When the standard Mini Cooper hardtop was redesigned in 2014, the convertible version remained unchanged. For the 2016 model year, the Mini Cooper Convertible has finally been updated. It's now slightly larger, yet more efficient and features a more user-friendly interior design. The fun-to-drive personality is still there; it's just a little easier to live with now.
What Is It?
The 2016 Mini Cooper Convertible is an open-top version of the standard two-door Mini. That car was redesigned for the 2014 model year. It featured a larger size, added features and improved performance compared to its predecessor. For 2016, the convertible is now based on the updated coupe, so it enjoys all of the same improvements.
The base 2016 Mini Cooper Convertible starts at $26,800 and possesses a 134-horsepower turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine. Standard feature highlights include a power-folding three-position fabric top, a six-speed manual transmission, a 6.5-inch infotainment display, dual-zone automatic climate control and synthetic leather upholstery.
For additional performance, there's the upgraded Cooper S Convertible that starts at $30,450. For the extra cost you get a 189-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, several exterior enhancements and sport seats in front with firmer bolstering. There's also an even more extreme performance-oriented model called the John Cooper Works that features a 228-hp engine and a starting price just under $37,000.
Notable options on the Cooper Convertible include a six-speed automatic transmission, a rearview camera, navigation system, head-up display, adjustable ride control, premium audio, leather upholstery and heated front seats. Buyers can also choose from a wide array of paint colors, wheel designs and add-on graphics. For the new 2016 convertible, a Union Jack woven into the fabric top can also be added.
How Has the Interior Changed?
Even though there is an abundance of hard plastics that are typical for compact cars, Mini's unique flair for design makes it feel more special than other cars in its class. Foremost among these touches are the circular styling motif and heavy toggle switches that pay homage to the original Mini from the 1960s.
Our well-appointed Cooper S test vehicle's dash was dominated by a large 8.8-inch information display framed in a circular control pod. Entertainment and navigation operations are handled by the same dial controller found in current BMWs (Mini's parent company). The system is easy to use after a little time, but one of our biggest complaints is the positioning of the controller. Set low on the center console, it requires the driver to reach awkwardly, something that is further complicated with the armrest in place.
Unlike the previous Cooper Convertible, the 2016 redesign goes without the kitschy "Openometer" dial that keeps track of how long the convertible top stays open. That function still exists, but it's now displayed in the central infotainment screen. That screen, along with the large gauges mounted to the steering column and optional head-up display, help keep the driver's eyes on the road.
Forward visibility is excellent thanks to a tall upright windshield with narrow roof pillars, but the view out the back poses some problems. With the roof up, the small glass window surrounded by the vast fabric top leaves the driver with a lot of guesswork when backing into a spot. The top doesn't fold completely flat either, and the rear headrests also obstruct the view. Unlike the hardtop Mini Coopers, the convertible makes a strong case for the rearview camera and parking sensor option.
What About Cargo Space?
With the Mini Cooper hardtop, you actually get a surprising amount of available cargo space considering the size of the car. The convertible is not so generous, allowing only 7.6 cubic feet of space with the top up. That figure drops to 5.7 cubic feet with the top stowed.
A movable divider between the top and trunk dictates the available volume. If left in the more generous up position, the convertible top is restricted to the partial sunroof opening only.
The rear seats do fold for larger cargo, but the pass-through opening is still limiting. In a pinch, the rear deck lid can be propped partially open for taller items, though the open airflow makes it feasible for quick trips only.
Is It Comfortable?
Despite being the midlevel sporty model in the Mini lineup, the Cooper S won't punish passengers with an overly stiff ride. With the optional Dynamic Damper Control system, the driver can select a stiffer ride in Sport mode or a more compliant ride in the Mid or Green modes.
The front sport seats are well cushioned for longer trips, and provide ample lateral support when cornering. Even though the Mini's footprint is small, the tall roof and smart packaging result in an abundance of space up front. The two rear seats are much smaller, and suitable only for small passengers due to the lack of legroom and low-mounted cushions.
Even with the top open and the windows down, wind buffeting is minimal, allowing the driver and front passenger to have a conversation without having to shout. The engine and exhaust noises are more prominent, though, which can be fun given the crackles that come from the exhaust when you lift off the gas.
The convertible top itself is rather unique, as it can also be partially retracted to provide a sunroof-like opening. Opening or closing the top fully takes 18 seconds and can be done at speeds up to 18 mph by holding down a single button.
How Does It Feel on the Road?
Mini Coopers have always been known for their fun-to-drive spirit, and this new convertible is no different. Compared to the hardtop version, there's little to no discernible open-top sacrifice. The convertible gains about 200 pounds in reinforcement, but much of that weight is placed low to maintain its agility.
The manual transmission's clutch and shifter have a rubbery feel, but the easy action of the clutch makes smooth conservative getaways effortless. Nicely spaced gears also do a good job of keeping the engine in its sweet spot, so there's always plenty of power on tap when you need it.
With a claimed output of 189 hp and 207 pound-feet of torque, the Cooper S gets up to speed with ease. Mini estimates the manual version will reach 60 mph in 6.8 seconds and the automatic in 6.7 seconds. The standard Mini Cooper should be about 1.5 seconds slower.
On a mountain road, the Cooper S is an entertaining little car to toss into curves. Body roll is well managed and the tires feel solidly attached to the road, even when that surface is bumpy. The car responds quickly to your commands so you always feel in control. On Coopers with the automatic transmission, there are paddles on the wheel that you can use to change gears, a nice feature if you like the predictability of choosing your own gears.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Does It Get?
The EPA estimates the 2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible's fuel economy at 29 mpg in combined driving (25 city/34 highway) with the automatic transmission and about 2 mpg less overall with the manual. These estimates are slightly better than competitors. The standard Mini Cooper is better still, with a rating of 31 mpg in city and highway driving combined.
What Safety Features Are Available?
In addition to the typical safety features found in all new vehicles, the 2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible includes head and thorax airbags built into the front seats, and rollover protection bars that automatically deploy behind the door and rear passenger headrests. Rear parking sensors and a rearview camera are optional.
Why Should You Consider It?
This is a fun car to drive that offers plenty of features and respectable mileage, too. It also allows for a degree of customization in terms of colors and options that most other cars in its class can't match.
Why Should I Think Twice?
All the charm that comes with a Mini doesn't come cheap. Base prices may be comparable to other compact convertibles, but adding options to get them similarly equipped may put them slightly out of reach. Convenience and practicality suffer with most convertibles, but the Mini Cooper's small trunk and rear seats force even more sacrifices.
What Does It Compete Against?
The Volkswagen Beetle has its own retro style and charm, but comes up short when it comes to handling. It does benefit from a roomier cabin and better everyday usability, though. The Fiat 500 packs a lot of fun into its pint-size footprint but suffers from poor visibility, a lower-quality interior and disappointing fuel economy. If you're willing to pack even lighter and go without rear seats, the new Mazda Miata is at the top of our list.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.