Convertibles may have a small portion in a new car market, but Mini Cooper S Convertible is one of the best-selling convertibles in the world. Sales numbers are high, not because it is cheap, but it offers fun factor with lots of features and great interior quality.
When first retro Mini was released in the beginning of 2000, it reshaped the hothatch market. Today, it has many versions such as Coupe, Cabriolet, Clubman, Countryman, Paceman and so on. Let’s see how Cabriolet version performs and see if it is a good option for you.
Overall Design – Interior and Exterior
At the end of the day, it is a Mini Cooper. You wouldn’t expect a radical change. Since R50 – R53 era, the design is very similar and seems like they are following Porsche 911, Fiat 500, Jeep Wrangler or Mercedes-Benz G series cult, the design is their “branding” strategy, which is understandable. If you are not really into the automobiles, it may be really difficult for you to differentiate 2018 Cooper S than the older models. Of course, there are some design changes but you really have to look into the details. British-flag shaped tail lights are a good example of this situation. I have to admit, it looks gorgeous and “different”. I wish they’ve kept the hood scoop for the S version from the older generation, but unfortunately, it became useless as they stopped using top mounted intercooler. Compared to the other versions, Cabriolet comes with a different trunk, you have to pull it down to use it. Other than the fabric top, it looks the same.
When you sit inside the Cooper, regardless of the version, you feel like it is not only a Mini, but also a BMW. The quality of materials and craftsmanship is top notch, at least for this price range. The cabin is not too small if you sit in the front, but rear seats are just for carrying small bags. No human can sit there, which is not surprising in a compact cabriolet car. Fabric top can also be used as a sunroof, which is a great feature. Unfortunately, it cannot isolate road and tire noise coming around when driving over 50 km/h, which is a common disadvantage for “entry level” cabriolets. Another disadvantage of a cabriolet car is the trunk space. It is so small that even a backpack can barely fit. If you are on the market for a compact cabriolet, trunk space should not be your priority anyway, but something worth considering before the purchase.
It comes with many features like touchscreen infotainment, automatic climate control, heated leather seats, wireless charging, cruise control, and Harman Kardon premium sound system. It also comes with Apple CarPlay, but unfortunately Android Auto is not available. There is a huge optional features list, as expected from BMW, so there are many personalization options but it may severely increase the MSRP. Our test car is the Premier+ version, which has almost everything.
Engine and Transmission: Technical Aspect
No matter what type of engine it has, Mini Cooper has always been considered as a hot-hatch car. The Cooper S has 4-cylinder 2.0 L Direct Injection with a turbocharger which produces 189 horsepower and 207 ft/lb torque. The numbers are not mind-blowing, but good enough to put the Cooper S into the “sporty” hot hatch category. This particular car comes with a 6 speed Automatic – Dual Clutch Transmission, again, it is not “mind-blowing” but gets the job done and it matches the engine really well. During our test, the car consumes approximately 9.2L / 100km gas, which is not bad considering we do not drive it slowly. For daily driving, I would expect to see 8.0-8.5L / 100km fuel consumption because the engine likes to say in the midrange, as it offers 90% of torque in the low rpms. This engine definitely has a small turbo for more torque at lower rpm and it makes it really fun when driving in the city.
Driving experience – Impressions
When I first started to drive, I am really not surprised. It is not really much different than the 2000s except the engine characteristics. The torque is impressive and linear enough but definitely focused on low-midrange RPMs. In the good old days, Mini Cooper S with a supercharger used to have more torque in higher RPMs, which makes it more fun when you drive it hard. Unfortunately, there is no best option for both scenarios.
Handling and driving feel wise, it is really good. It wants to oversteer when you reach its limit, although not recommended for public roads. As a front wheel drive car, it is really surprising when it wants to oversteer rather than understeer, but this is what makes Cooper unique in its class. I really cannot comment on how high traction limits are, as the car came with Pirelli Winter tires and Toronto roads aren’t the best when it is -10C out there, but I’d definitely say once you reach the limit, the communication between the driver and car is great, you feel the car obeys each input and if you make a mistake, it is not going to bite you in the back. Despite the engine, it is really fun when you drive it hard, and I am really glad to say, it is still a great option if you are looking for a driver-focused car, which is nowadays getting harder and harder.
Steering feeling isn’t great though, the car has multiple modes, and it doesn’t feel right when you switch to “Sport” mode. The car stiffens the steering when you choose this mode, but it makes it overly stiff and gives synthetic feel to the driver. Again, stiffer doesn’t mean sportier. It just makes harder to steer for a driver. I usually stayed in the balanced mode, which gave more neutral feedback when driving either normally or spiritually.
Brakes are excellent, I have absolutely no complaints about it. Initial bite is great, braking performance is great, it does not fade quickly, brake lever feels neutral (no synthetic feeling, etc.), it really shines when it comes to braking performance.
What this car really lacks is, at least for A/T version, is paddle shifters. I know Automatic transmissions are getting better to the level which they mostly outperform the stick shift, but I am still a huge advocate for manual transmission cars in the hothatch class. For a premium, automatic transmission also makes sense though. However, it has to have a paddle shift to make things more engaging. This is not a truck or luxury sedan. Why is there no paddle shift in a Cooper S which supposedly is a sporty car? I think this is the biggest flaw of Mini Cooper S, I’d even say it is a deal breaker for me. You don’t like manual transmission? That’s fine, Automatic transmissions are as good as the stick shift nowadays, but paddle shifters are must in this class, even the plastic cheap one.
Pricing and Conclusion:
MSRP for MINI Cooper S Convertible starts from $33.990. Our tester, with Starlight Blue Edition Package ($2,900) and Automatic Transmission ($1,400) costs $38,290. The price can go up to 43K if you tick all the possible options.
I can’t really say it is expensive or cheap as there is little to no competition in this class. Mini Cooper S is a British premium retro car which has BMW features and overall build quality. I’d be in love with this car if I was 18 years old again. It has most of the features for young people, it looks great, it handles great, good on gas, lots of design gimmicks, and it is a convertible.
Text and photos by Dan Gunay