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First Drive 2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible Review By Henny Hemmes

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Sunny side up!

By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
The Auto Channel

LOS ANGELES, February 16, 2016. The calendar says that it is still winter in Southern California, but the unusually warm winter weather is ideal for a first drive in a new convertible. We do not even need sweaters or scarves to keep us comfortable in the new Mini Convertible, as the sun does not fail to come out and the temperature is a summerlike 84 degrees.

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How different this was from seven years ago, when the new Mini Convertible made its road debut. Then, we were in Austria and I remember very well that colleague Ian Kuah and I had decided to drive with the roof down whatever the weather circumstances were going to be.

It was cold indeed and white fluffy stuff did not stop from falling down from heaven. Fortunately we could keep moving, so that the snow was blown over our heads, while the heater and our hats, gloves and down jackets kept us warm.

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After a day of driving in the Alps, we returned to the base, the roof still down. The Mini staff did not believe we drove topless all the way, but the Always Open Timer proved us right: this special gauge in the dashboard showed the amount of hours that the roof had been down.

I teamed up again with Ian and this time the weather was perfect for enjoying the third Mini model that is offered as a convertible.

The very first open Mini was based on the original Mini Cooper and built between 1993 and 1996. Next came the first modern Mini Convertible which debuted in 2004. From then until the new generation arrived in 2009, some 164,000 units found a customer. During the past six years the next Convertible became as popular as its predecessor and now it is up to the latest Mini Convertible (F57) to keep the pace until somewhere in the early 2020's.

3-in-1 soft top

The most important feature of this new 2016 Mini Convertible is its black textile soft top that opens and closes fully automatically in 18 seconds, even while driving up to 18 mph (30 km/h) at the touch of a toggle switch located on the front roof frame.

When the car is stationary, the top can also be raise and lowered by using a button on the key remote. The soft-top has a heatable rear window, and the top's multi layers include optimized acoustic insulation for reduction of NVH.

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The new soft top cannot only be opened or closed, but now also has a sliding sun roof type function that opens up to nearly 16 inches (40 cm, thats why I call it 3-in-1.

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I am convinced that the Mini community will like a new $500 option; the Mini Yours soft top with woven black and grey Union Jack graphic. Other options are the wind deflector with reduced weight and simplified mounting and 2-zone automatic air conditioning with convertible mode.

Moreover, drivers do not have to worry about a possible upcoming thunderstorm when parking their topless Mini along the beach, because they can check the car’s new rain warning system using Mini Connected weather data. Unfortunately, it is a bit too early to expect technology to close it autonomously at the forecast of rain, although I believe that the same sensors that automatically turn on the windshield wiper at the first "feel" of rain could also be plugged in to raise the top...I guess that will be coming next.

Invisible safety bars

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Based on the new generation Mini hatchback, the 2016 Convertible shares the longer wheel base and wider track. Compared to its predecessor, the new convertible is nearly 4 inches (98 mm) longer, 1.7 in (44 mm) wider and has the same height. Cargo volume increased 25 per cent to 7.6 cu.-ft. (215 liters) and 5.56 cu.-ft (160 liters) with open top, and even more with the rear seats down. Carried over is the Easy Load function that allows you to bring up the roof base of the top for getting stuff in and out easier.

The steering wheel is horizontally and vertically adjustable and with the adjustable sport seats it is no problem to find the right driving position.

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By the way, to meet US regulations, the head rests of the rear seats cannot be lowered completely like in the European model. If you think they disrupt the design of the Convertible, you can always remove them, but if your Convertible is seating four, the headrests should be kept in place.

The looks of the new convertible have benefited from the use of the invisible, fully integrated rollover bars that are triggered within 150 milliseconds by sensors as soon as their protection is needed.

I especially liked the color of our test car, Caribbean Aqua metallic (an option at a additional $500), which is one of 11 new colors.

Fun under the sun

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Time to get the sunglasses and jump on the driver’s seat, enjoy the well executed cockpit, push the start button and feel the engine come to life. The test cars were Cooper S models with luxury trim and lots of options, such as head-up display, satellite navigation and LED headlights with LED running day lights. We did not have a wind deflector, and we did not need it either as the warm breeze hardly touched our heads in the open cabin.

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We started our drive in the Cooper S with the Steptronic transmission. In the afternoon, we also drove a version with the 6-speed manual, but I will come back to this later.

