Review: Mini Cooper Convertible lets the sun in

CHROME CONVERT: The ample chrome of the Cooper Convertible adds to the cars’ nautical look.
CHROME CONVERT: The ample chrome of the Cooper Convertible adds to the cars’ nautical look.
George Kennedy

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In case you haven’t noticed, Minis are not so small anymore. From the five-door Cooper to the Countryman and Paceman crossovers, the brand that prides itself on being small and different has been getting big and just-like-everyone-else.

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But that growth isn’t all bad, as the all-new Mini Cooper Convertible has grown in all the right places. The result is the fun-in-the sun cornerstone of Mini’s lineup, this charming convertible.

The larger dimensions of the new droptop manifest themselves in different ways, but at the end of the day, only the keenest eye could tell the difference between the old model and the new one. The power bulge hood design continues, as does the extensive use of chrome and bright work. Combined with an Electric Blue paint job, it gives the Mini an almost nautical look.

The best element of this new vehicle is its clever convertible top. It can open or close in 18 seconds, at speeds of 18 mph. It’s two-mode top, which means you can open it halfway, like an extremely wide sunroof. It then pulls back behind the rear seats. No need for the top to close again before doing a full open. It’s impressively clever, though I wish our test model came with a button on the key fob that could open the top while you’re outside the vehicle.

To ensure nothing dampens your afternoon drive, the Rain Warner feature can tell you if the top is open and, if you are away from your vehicle, if there is possible rain in the forecast. If so, it will remind you to put the top up.

DIMINUTIVE DROPTOP: Despite its small stature, the Mini has ample room…for front passengers
DIMINUTIVE DROPTOP: Despite its small stature, the Mini has ample room…for front passengers
George Kennedy

Despite its size, the Mini has a surprisingly large trunk. For the new model year, cargo capacity jumps 25 percent, but it’s still just 7.6 cubic feet. If you need more room, a two levers flip down and the cradle floor for the convertible lifts up, allowing you to stack items even higher. This prevents the top from fully retracting, but it can still open to sunroof mode.

The Mini Cooper Convertible has seating for four, though the rear seats fall firmly under the “if absolutely necessary” qualification. The front seats are comfortable and even roomy. If you need to put someone in the back seat, the front seats slide and fold forward, with a quick pull on the seatback handle.

Up front, the Mini Cooper has a controls layout that could generously be described as unique. Mini has long gone for a unique aesthetic and layout, and ergonomics is always the victim. The starter button is located down in the center console, flanked by other buttons. The instrument panel is attached to the steering column rather than the dash, which means it moves up and down with the adjustable steering wheel. This actually helps with line-of-sight.

The Mini Cooper has a unique control that resembles a plane's cockpit.
The Mini Cooper has a unique control that resembles a plane's cockpit.
George Kennedy

The center console offers a large circular face, which has a vivid color screen at its center. The iDrive dial cycles down counter-clockwise, which is counterintuitive for anyone who has ever used a radio dial. Even when you flip through presets using the steering wheel-mounted audio controls, pressing down makes the station go up. You have to wonder if the engineers ever asked themselves, “How does anyone ever actually interact with our product?”

The base engine in our test model was a 1.5-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder. It makes 134 horsepower and 162 lb.-ft. of torque. This is less horsepower but more torque than the rival roadster, Mazda Miata. However, the Miata lacks a rear seat. The Fiat 500C has a back seat, but is not a full convertible, and its 101 hp and 98 lb.-ft. of torque fall well short of the base Mini engine.

Power is sent to the front wheels through either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission with manual mode and available paddle shifters. If you want more power, the Mini Cooper S offers 189 horsepower while the John Cooper Works (or JCW) produces 228 horsepower and a 149-mph top speed. But the base Mini still offers plenty of fun.

There’s no avoiding the desire to describe the Mini as having go-kart-like handling. With proportions this small, it’s a reference that holds up. The wheelbase is so short, you can barely tell it’s a FWD car. And whipping around city streets is all sorts of fun.

Fuel economy for our Mini Cooper Convertible with the automatic is 27 mpg city, 38 mpg highway, 31 combined. EPA estimates for the 6-speed manual nets you one more mpg for highway mileage, but is the same in city and combined driving.

Base MSRP for the 2016 Mini Cooper Convertible is $25,950. An S model starts at $29,600, while a John Cooper Works starts at $36,000. Our Mini Cooper Convertible was actually listed as fully loaded on the build sheet, which means it included the Premium Package, Sport Package, Technology Package with Navigation, leather seats and more. Its sticker price is $37,150.

For Mini, growth like this is good. Added size makes the Mini more livable, and the capacity for this little convertible to handle passengers and their bags is quite impressive. Factor in the fun-to-drive attributes, and the Mini Cooper Convertible is an instant classic for those who love to motor with the top down.

[You can find local deals on MINI here].

2016 Mini Cooper Convertible

THE BASICS

Price: $25,950. As tested: $37,150. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 27/37. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 28.9 mpg. Drivetrain: 1.5L turbocharged I3, automatic, front-wheel-drive. Body: 2-door, 4-seat compact convertible.

THE SPECIFICS

Horsepower: 134. Overall length: 151 in. Wheelbase: 98.2 in. Height: 56 in. Width: 68 in. Curb weight: 2,855 lbs.

THE GOOD

Upscale feel, surprisingly decent cargo space, fun to drive.

THE BAD

Infuriatingly clumsy infotainment system, price jumps quickly with options.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Terrific top-down daily driver. Great if you need more than room for two.

ALSO CONSIDER

Fiat 500C, Mazda Miata, Volkswagen Beetle Convertible.