Let’s be honest: Mini probably isn’t aiming the 2016 Cooper S Convertible at the super-tall, Nürburgring-based professional touring car driver demographic. I tested this car because BMW, Mini’s parent company, combined the launch of this car with the M2 and made us drive it first. That’s how I found myself in Southern California in a Mini convertible, top down, ripping up Mulholland Drive…. and loving it.
(Full Disclosure and Editor’s Note: Mini needed us to drive the Cooper S Convertible so badly they roped it in with the M2 launch, and let’s be honest, the world cares more about one of those cars than the other. So while Robb reviewed the Cooper S ‘vert too, we kind of forgot about it , but decided to run it today now that summer’s in full swing. Enjoy. —PG )
The last time I was seen in a Mini, I was doing pace car duties for a junior karting race held in a Home Depot parking lot. After the race was over I was corralled into giving some hot laps around the circuit for a couple of the sponsors.
I remember thinking then of the absurdity of driving a full-sized car around a track made for kids’ karts. But impressively, the Mini lapped the track with the nimbleness of a car half its size.
I’d forgotten how much fun I had with that car until my California trip. With the twisty confines of Mulholland forcing me to keep to 20 mph over the speed limit, I was able to enjoy the Mini in the best light.
Conversely, the hour long drive to get to Mulholland also showed the Mini in the light that it is most likely to be seen in by its future owners: bumper to bumper traffic.
The new Mini is definitely new but not as Mini as it used to be, with the 2016 flavor growing in virtually all dimensions. Like a teenager hitting puberty, the Mini increased 4.5 inches in length, 1.7 inches in width and 0.8 inch in height; it boasts a 1.1-inch longer wheelbase and a larger track width (1.9 inches at the front, + 1.6 inches at the rear.)
This means a weight increase too, of course. The new model comes in at 2,985 pounds to the old Cooper Convertible’s 2,811 pounds. There is an iPhone 6 Plus and now there’s a Mini Plus to match. (If you need to go even more Plus, there’s the Mini Clubman wagon now too.) Blame tougher safety standards, and maybe the fact that people just aren’t buying small cars these days.
Even though the new Mini has apparently hit adolescence, from the outside it still very much looks like a Mini. There is no real hint of the increased dimensions and the car still retains all of the styling cues that made the original Mini such a hit. It’s not until you see the new Mini next to the original (as we did later in the day) that you realize how gigantic the new Mini is to the original.
That being said, the growth spurt hasn’t changed the Mini’s basic character. Which is surprising because contrary to what your girlfriend tells you, bigger is not necessarily better.
The 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct injected four-cylinder motor puts out 189 horsepower and has a wide enough torque band to pull the car out of corners with some serious grunt. It made shifting almost irrelevant which is a shame because the 6 speed manual was a joy to drive with crisp short shifts.
Not when the canyon roads around Malibu were like crack to this Mini. The rock-solid chassis hustled through the massively cambered corners with the manners of a Scalextric slot car, the optional Dynamic Damper Control soaking up the broken pavement like a sponge.
Additionally the brakes were solid and progressive hauling the Mini down from “legal speeds” with the same deceleration as when you let go of the trigger on the controller of the aforementioned slot car.
After enjoying my top down blast through the canyons in the California sun, it was time to hit the highway and head back to our downtown base. Not wanting to mess up my freshly-coiffed ‘do at speed, I briefly flirted with putting the top up (which can be achieved in a matter of seconds at speeds up to 18 mph) but needn’t have bothered, because with the included wind deflector up, cabin wind was nonexistent.
Closing in on my final destination I finally put the top up, more just to see what it was like then out of any necessity. With the top up the Mini convertible became a regular Mini. That’s it. No muss, no fuss. Ten seconds.
Even cooler was the “sunroof” which takes the forward most section of the convertible roof and slides it backward opening up a pretty impressive section of the cabin to the elements.
This is a good thing, as one of the weaker points of the new Mini is still its interior. In terms of materials, it’s vastly improved over the old car, but still a bit too weird for my taste. The giant center speedo is a screen now, but it looks like the designers were trying a bit too hard to be trendy and fell a bit shy of the mark.
It’s kind of like seeing a guy wearing an Affliction t-shirt that wouldn’t have even been cool in the 30 seconds where wearing Affliction gear was five years ago.
However, the biggest nit I have to pick with the Mini is the other thing that has grown since the new car’s launch: the price.
The base three-cylinder Cooper Convertible starts at $25,950; the more fun four-cylinder Cooper S Convertible, which you will want, now starts at $29,600. And that’s before the plethora of options that adorn all of these cars.
Worse, the John Cooper Works version is a full $6,000 more than the S for 40 more HP and a .4 second quicker 0-60 mph time. That’s creeping up on Focus RS territory.
I know, the RS isn’t a convertible, and it’s a different market. So what? If I’ve only got the dollars to spend on one car as my daily, then you’d have to have Trump levels of schmooze to get me to pick the JCW Mini over the Focus RS.
And for quite a bit less than both, you can get yourself into a Mazda Miata for all the rear-wheel drive shenanigans you want. There’s also the Ford Mustang EcoBoost convertible, which is bigger and quite a bit more powerful.
So who’s the JCW for then? Well, surprisingly more people then I would have expected. It is a good handling, fun car that I think that (price aside) most enthusiast would actually enjoy. Its a very niché car that falls between the Miata and the Boxster. So if you want more power then the Miata can provide and you can’t afford the Porsche then Mini’s got your number.
If a fun, sporty convertible is your thing and you don’t mind spending a bit more dough, then the new Mini Cooper S ‘vert ticks all the right boxes.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find another Home Depot parking lot.
Robb Holland races in the British Touring Car Championship for Rotek Racing. He’s a Jalopnik contributor who basically lives at the Nürburgring most of the year and is also the tallest man in Germany.