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Update, May 18, 2016: We've updated this piece with new specs and driving impressions of the base Mini Cooper Convertible.
I have heard that some folks don't like convertibles. It's a preference I just can't wrap my head around, as there is nothing better than the wind in my hair, the sun on my neck and a stretch of twisty road in front of me. The day is made even better when I'm sitting behind the wheel of a tossable car like the 2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible.
Mini flew me down to Los Angeles to sample the next-generation convertible on roads that ranged from stop-and-go traffic to winding two-laners to an ocean view highway. It was not a bad way to spend my time.
The Cooper Convertible will be the only drop top in the Mini lineup, now that the two-seat Roadster has been axed. Started in 2012 as a front-wheel-drive answer to the Mazda MX-5 Miata, the Roadster never really caught on, and it will be interesting to see if those few fans will migrate toward the four-seat version.
Visually, the first thing I noticed is that the Mini ain't quite so mini anymore. It's grown in length by 4.5 inches over the last generation to just a smidge over 151 inches. At this rate, expect the fifth generation to be the size of a Humvee! It's over 1.5 inches wider, about an inch taller, and has a longer wheelbase as well.
You'll notice most aesthetic changes on the front half of the Mini. The nose is much longer, the grille much bigger. Previous models featured a front bumper that cut the grill in half. For 2016, the grille encompasses most of the front fascia, with fog lights and an air diffuser below, giving the Mini a bit of a big-mouth frog look.
As is often the case, with increased dimensions comes increased weight. My test Cooper S Convertible with the automatic tips the scale at over 3,000 pounds. That's almost 500 more than the smaller Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio, but still 300 or so pounds less than the larger Volkswagen Beetle Convertible.
This drop top has plenty of power. The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine puts out 189 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. There is, however, a fair amount of torque steer when you put that power down to the front wheels, so stay on your toes when you give it the beans.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but my sampler came equipped with a six-speed Steptronic transmission with paddle shifters. It's very quick and the exhaust emits a nice little burble when shifting. Even in sport mode, however, the computer will take matters into its own, er, CPU if you try to hang it all out close to the redline, and it will often deny you aggressive downshifts.
Still the Mini Cooper S Convertible is a hoot to throw into corners and it certainly hasn't lost any of its Mario Kart handling characteristics. It plows a bit, but peak torque is available at an astonishingly low 1,250 rpm, and is available until near 4,000rpm, so it's easy to get back on the power when exiting turns. Fortunately, the Cooper S Convertible has a sport mode that stiffens up the dampers to mitigate the inevitable body roll that comes with throwing a 3,000-pound mass of steel into decreasing-radius turns at high speed. Sport mode will also give you a more aggressive throttle and a weightier steering feel.
If you find yourself running out of talent, the Mini has two invisible roll bars. Once the system detects the possibility of a rollover, a pyrotechnic trigger deploys the high-strength aluminum roll bars within 150 milliseconds.
The firm suspension of the Mini can make for a bit of a rough ride, but honestly I've always thought that was part of its charm. The automatic start-stop feature is unobtrusive and the seats are comfortable enough for daily driving. At 5 feet 9 inches tall, I wasn't cramped at all in either front seat. The rear seat is best left to very small kids or cargo.
Convertibles are notorious for their lack of cargo space, and the new Mini is no exception. With the top down, all that's available is 5.7 cubic feet of space. That was just enough for a small bag of camera gear and my messenger bag. Put the top up and you have 7.6 cubic feet and a small load opening, but at least there's a nifty new feature to help load larger items into the small trunk. Dubbed "Easy Load," simply flip the two internal levers on either side of the trunk and voila! The rear of the roof pops up, giving you better access to the trunk.
The soft top, which can be ordered with an embroidered Union Jack to show your Brit pride, can be raised or lowered in 18 seconds at speeds of up to 18 mph. The first step pushes back the first third of the top, resulting in something like a sunroof. The second step pushes the soft top all the way back. The folded top sits rather high along the rear, to the point where I could only see the roofline of even larger vehicles in the rearview mirror.
For style mavens, the Mini is highly customizable. There are 11 color options, including new Melting Silver and Caribbean Aqua. Plus you can pick and choose custom chrome, striping, interior colors and a whole slew of accessories.
Fortunately there's an optional backup camera to help mitigate the poor rear visibility. Also optional is the driving assistant package, which features cruise control with a distance control function and collision warning with automatic braking. There is even an available head-up display, which shows the driver speed, navigation directions and music details like radio channels. Holding over from previous generations is the Always Open Timer, which keeps track of how long you've been motoring sans top.
My test model came with the Navigation package with an 8.8-inch high-resolution screen. There is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto; instead Mini relies on its own Mini Connected system, bringing apps into the infotainment system. There are apps to to show the current engine power and torque in use, as well G-forces. Probably the most useful app to convertible owners is the rain warning app, which will send a text to your smart phone suggesting you close the soft top. Unfortunately it won't actually close the top for you, and Mini says there are no plans for a remote closing feature.
I only got to sample the S trim line, but the Convertible will also come in a non-S model, as well as the extra-scooty John Cooper Works model. The latter debuted at the New York Auto Show in March.
The base Mini Cooper Convertible is out now and starts at $25,950, while the S will set you back $29,600, both minus $850 destination. The JCW starts much higher, at $35,600, but with all the custom options on all three trim lines, expect your price to be more.
The Mini Cooper S Convertible certainly is a blast to drive, and there aren't many competitors at this price point. The Fiat 500 Abarth lacks the sophistication of the Mini, but is less expensive and has an excellent growl to the exhaust. You could look towards the Mazda Miata, but with only two seats and a completely different kind of drivetrain, the Miata is really built for another customer.
If you live for the sense of freedom you get in a drop top, the Mini Cooper S is an excellent choice. Just keep that Always Open Timer going.
Roadshow managing editor Chris Paukert recently had the chance to sample the base Mini Cooper Convertible, which is less expensive, but makes do with a less powerful three-cylinder engine.
The base Cooper's 1.5-liter power plant may be tiny, but it's plenty spunky for enjoyable motoring, a feat less attributable to its 134 horsepower and more to its healthy 162 pound-feet of torque. The latter kicks in from just 1,250 revs -- not far off idle -- so the Cooper pulls away from stoplights cleanly and willingly with its six-speed manual gearbox. 0-60 mph happens in a few tenths over eight seconds, which is around 1.5 seconds longer than the S model, yet it never feels slow.
With less weight over the nose and more compliant, smaller-diameter tires (base models start with 15-inch wheels and tires), the Cooper Convertible feels pleasingly light on its feet, with a slightly more compliant ride than its Cooper S counterpart. It arguably also looks better, with a cleaner hood design and a less fussy lower fascia that does without the S' incongruous-looking squared-off inlets.
The best news? The standard Cooper Convertible starts at a much more palatable $25,950 (plus $850 for delivery), a whopping $3,650 savings over the S. That's a nice chunk of change when it comes time to peruse Mini's massive options list.
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