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The monsoons aren’t the time to be driving a sporty convertible, and we found out the hard way
It was the first time in two hours that I turned the wipers off. Heavy clouds still hung low in the sky, threatening to ambush us with their fury, but that didn’t stop me. I reached up to the switch above the windscreen and retracted the Mini Cooper S Convertible’s roof. The windows came down, the canvas roof detached itself and within seconds it was folded, and stowed away behind me. There was no way I was going to be cooped up in that Mini (no pun intended) any more. My brain was already frazzled courtesy some brilliant planning by the evo India photography team and I needed to air-cool my bald head. The monsoons are actually a great time to drive a convertible, when it isn’t raining obviously. The tropical sun is hidden away, temperatures are pleasant and the scents floating through the countryside would shame any fancy ass cologne. Absolutely brilliant, until an approaching car splashes through a puddle and gives you and the interiors a good dousing. Don’t make a liquid-cooled joke, I’ll punch you.
Here’s some context: we planned to drive the Cooper S Convertible at one of our regular shoot locations, but some genius decided it would look great with the Pawna lake in the backdrop. So we set course only to find that the road had been eroded and all that were left were craters that would give the Mars Rover nightmares. Now, the photographers hanging out the back of an SUV trundled through it slowly, but not particularly uncomfortably. Never in my life did I think I would want to be driving an SUV over a Mini Cooper S, the ten-year-old in me would have been horrified at this thought. But then again ten-year-old me wasn’t babying a Mini Cooper S through a minefield while offering silent prayers that the underbody comes out unscathed from every pothole.
You will notice that there are no photos of the Mini Cooper next to the lake. That’s because the rain was pissing down on us when we got there. The car was filthy (hence my language) and we just decided to pack up and call it a day. And that’s when it all came together. A hard left onto an alternative route back to base, one where the road contractors hadn’t used water-soluble chocolate for tarmac, and all those nerves that had knotted themselves silly on the way in were un-frayed. A nightmare on a bad road, but on smooth, wet, winding black-top? The Mini Cooper S is nothing short of therapy.
It follows the hot-hatch textbook to the tee — small dimensions and reasonable power. It isn’t supercar quick, but it is plenty for thrashing through the hills and entertaining yourself to the heart’s content. The motor is a special little thing — 2-litres, making 189bhp and 280Nm. Doesn’t sound like much but then again, it accelerates to the tonne in just over seven seconds and maxes out at 230kmph. Numbers are only half the story; the Mini is an eager little puppy. Peak torque kicks in as low as 1350rpm, the twin-scroll turbocharger does well to hide lag, and you ride a flat torque curve until the seven-speed DCT slams in the next gear. It has everything you’d want a turbo-engine to be — torque that shoves you firmly back in the seat when it lights up, paddles to shuffle through the gearbox (an option, mind you) and it even sounds entertaining in Sport mode. It’s all a bit muffled with the top up, but with top down you can hear the intake woofling, the exhaust barking on the upshift and spitting on the overrun, making things rather theatrical. It’s no JCW exhaust, despite the JCW stickers on the steering wheel, but it puts a smile on your face and that’s what matters.
Like any Mini before it, the highlight of the Cooper S Convertible is its handling, despite the roof being lopped off at the expense of torsional rigidity. You notice it on typical bumps on the highway where the rear view mirror vibrates like crazy, a clear give-away of scuttle shake and the tightness of the Mini being not quite tight. But then again on damp roads with standing water around every corner, the Convertible still showcases that Mini DNA coursing through its veins. The short wheelbase means it pivots around itself sharply and the steering is direct. The steering is heavy in Comfort mode and heavier in Sport — gave me a proper workout when I was manoeuvring it through the potholes, and isn’t particularly easy to use in the city. But out on the open road, this very facet makes you feel so connected to the car. As the Ed says, we’ve forgotten what good front-wheel drive steering is. The Mini, this has good steering; good feel; good response. The chassis responds near-telepathically to inputs and the lack of understeer even on wet roads is commendable. Ride quality is on the stiffer side even in Comfort mode with the adaptive dampers (an `80,000 option), and Sport mode is pointless unless you’ve got a flawless patch of tarmac to attack.
There’s not too much that is new on this facelift. The best way to tell it apart from the older one is the Union Jack incorporated on the tail-lamps. Not sure it’s a great idea to be driving around with a symbol of this country’s colonial past on your car (the Irish called it the Butcher’s apron). To be fair though, it is a cool touch if looked at purely aesthetically. It also gets new headlamps and DRLs, new wheels, and the new Mini logo that was unveiled last year. The overall aesthetic of the car is typically Mini, and not too much has changed on that front.
The interiors are comfortable and rather unique if you haven’t been in one of these little cars. Mini has aimed for quirky, and not held back. It retains analogue dials, but it does get a digital readout nestled in the speedo. The centre console follows the elliptical theme with the screen being housed in a round cluster with LEDs that light up according to what function of the car you are using – it changes with the drive modes, the climate control and even when you change the music volume. The front seats are fairly comfortable though space at the back isn’t too great. There are leather seats, specced in satellite grey in this press car. These light interiors always lend a sense of airiness but when you’ve got no roof, well, you’ve got all the airiness you need.
The Mini Cooper S Convertible remains a car with a single focus — putting a smile on your face. It is a proper hoot to drive, and the droptop makes it so much more dramatic. All this talk about it being effeminate is a load of crap. Fun doesn’t have a gender. It’s brilliant for dashing up the mountainside, but also makes going to the stores to pick up milk more of an event (don’t you have an app to get your milk? — Ed). It’s pricey, that’s for sure — it costs Rs 38.3 lakh (ex-showroom) for the base trim, and you won’t be too pleased when you realise how little the base trim comes specced with. The reversing camera is a Rs 50,000 option, while CarPlay can be had for Rs 40,000, but only after you spec it with the Rs 1.2 lakh navigation option. Then again, fun shouldn’t have a price. Just… use it in places it was meant to be used. Now excuse me while I get back to educating our photography team on what ground clearance is.