Mini Cooper S Convertible

More reason to enjoy some fun in the sun

STEPHEN CORBY

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

THERE ARE some cars that seem made for a manual gearbox, and the Mini has always been one of them. But the new Mini Convertible will be the first variant where that’s not offered, at least in Australia (though, if you insist, they’ll build one to special order).

Apparently the number of people who like to use a clutch in any BMW product, even the M3 and M4, is now just five percent or less, and the demand for it in the female-friendly Mini was seen as being roughly zero, even though 40 percent of buyers are male.

My memory of the automatic version was that it was woeful, and didn’t allow you to stretch the Mini’s small but willing engines properly, but fortunately the new Mini Convertible’s sixspeed ‘Steptronic’ transmission is actually pretty good, particularly if you shift with the big, sportyfeeling paddles, which you only get with the $45,400 Cooper S version.

The only problem is the shift noise, which sounds like either a polite cough or a stifled fart.

Normally a convertible version of a fun car like this – and it is, as all Minis have been, overwhelmingly fun to drive – allows you to enjoy the noise more, but other than an occasional burble on the overrun, the Cooper S we tried at the international launch in sunny Los Angeles was too restrained.

We weren’t offered a regular Cooper with its three-cylinder 100kW/220Nm 1.5-litre engine, but can confirm the 2.0-litre four’s 141kW and 280Nm is enough to put a smile on your face, but then it’s hard not to start smiling as soon as you see the Convertible with its hat off. The cheery design – it looks so similar to the old Mini Cabrio that they had to change the name to Convertible so it would feel new – and roof-down sunniness are pure fun.

The cabin feels large and airy, particularly with the roof off – now fully electric, much quieter, and dropped in 18 seconds at speeds of up to 30km/h – as long as you’re sitting in the front. Rearseat passengers will smile a lot less because legroom is still notional.

The boot is now 25 percent bigger, however, which means it’s gone from pointless to just about useable (215 litres with roof up, 160 with it down).

On a winding road, the go-kart feel the brand espouses is yours to enjoy and this new, tauter version, which features a stiffening plate under the engine for more torsional rigidity, has far less scuttle-shake.

There’s a small amount of understeer if you really push, but driving aggressively is not really the habit of Mini Convertible buyers, much like changing their own gears. It’s more about cruising, soaking up the rays, seeing and being seen. s nt. Rear

Jacked up

Outside of Tony Abbott’s immediate family, there won’t be a lot of takers for the new option of having a Union Jack woven into the Mini’s fabric roof, despite how cool it looks. Nor will everyone download the app that syncs with your phone and offers Rain Warning, telling you to close your roof if there’s precipitation imminent.

Simpler, older folk will no doubt still use their eyes to spot clouds in the sky. i i f i ’

PLUS & MINUS

No manual; needs more power; slight understeer at limit; too quiet Styling; handling; bigger boot; cool interior; smooth new roof operation