Gimmickry and retro design cues have always been part of the beguiling formula for Mini—especially ever since the brand was resurrected by BMW earlier last decade, and up to present day and the 2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible we drove around Los Angeles earlier this month.
It’s just that the fanciful side needs to be balanced with real function—plus driving credentials that are far more than skin-deep.
As such, Mini’s formula has changed for the better with these latest, third-generation Cooper models, to downplay the tongue-in-cheek playfulness and extrovertedness while grounding these models in a bit more practicality and serious performance credentials.
It’s the Mini Cooper S Convertible, arriving this spring as a 2016 model, that perhaps best shows off that newfound focus on the fundamentals.
Partly, it’s because the Mini Cooper Convertible is still a heck of a lot of fun to drive in its higher-performance Cooper S form, as we found earlier this month on Los Angeles boulevards, out on freeways, and perhaps mostly importantly, along curvy canyon roads.
We’ve already had a few driving experiences with the Cooper S as a hatchback—a quick, responsive, relatively versatile one. But as a drop-top, the Cooper S Convertible does a much better job selling itself. This model’s smart soft-top design, versatile seating and cargo layout, and good passenger comfort, top up or top down, all factor into that.
All the zippy you’d expect, and more
But back to the driving-enjoyment point, the Cooper S Convertible packs a lot of zip and attitude into its tidy little 152-inch-long package. You sit low, in what feels like the natural midpoint of the car. Mini loves using the term “go-kart” to describe the steering, and here it’s an apt description. You’ll notice some body roll in the tightest corners, but it’s the right amount to keep the limits progressive, and otherwise this is a vehicle you can literally whip about, with super-quick changes of direction and a general lack of fluster.
2016 MINI Cooper S ConvertibleEnlarge Photo
Rough pavement, in this convertible, doesn’t elicit the shuddering you might find in other drop-tops. This model gets about 200 pounds of added weight, most of it dedicated to structural bolstering; and it works—keeping the steering communicative and the center of weight (perceived and real) very low).
That added weight might make Cooper Convertible models with the standard 134-horsepower, 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine a little sluggish. Yet the Cooper S, with its 189-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four, never felt short on power and was downright quick in all but a few situations.
We spent the day and more than 200 miles driving two fully loaded (beyond fully loaded, and we’ll get to that later) Cooper S models, one with the six-speed automatic transmission and the other with a six-speed manual.