– Great around the curves
– Entertaining engine
– Cool unique interior design
– Very pricey for its size
– Rear seat fits only midgets
– Rearward visibility
Another year, another Mini. Every Mini product we’ve ever driven has felt exactly the same. The Cooper S, the Clubman S and even the old Cabrio S all behave in exactly the same way, since they are all variations of the same platform. And now we’ve driven the latest Cabrio. And loved every minute of it yet again.
The new Mini Cooper S Cabrio, debuting more than a year after the redesigned hatchback, looks pretty much as expected. The only differences are a cloth top, some chrome pop-up roll hoops behind the rear seats, and a tiny boot lid that opens downwards.
Our tester had an inviting brown leather cabin, with a soft-touch dash and padded door panels, just enough to make it feel somewhat premium. Below-the-belt plastics remain hard, and the controls remain quirky. Every power function has a toggle switch instead of a regular button, starting from the electric windows all the way to the roof control.
The manually-adjustable seats have good side-bolstering, and there is good space up front. Expectedly, it is severely cramped in the rear seats, although adults can somewhat squeeze in there. Rear access is also tough with the roof up. And the cargo boot is just as tight as the rear legroom, but the rear seatback can fold down to offer enough space for a 42-inch plasma TV, assuming you could slip it through the narrow boot opening, if you don’t want to put the roof down. If you do go topless, rear visibility ironically becomes worse, because the folded-down cloth top is piled up rather high. Thankfully, the roll-over hoops behind the rear seats are of the pop-up variety now, tucked in until there is an actual rollover.
Our tester wasn’t a fully-loaded version, but it had the basic power accessories, a decent CD/MP3 player, a manual a/c that worked fine in January weather, front-side airbags, HID headlights, cruise control, three uncovered cup-holders, and a cloth top that can open halfway to become a sunroof. The more annoying gimmicks included the huge speedometer in the centre of the dash, an extra gauge to measure how long the top is down, and a round key-fob that has to be inserted into the dash before pressing the starter button. Hundreds of other options are available to drive up the price, including navigation and exterior stickers.
As we noticed in our previous Mini tests, the turbocharged 1.6-litre 4-cylinder engine is a raging piece of work. It makes its presence known through an exhaust note loud enough to wake up neighbours under full throttle. It grumbles like a much larger engine, although it pumps out only 174 horses at 5500 rpm. Obviously that’s enough juice for this lightweight car, given that 240 Nm of torque help things along from as low as 1600 rpm all the way to 5000 rpm, with no discernible lag. Of course, mated to the 5-speed automatic and heavier weight of the Cabrio version, we got a 0-100 kph time of 7.7 seconds in the middle of winter. The characteristic side-to-side torque steer that define all front-wheel-drive Minis is also present here, so a firm grip on the steering wheel is required to keep the car straight, even with the stability control on. Of course the electronic nannies could be turned off at the press of a button, for even more tyre-burning fun. And all that fun comes at the cost of only 10.2 litres/100 km of fuel consumption.
One would expect the Mini Cabrio to be easy to drive in traffic, and it is, especially with an automatic. Parking would normally be tricky due to the limited rear view, but the beeping sensors on this tiny car make it easy. The ride quality is firm, but not too jarring and easily bearable on the daily commute. But on some under-construction roads, potholes feel like craters, while road noise from the firm run-flat tyres is deafening at anything more than 120 kph.
It is noteworthy that the pricey Cabrio retains go-kart handling that defines every Mini. It handles corners like a leech on a bloody nose, with only a tiny hint of body roll. The low-profile 205/45 rubber wrapping the optional 17-inch rims rarely ever squeal while taking sharp turns, and grip limits are so high that the stability-control nannies are hardly bothered. Braking is very strong, with the four-wheel-disc brakes bringing the car to quick easy stops. Everything that is going on around the car can be felt through the steering. The drive is very involving, but also a bit compromised. The lack of a hard top means there is the occasional body rattle, while the paddle-shiftable automatic version specifically suffers from a slight delay in throttle response in normal mode, although seemingly cured when driving in ‘sport’ mode.
The Mini Cooper S Cabrio is still immensely satisfying to thrash, even if it is ever-so-slightly looser than the fixed-top hatchback. It may not be practical enough to be a daily commuter-mobile or grocery-getter, but the little runabout retains its desirability as a fun second car.