Words & Images: Amit Chhangani
The last time we took a MINI (Countryman S) out for a spin, we thought it’s the most attention grabbing car we had driven on the pristine Aamby Valley roads. This time, when we took the MINI Convertible out for a test, the bar was raised more than a few notches. For the two days in Lonavala with the car, we felt like celebrities with unprecedented attention and adulation being showered our way wherever we went. There’s something about MINIs – they may look small and all, but on the road, hardly anything could ever match the sheer number of eyeballs they can grab.
The Cooper Convertible loses the two extra doors of its big bad Countryman cousin for a more compact and stylish demeanor. The aggressive, frowny snout of the SUV is replaced with a cute, alluring face. The bumper is differently designed too with a wide central air dam lined with chrome and housing a chrome slat in the middle. The convertible has a plastic under-cladding all round like the Countryman though and resembles the bigger machine somewhat in the design at the lower half of the rear portion as well. Needless to say, however, the Convertible doesn’t have the length to house the extra set of windows and the rear quarter glass.
With the roof down, and the stowed roof still visible in the back as a clump, the MINI tugs at a car lover’s heart, compelling him to have a second and third look. If, however, you are averse to so much attention being directed at you, the mechanically operated roof will shield you from the prying eyes by completing its cover-up act in a mere 15 seconds, even on the move at speeds up to 30km/h. With the ragtop in place, the MINI Convertible does lose some of its hypnotic charm, but still manages to be one of the most attractive things on the road.
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Cabin comfort and features
Being a two-door four seat (well) machine, the bigger focus of the Convertible is to get people ogling at it and letting the driver and the front passenger experience open top motoring at its best. Facilitating a comfortable interstate transport for the back benchers is not the priority here. Having said that, the back seat isn’t compulsorily meant only for dogs or little kids. Even a medium sized adult can hop in and travel short to medium distances in the car without having to be a contortionist. I put two of my family members in the backseat and they didn’t have any problems traveling 20-30 odd km at a stretch. Two kids, a 14 year old girl and a 12 year old boy were entirely cheery after a one way 140 km drive.
The front seats have to be dropped down and shifted forward for access to the rear seats. Inside the cabin, you get a delightful fusion of retro elements and modern tech. A big analogue speedo takes most space on the central console. There are ribbed leather seats, aircraft turbine styled a/c vents and loads and loads of chrome – the interior that won us over when we drove the Countryman is more or less the same in the Convertible, at least the front part.
The aircraft style chrome plated, shiny stainless steel toggle switches placed between steel hooks are a treat to the eyes. Although not very ergonomic, those retro style switches would still make you roll down a window, or turn on a light just to use them. And you get one extra such button on the Convertible, the one to deploy and retract the soft top.
The cabin is built solid with use of expensive materials, put together with a built to last feel and finished immaculately. The seats up front are nice and comfy with good lateral bolstering. The chunky three spoke steering wheel is nice to hold, with buttons audio, telephone and cruise control buttons mounted on it. The retro styled central console rimmed with a speedo houses a coolly backlit modern digital interface to control various functions.
Apart from all the retro bling, you get automatic air conditioning, auto transmission, park-distance control and driver seat height adjustment as standard. If you want more, there is a liberal options list too, capable of setting you back by lakhs if you wish for the extra bells and whistles.
The front seats are not electrically adjustable even as an option. The access to the boot is via the tail. Pressing the boot release on the stylish lolly shaped key makes the lid come out and create a flat bed, making for easy loading and unloading of luggage. The 60:40 split seats can be dropped for expanding the boot space and through loading. In addition you also get a backseat parcel tray as an accessory in case you simply want to pop your smaller bags and other stuff over the backseat. For those of you who would fancy lighting a cancer stick while driving in open air, MINI have also included a Smoker’s package.
The engineers at MINI have done a great job of letting the occupants enjoy open top motoring without getting perturbed by the wind. Wind is deflected exceptionally well, and you won’t suffer messy hair until you are doing speeds well above the triple digit figure. You do get to hear ambient sounds (in most cases noise) rather well though, even with the ragtop up. There is a rollover protection system in place as well which deploys the neatly hidden rollover protection bars only on sensing an accident. The single-piece roll bar behind the rear seats extending across the complete interior width of the car doesn’t obstruct the driver’s line of visibility in any way when looking to the rear and moves up automatically only in the event of an imminent rollover. Apart from the rollover protection system, 4 airbags (2 front and 2 head-and-thorax airbags), Brake assist, ABS, Runflat indicator, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and 3-point seat belts on all seats complete the safety net for the MINI Convertible.
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Engine & Gearbox
Under the bonnet the Convertible houses a rather humble 1.6 liter engine with 122 bhp of peak power and 160 Nm of peak torque at 4250 rpm. Those figures translate into a 0-100 km/h sprint time of about 12 seconds and a top speed of 190km/h. As you would reckon, those are not very impressive numbers for such a sporty car. The S Convertible gets the kind of power that befits this machine, but is unfortunately not available in India.
The Convertible is short by more than 60 bhp as compared with the turbo powered S variants. The Torque shortfall is even bigger. The engine makes all the right sounds, but doesn’t quite have the addictive shove of the S variants. The sonorous whoosh of the engine, audible even more clearly with the roof down doesn’t quite translate into the heady acceleration you’d expect from such a sexy looking machine. Kickdowns are required at regular intervals if you wish to pass a swift machine ahead of you with confidence.
