For many, The Italian Job (no, not the 2003 remake) was the movie that introduced them to the allure of the Mini Cooper. Those Minis that debuted in the movie are far from the Minis of today but the classic styling has lived on.
Now in its third generation, the Mini Cooper is significantly larger but has matured with conventional technology, controls, and features. Times were much simpler back then with the original Mini sporting just a steering wheel, speedometer, and rev counter, along with a radio if they were fortunate. Still, the youthful exuberance and fun-to-drive character are still present.
Perhaps the biggest news about the new Mini is the turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine, which does a fantastic job pretending to have a few more cylinders. Putting out a surprisingly energetic 134 hp, the Cooper feels peppy and with 162 lb-ft. of torque available right from 1,250 rpm, it is no slouch either.
The six-speed automatic does the Cooper a great favour with quick shifts, and assists in keeping the three-cylinder from lugging by lingering in the high rev ranges. A start/stop feature shuts off the engine when the car is idling to save fuel as well. Once the engine starts back up again though, it can rattle the interior. It also adversely affects the air conditioner performance.
Handling wise, the Mini Cooper may not be the nimble go-kart that it once was, but it is still agile, taut, and fun to whip around corners. The car turns like no other front-wheel drive car, and the body hardly leans at all. Turn-in response is also extremely quick.
The car is full of little quirks that give it some flavor and to ensure you don’t lose interest within the first week of ownership. The convertible variant has an “Always Open Timer” or an Open-o-meter that tallies up driving time with the top down. Furthermore, there are varying drive modes, and a power meter to show you just how much of that 134 hp you are using at any given time. The Cooper also has a feature via the Mini Connected App to alert the driver of an approaching rain shower, giving you ample time to raise the roof.
Speaking of putting the top up, that process takes 18 seconds and can be performed at speeds up to 30 km/h. The choreography is entirely automated and can even be initiated via a button on the remote. The front portion can also retract like a sunroof if you don’t feel like going fully undone. Lowered, the top stack cuts into rear visibility although in parking maneuvers, the backup camera – a $500 must-have – does compensate.
The interior was a favourite of mine; every panel was solid and well appointed. The $2,250 Chester Leather option is particularly nice, and feels a step above any Mini interior that I have ever been inside of. The new and more conventional gauge layout features the speedometer in front of the driver instead of the center.
The large center screen on the dash is now integrated to house all of the audio and phone controls. The BMW iDrive-like central controller is intuitive and easy to use. Shrouding the center screen is a digital tachometer that shines radiantly at night. There are also several different ambient lighting settings you can set depending on your mood. Power window and lock controls are no longer on the center dash like a Jeep Wrangler, but have rightfully moved to the doors.
The front seats, which boast a greater range of adjustment than before, are comfortable for drivers of nearly all sizes, but the convertible’s four-seat designation is still a theoretical one despite having a few more centimeters of rear legroom. For my six-foot figure, when the front seat are adjusted, there is barely enough room to squeeze a shopping bag between the two rows.
Being less frenetic and eccentric is good news for people who are drawn to the Mini for its cheerful and exuberant character; most will find the latest Mini to be more livable but it is still not the most practical hatchback on the market by any means due to its small trunk capacity and rear legroom. Sorry future gold robbers, you might want to invest in a more spacious hatchback like the Volkswagen Golf GTI in order to get away with as much as you can.
Low class bank robbers beware, affording a few of these Minis for your operation could cost you a pretty penny. As tested, our Mini Cooper Convertible rang in at over $38,000. Cross shopping with a Golf GTI, Fiesta ST, or the Fiat 500c Abarth will give you an accurate feel for how this Cooper matches up. Sure, the convertible will stand as the one of the most luxurious offerings for sun-seeking buyers in this niche market but this model’s frivolity, however, does not extend to its price. If you can keep your hands off the plethora of expensive options, then the Mini Cooper Convertible might just be your next open-top escape vehicle.