We headed from our hotel on Wilshire through the usual morning traffic to the coast for a lovely, sunny drive to Malibu. I was not bothered by the quickly reacting start/stop system of the Cooper S and we had no problem whatsoever to be the first car driving from the traffic lights without looking like we were at the start of a race.

However, when it was my colleague’s turn to drive, he disabled the start/stop system via a toggle switch. The car ‘remembers’ the preferences between drivers, but does not (yet) recognize who is the driver. Again a possible new feature: sensors in the seat that measures your weight and/or shape..?


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The Mini feels engaging and steering is direct and responsive. The new Convertible is less rough on bad patches of road than its predecessor. Its somewhat longer wheel base, which reduces harshness, while the suspension is a bit softer than that of the Cooper S hatch to compensate for the reinforcements that are necessary in a convertible. This model also has the optional adjustable dampers, that also makes a difference in the "ride".

The Steptronic shifts unnoticeable at the right revs. In daily traffic I am perfectly happy to go in Drive, while roads such as Mulholland Highway literally ask for paddle shifting, which enhances the fun, as the transmission reacts smooth and fast.

The buttons in the ring around the shift selector offer a choice for Sport mode, Mid and Eco, changing the color of the ring around the center display changes from red to blue to green. The Sport mode speeds up the response of throttle and transmission, so that not only the car feels more active, you get into a more dynamic mode yourself as well….

Choices, choices

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The Cooper has a low center of gravity and the Convertible only weighs 44 pounds more than the hatch, so you can expect excellent handling on roads like the winding Pacific Coast Highway and happily we were not disappointed!. We are already familiar with the direct-injected 2.0-liter Twinpower turbocharged engine that produces 192 hp at 4,500 rpm with 206 pound-feet of torque. It is powerful enough for our dynamic drive through the canyons.

The engine also seems to like the drive and reacts fast to throttle input, with a nice sound as well. The topless Mini enters bends with only a tiny little tendency to under steer when you really push it, but the right amount of steering and throttle input make it an obedient companion. Michelin has been able to hugely improve the compound of the run-flat tires, which are now softer and provide a better feel.

We felt no turbo lag and that brings me back to the drive with the manual transmission. In this configuration, the Mini Convertible has a slight amount of torque steer, something that lacked the combination with the Steptronic. The reason for this is in the torque converter of the automatic transmission, it keeps the revs up under shifts, so that the turbo remains under pressure and there is no turbo lag. Contrary to a manual transmission, where the throttle is lifted before shifting and the revs have to match again upon accelerating, resulting in a very short moment of turbo lag.

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It is up to personal taste and sometimes finances to make a choice between automatic and manual, but in this case the lighter Steptronic transmission also offers a slightly better fuel consumption, which can be decisive as well.

It speaks for itself that the latest connectivity systems are either standard or available for this addition to the Mini model line.

For those who want the extra sporty touch, there is the Sport Package ($1,500) with LED headlights, dynamic Damper control and wheel upgrade, like on our test car, which was also equipped with 17” wheels. Giving buyers the opton of different driving modes, so make sure you throughly test drive the different options and combinations

Whatever configuration, the Mini Convertible is a good looking, well executed and pretty practical model for people who are prepared to drop the top as soon as the first sunrays appear at the sky.

Technical details Mini Cooper S Automatic

  • Engine: 4-cyl. turbocharged.
  • Capacity: 1,998 cc.
  • Power: 141 kW/192 hp @ 5,000-6,500 rpm.
  • Torque: 206 lb-ft/280 Nm @ 1,250-4,000 rpm; w/overboost 221 lb-ft/ 300 Nm.
  • Transmission: 6-speed Steptronic automatic.
  • Acceleration 0-62 mph (100 km/h):7.1 sec (manual 7.2 sec.
  • Top speed: 143 mph/230 km/h (manual 142 mph/228 km/h).
  • Fuel cons. average (Eu cycle): 5.8-5.6 liter/100 km (manual 6.1-6.0 l/100 km), or 40.55-42.0 mpg (manual 38.55-39.2 mpg).
  • CO2-emission: 134-131 g/km (manual 142-139 g/km).
  • Mini Cooper S Convertible Base Price $ 29,600 (MSRP).
  • The Fully Loaded Package is a combination of three packages for $ 4,750.
  • Prices start at $25,950(MSRP) for the Base Cooper Convertible.
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