NEW Mini convertible owners will be rightly rapt to be buying the cheapest drop-top in the brand’s Australian history. Existing owners may be less enthused the new and improved model is about $5000 cheaper than the one in their garage. Mini is unapologetic about the move saying it has come as a direct result of market feedback and the competition.
Mini general manager Tony Sesto says dealers will make less money on each car but should sell more of them.
“I asked ‘Do you want to sell cars, or do you want to sell cars’,” Sesto says. “Mini had 30 per cent growth last year and is up 17 per cent year to date on that figure. We’ve trimmed the lineup back to our core models and the convertible is an important part of that range.”
When Mini launched the local convertible range in 2005 a Cooper with an automatic transmission was $38,100. Today it is $37,900 and includes dual-zone aircon, a reversing camera and a turbocharged 1.5- litre three-cylinder engine that can propel the four-seater to 100km/h in 8.7 seconds.
The Cooper S is now on sale for $45,400. Beyond the sportier engine and an auto transmission with paddle shifters, it adds LED lamps, upgraded navigation, sports seats and a trio of driving modes. The 2.0-litre turbo fourcylinder is the enthusiasts’ pick, with power and torque up by 40 and 30 per cent respectively.
The body is much stiffer than the previous model and there is more leg and shoulder room in the cabin — though still not enough down back for this to be a serious four-seater — and the boot space is up by a quarter to 215 litres with the roof up or 160 litres with it down.
The roof is an electrically closing soft-top that takes 18 seconds to raise or lower and can be done up to 30km/h.
A six-speed auto is the default transmission, though a six-speed manual is a no-cost option. That’s your fault too — 85 per cent of Mini convertible buyers opt for the auto. Speaking of options, the list is as extensive as always and it takes little penmanship to boost the price of either car by $10,000 or more. The visual highlight is probably the Union Jack flag woven into the roof fabric for $900.
ON THE ROAD
Convertibles should be about driving enjoyment as well as pose value and this little car manages both. Under full acceleration or hard cornering there is little body flex in the Mini. Corrugations can provoke the occasional tick from the top of the car but it is a fairly refined little package. Put that down to a tougher donor car in the form of the new Mini hatch and plenty of V-shaped bracing through the underbody to keep the car tied down.
In other regards it is a typical Mini, from the responsive steering to the slick gear changes. The 1.5-litre is the obvious choice for city drivers. It’s not slow, uses half a litre less fuel over 100km than the fourcylinder and is $7500 cheaper.
The Cooper S, with more go, makes an ideal open-top tourer.
A back seat makes it more practical than most drop-tops and Mini says it sees the likes of the Citroen DS3 and Peugeot’s yet-to-arrive 208 CC as obvious rivals. I’d toss the Golf convertible into that mix as well.
The downside of convertible ownership is usually rear visibility. The plastic rear window doesn’t show a lot of real estate and the view is similarly limited when head- checking blind spots before changing lanes. Drop the roof and it bunches up behind the rear seats, effectively obscuring most sedans.
Wind noise with the roof down is more than acceptable and those of average height will find the breeze faintly ruffles their hair. A deflector can be quickly fitted to sit above the back seats to quell in-cabin turbulence at speed. It works … but you’re not carrying four at that point.
On price, performance and features this is the best Mini convertible yet.
While far from perfect, it is a relatively affordable drop-top with some ability to hang on around a corner without warping the chassis.