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Review: Mini Cooper Convertible

Driven July 2012

Review: Mini Cooper Convertible

Every year, it seems, India is getting closer to being the hottest place on Earth. When it shines here, it bakes. But there are those few months when the sun is not out to roast everything in its path. Those pleasant days are perfect for the convertible.

You see, the reason we’re rambling on is because we’ve got our hands on the brand new Mini Cooper Convertible. Okay, so it isn’t the full monty Cooper S, but look at it! It still looks fantastic. Those white stripes running along the hood look superb and tell you this isn’t your conventional ragtop.

While the Cooper Convertible isn’t one for the men to trot around in, because with the top down, you do get the attention of the fairer sex but you can’t really drive the Convertible and feel like a man. With the top up, you may just get away with it. So the Cooper Convertible is a girl’s car.

But the girl that drives this would certainly be our kind of girl. Still, gender discrimination aside, the Mini Cabrio looks great whether the top is up or down.

After BMW bought over Mini, there’s been much sense knocked into the Cooper. No, it hasn’t lost its charm, but it has gained a lot of German sensibility. So you get switches that work, a cabin that doesn’t go to pieces every few months. The plate-sized speedometer in the centre of the dash looks fantastic. The dials have an old-world appeal.

The aircraft-style flip switches feel superb and every time you flip them, you feel you’re powering up the Starship Enterprise. And lord knows we love that. And this being a cabrio, the rear seats are a farce. You can seat two in the back – for short journeys only. They’ll hate you for it, but who cares. The boot has a capacity of only 160litres, just about enough for squashy bags.

The Convertible comes with the brief of delivering breeze in your hair in a pocket-sized performance package. You get the traditional 1.6-litre four-pot, which in this iteration makes 122bhp and 160Nm of torque. This comes coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission that works well enough. No paddle shifters, which is a bummer because there’s so much fun to be had from this chassis.

Which brings us to the business end of the Mini. Because it is the dynamics department where the Mini really scores. People may say it handles like a go-kart, but we think the Mini could teach go-karts a thing or two about going around corners. You point and it literally shoots off into that direction like a fly. The convertible isn’t as stiffly sprung as the Cooper S hatch, but it’s still a bundle of fun.

It’s like an excessively enthusiastic puppy that loves to run around in circles. It loves to slide and is so damn easy to catch, you’d think you’re a better driver than you really are. But rest assured, it’s mostly the car and the DSC. Every drive feels like the chase in The Italian Job. The steering doesn’t feel overly weighted and is quite light in the city. The Mini will dart into corners despite that satanic front-wheel drive.

The engine may make all the right noises, but it isn’t especially fast. And it leaves you red-faced when you get creamed by a Honda City. It has a good mid-range, but the torque shortage shows, with the tranny asking to downshift every time you want to make some progress.

Zero-100kph comes up in 12.26 seconds, which isn’t fast by any standards. Especially for a car that can be so much fun. Top speed is rated at 190kph, which isn’t too bad. All the downshifting also means fuel economy isn’t great – just about acceptable. The Convertible managed 8kpl in the city and this figure crept up to 11.5kpl out on the highway.

Now, most ragtops rattle and feel a bit limp thanks to the reduced stiffness. The Mini is no different. There is scuttle-shake every time you hit a bump and some bits do rattle at speed. Wind noise is remarkably well controlled even past 120kph.

But the soft top, as you’d expect, lets in all other sounds. So expect to feel like a biker listening to all the honking in traffic. But these are minor irritants especially when you see the appeal of the ragtop and it does make sense if you live in a cold place. But if you’ve bought one in Mumbai, it’ll only work late nights or early mornings.

The Mini Cooper Convertible is sexy, has loads of presence and reminds us why small hatchbacks are fun. And we’re not kidding, it is unbelievably entertaining to drive. Okay, you need to get the turbo, but even with this lesser engine, the Mini packs a decent punch. It makes you smile every time you get behind the wheel and that’s what really matters.

You can have one for Rs 30.70 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai). Watch out for those expensive options. The Convertible may be a bit effeminate for some, but if you’re the man of the house, we suggest a red Cooper S with the black roof. It’s cheaper too.

Manish Sarser

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