Motor Mouth by Gordon hall

Back to Minis past: 2016 MINI Cooper convertible a/t

It’s like going home.

This MINI hasn’t been stretched, fitted with too many doors, or robbed of its character. It’s one you put on and wear, like a favourite jacket that fits just right. We’re talking about the 2016 Cooper convertible – 288 mm (almost a foot) shorter than Paceman, on a wheelbase cut by 101 mm and noticeably narrower and lower. Its only oddness was the six-speed automatic. Our inner purist bristled at first, but one adjusts.

The front view. (yes really!)

The front view. (yes really!)

We had offered our Editor, an ex-Paceman owner, a quick spin up through the Meander to fetch her teenaged son from school for the mid-term weekend. “Oh dear, this could be awkward,” she said, noticing that it offered somewhat less rear leg room than her old car had. Appearances deceive, though. We slid the left seat forward a smidgeon so that son James could still fold himself in without too much trouble and relegated Phillippa to the back seat for the homeward leg.

We usually spend an hour or so exploring electronic gadgets just before the car’s fleet manager arrives to claim it back, but this time it wasn’t necessary. James paired his phone with the car’s infotainment system in nothing flat so the “old folk” could listen to some alternative music. He then cycled through the built-in toys while pointing out the features of each. It saved time and meant that everything could be found and demonstrated safely while Scribe attended to driving.

The soft top opens or closes, at the press of a toggle switch, in 18 seconds and can be deployed at speeds up to about 30 km/h. When open, it nests itself neatly atop the bodywork above the boot lid where, unfortunately, it blocks the lower third of the vista through the rearview mirror.
When driving topless, with no-one in the back seat, one clips a folding screen across the open area to cut down on wind turbulence. It fits or removes in a few seconds and, when no longer needed, goes back into the teeny box-like boot.

This has the traditional MINI lid that drops down, rather than lifting up, so getting luggage in and out could be awkward, but the new one has a secret weapon called Easy Load. A pair of levers within the boot lift to release part of the bodywork above the cavity, so allowing that portion to hinge upward and make loading easier. To close, all you do is push the levers back down.
The roof looks like an old-school, manually folding, job with metal framework bulging through the canvas. But although struts and joins are visible from inside, you cannot see any actual ironmongery. It fits well with no hint of leaks in wet weather or wind whistle while driving. Like most others, though, it isn’t really happy being open above about 110 km/h when wind noise and turbulence begin to interfere with conversation.
Being a thinly disguised BMW, much of what was fitted turned out to be optional extras. We liked the John Cooper Works (JCW) package priced at R8600 that provides warmed leather sports seats with under-thigh extenders, a JCW leather-clad steering wheel that included R4300-worth of satellite controls that would otherwise cost extra, sporty aluminium pedals, leather covering for the gearshift knob and bespoke sill plates. Options we could take or leave included a heads-up display at R6800, an Excitement Pack (coloured mood lighting and MINI logo puddle lamps) priced at R3050, bonnet stripes at R1000 and a three-way driving mode selector at R3850.
Decent music reproduction is not negotiable, however, so we appreciated the Harman-Kardon upgrade (R7900) that supplied an eight-channel amplifier, 12 speakers and a stated total of 410 Watts of output. It sounded good and clean with no discernible distortion.

Because it’s a plain Cooper, rather than Cooper S, this car is fitted with BMW’s three-cylinder 1500 cc engine rather than the 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit that develops significantly more power (141 kW vs. 100 kW). Make no mistake, though, 100 kilowatts is more than enough to propel the car to 100 km/h in under nine seconds and on to a top speed of 206. The automatic box reacts quickly and smoothly to inputs and its six ratios are nicely spaced. We almost forgave it for not being manual.

Sexy back view

Sexy back view

Briefly, the MINI Cooper is swift, tight, nippy and immensely enjoyable. Thanks to its adoptive parent, it feels solid and well-built too. And, according to a recent British survey, cabriolets hold their resale values better than tin-tops do. We could get used to having one around – even on rainy days.

Test car from MINI SA press fleet

The cheat sheet
Base price: R397 000
Engine: 1499 cc, 12-valve, inline three-cylinder turbopetrol
Power: 100 kW at 4400 rpm
Torque: 220 Nm at 1250 rpm
Zero to 100 km/h: 8.7 seconds
Maximum speed: 206 km/h
Real life fuel consumption: About 7.2 l/100 km
Tank: 40 litres
Boot: 160 litres, but seatbacks fold flat
Maintenance: 5 years / 100 000 km
Servicing at 20 000 km intervals