the 2.0-liter turbo four have us quickly setting a nice pace on some gentle back roads near Farmington Hills, Michigan. Especially with the larger 17-inch wheels and low-profile run-flat rubber, the Cooper S is plenty stiff and I would by no means opt for the available sport suspension. Interestingly, the spring and dampers rates are the same for the convertible versus the hardtop. Mini says a softer tune would have compromised the handling feel that its owners now expect.
The Cooper S is fun to wring out thanks to a satisfying exhaust note on upshifts with the six-speed Getrag manual, which is only enhanced with the top down. Unlike the three-cylinder you don’t have to work as hard to keep the engine on the boil, but the four-banger is hampered by the same extremely tall gearing, which means waiting a long time for revs to even approach redline.
Ultimately though I walked away a lot more satisfied with the 1.5-liter three-cylinder in the standard Cooper. We didn’t get a chance to try it with the manual, but the six-speed automatic does a seamless job of keeping the little engine in the power band. The standard Cooper’s roughly 130-pound lighter footprint is noticeable as well, with less weight over the front tires and a more balanced feel. Never once did I feel like I needed more power, particularly because the Cooper convertible’s easy-going and lighthearted personality never really demands hammering the throttle and pushing toward the car’s limits. Calm cruising and sun-soaking is what the Cooper convertible does best, and for that the base engine is all you need.
As ever, the Cooper Convertible is full of options. There’s a gorgeous new aqua paint reminiscent of the color used on the Mini Superleggera concept, a very impressive and luxurious leather diamond-quilted interior, and an optional Union Jack soft top. The Union Jack design is actually woven into the top and not screen printed on, so it won’t fade or wear out in the sun, we’re told. Built into the computer system there is still the same top-down-o-meter that measures miles spent with the sun on your neck, although it’s not quite as prominent as in past generations where it was displayed on the the center-mounted speedometer.
The catch here is that all of those nice options and amenities add up. Although it starts at $26,800 including destination, our base Cooper was loaded to the tune of $37,150. The Cooper S starts at $30,450, but our tester climbed to $38,300. You don’t need to tick every box to enjoy Mini’s drop-top appeal, but it’ll definitely cost a fair bit if you want the premium and personalized experience most Mini buyers want.
When it comes down to it the 2016 Mini Cooper convertible still offers nowhere near the fun or true sports-car cred the Miata or Fiat 124 packs, but that’s also not the point. There’s room for four, opportunity for a convincingly upscale interior you can’t get on a Beetle, and so much more personality than you get from the stoic Audi A3 or the dated Buick Cascada. More so than any of the other cars in the Mini lineup, the convertible succeeds in its mission. As a lively and endearing open-top cruiser, it continues to occupy a unique niche that attracts buyers from all over the consumer spectrum.