Mini Cooper S Convertible Review
See and be seen, that’s the mantra on Hollywood boulevard in the heart of Los Angeles. It’s all gorgeous palm trees, bright sunshine, Hollywood hopefuls re-enacting scenes from Entourage, and topless cars. A perfect setting then for the press drives of the new Mini Cooper convertible, and one of the key markets going by the number of last-generation rag-top Minis that we cruise past. If we can get a second glance under the California sun, well, it’s job done.
Off with the top
The convertible is based on the third-gen three-door hatchback which runs on the new UKL platform. This one is front-wheel drive too, but what makes UKL so interesting is that BMW is also using it for their own models – the new X1 being among the first front-wheel drive BMWs. Compared to the earlier Mini Cooper Convertible, this new one has grown in every direction. The wheelbase is longer by 28mm, overall length is up by 98mm, it is 44mm wider and the tracks are also wider. It all leads to a more spacious cabin. The back seat is still tight but you could put a passenger in there for short journeys without them sticking a knife in your kidneys. And up front there’s more elbow room and a welcome sense of space. And there is additional bracing and stiffening to improve the rigidity of the chassis, which increases weight by 115kg.
The soft top is unique in that it integrates a sunroof. You can slide the front portion back while the rear remains in place for a 16-inch wide opening. The operation is fully electric and the entire roof slides into the boot in 18 seconds. Well, not completely into the boot, part of the soft top remains stacked above the boot but it doesn’t look as ungainly as before and you don’t have to manually cover it up with another tarpaulin cover. There’s a wind deflector that you slide in to place manually behind the front seats and does a really good job when we suddenly find ourselves on the interstate highway. And what is really cool about the soft top is the Union Jack motif woven into the roof.
Fun in the sun
Our route takes us up into the hills above Los Angeles, where we are immersed in a history lesson on the entertainment capital of the world. Our first stop is the Mulholland overlook with the vast Universal Studios spread out in front of us. There’s the black Disney channel building, the Disney studio, the Warner Brothers studio, the Universal amphitheatre, the Los Angeles river meandering through it and what looks like a bush fire in the Santa Susana mountains in the distance. Mulholland drive itself is a lovely twisty road that rolls through Hollywood hills, past enormous gates that house even bigger villas belonging to, what I must assume, are Hollywood royalty. Somebody saw Michelle Pfeiffer walking her dogs. I saw that villain dude in the Spiderman movie who wreaks havoc with those massive arms stuck on his back. I’m not here to spot the stars but there are enough and more patrol cars making a test of the Mini Cooper’s high-speed cornering an invitation to sample the fare in an American lock-up.
We take it easy, and I can report that the Mini Cooper does the Hollywood cruise thing in style. It is a fun little car and has enough toys to make you happy. The toggle switches on the centre console, the cute readouts on the big display (‘Let’s Motor Hard!’ when you hit Sport mode, ‘Let’s MINImalize’ in Green mode), everything puts you in a happy place. You don’t need to drive the Mini Cooper Convertible fast to enjoy it – and that’s a huge part of its appeal.
Things get interesting 40 miles out of LA, up in the Agoura hills. The Mulholland Highway up here is empty and there are no cops – all of them engaged in blocking off the road at the end of our drive because of a serious forest fire. Time to let it rip. We are in the Mini Cooper S Convertible that makes 189bhp and 280Nm of torque (300Nm with overboost), good enough to chirrup the front wheels on its way to a 7.1 second 0-100kmph time. Stick it in Sport mode, have everything sharpened up, and the Cooper S attacks corners – who said there are no corners in the USA? – with terrific verve and vigour. It is the is happiest when you’re caning it in the hills, especially when you have the optional electronic differential lock that doesn’t waste away torque by spinning up the inside wheel, and Dynamic Damper Control that stiffens the suspension without making the ride unbearable.
This is not a go-kart but it is the most go-kart-like of all these fancy, expensive hatchbacks. As we take a detour to avoid the forest fires and climb down the hills to Malibu to our lunch stop on the beach, there are big fat smiles all around.
Does it turn heads?
Ultimately it all boils down to that, doesn’t it? And the new Mini looks great. It is better resolved, more mature, more confident than the earlier Mini. It isn’t trying too hard to be cute or manly. There’s a universal appeal so that even if you’re fiercely macho you won’t want to duck down and hide in the new Mini. As we cruise down the California 1 highway hugging the coastline, past the Pacific palisades and Venice beach on our way back to Koreatown in LA (yes, it exists!), there are approving nods to be had from Prius and Bentley drivers. As we cruise back up Hollywood Boulevard, we get more of those approving nods; it’s like we’re on the sets of Entourage, without the girls blowing you kisses, and Turtle and Johnny taking down their numbers. For a convertible, especially a Mini convertible, getting those numbers is the only thing that matters – not price, not space, and definitely not practicality.
Just don’t try dropping the top in Versova and checking out the ladies on your way to Goregaon film city
Evo India rating: 3.5/5