The four-cylinder engine on the MINI Convertible features a fully variable valve management developed on the basis of the BMW Group’s VALVETRONIC technology. The intake valve lift and the valve opening period are adjusted to the driver’s respective power and performance requirements rather quickly. A further point is that valve timing is varied on both the intake and exhaust side as a function of engine speed. The feature lends the Convertible a reasonably good lower to mid-rev grunt and the car is comfortable ambling around the city on soft throttle with higher gears engaged.
Transmission duty is taken care of by a 6 speed Steptronic automatic transmission and the power is laid down on the tar via front wheels. The automatic transmission featuring electronic management can be handled manually also by shifting the selector lever in Manual mode. Gearshifts on the MINI Convertible are reasonably good and the system works well at slow to moderate speeds. While driving the car enthusiastically, however, there is a perceptible lag especially during kickdowns. The problem gets more pronounced while negotiating sharp uphill curves where there’s a pressing need to shift down quickly owing a sudden change in gradient, and when that doesn’t happen, you momentarily feel powerless. Even shifting down manually takes a wee bit of time if you wish to shift up the rev range by a big margin. The MINI Convertible could well have done with a quicker shifting tranny. There are no flappy pedal shifters available as standard, however, if you so wish, you can order them as an optional extra for a price. (See options list in the features section)
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Ride and handling
To facilitate the much publicized ‘go-cart’ like handling, the MINI Convertible is sprung quite stiffly. It’s not your everyday car, and if you expect it to take the potholed Indian roads in its stride with ease, you’d probably be too optimistic. The ride quality is taut and though slightly softer than the even harder S grade suspensions, still qualifies as stiff enough. We had a tough time traversing the 20km rough stretch from Aamby Valley to Club Mahindra’s Lake Pavana Resort. The road to the resort is in a bad shape, and we had to practice extreme caution to ensure occupants’ comfort as well as car’s own health.
The steering is quite well weighed and direct though. It’s appreciably communicative and managed to let us feel the wavy imperfections on the Mumbai – Pune concrete expressway rather clearly. Though not as heavy as the S variants’ wheel in Sport mode, the steering on the Convertible is well-weighed enough to prevent us from having any complaints.
Where the MINI Convertible excels is on smooth, well paved roads where it delights the driver with its incredibly sure footed handling and communicative steering. The smooth twisties on the way to the Aamby Valley are just the kind of roads the machines from the MINI stable are meant for. Even with the FWD layout, there isn’t any unnerving understeer and the MINI Convertible’s three spoke wheel feels uncannily neutral and direct around bends.
As discussed earlier, the relative lack of power and a slow transmission does sometimes rear up as a hindrance while negotiating sudden and sharp uphill corners. The Convertible still comes across as a bagful of fun around ghats though. This holds especially true while going downhill where the short wheelbase machine simply dazzles you with its amazing levels of grip and terrific balance. Road, tyre and engine noise is more audible than on a fixed hardtop and in all honesty we would rather have those sounds than not on a convertible.
There isn’t any dearth of steering feel, or grip, or balance with the MINI – just that it’s too stiffly sprung to negotiate undulations. It’ll reward the driver as long as it’s running on well paved, smooth roads, but the Convertible hates imperfections on the tar – even the minor ones. It tends to bounce and skip over them. We had a blast driving back from the pristine twisties of Lonavala, but had to consistently keep an eye for the rough surfaces.
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Sure as hell, the MINI Convertible isn’t one of the most comfortable and practical cars around. And sure as hell, it’s one of the most stunning looking cars around and sits right at the top of the eye candy hierarchy. It’s not an everyday car, and requires an occasion to be enjoyed. However, with the right weather, right roads and right companions the MINI Convertible can deliver a motoring experience which very few cars in the world can match.
Even with its shortcomings such as limited space, stiff ride and a not-so-insulated cabin, the MINI Convertible is quite unmatched for the celebrity status it instantly grants you and the unforgettable experience it delivers when you take it out for a morning drive up the hills. It’s a different car, for a different breed of people. Most of all, for a price of nigh Rs 32 lakh ex-showroom, we can guarantee that no other car is going to deliver you so much exclusivity, snob value, attention and delight. Moreover it’s probably the most desirable car for a woman – easy to drive, loads of fun and an epitome of cool. So if you want to join the list of most envied boyfriends or spouses, gift your girl one now!
|Body||MINI Cooper Convertible Automatic|
|No of doors/seats||2/4|
|Length/width/height (unladen)||mm||3723 / 1683 / 1414|
|Track, front/rear||mm||1459 / 1467|
|Tank capacity||approx. l||40|
|Cooling system incl. heater||l||5.2|
|Transmission oil incl. drive train||l||Lifetime|
|Weight, unladen to DIN/EU1||kg||1205 / 1280|
|Max load to DIN||kg||430|
|Max permissible load to DIN||kg||1635|
|Max axle load, front/rear||kg||880 / 780|
|Max trailer load2 braked (12%) / unbraked||kg||– / –|
|Max roofload/max download||kg||– / –|
|Luggage comp to DIN||l||125 / 175 / 660|
|Air drag cx / A / cx × A||– / m2 / m2||0.35 / 2.00 / 0.70|
|Config/No of cyls/valves||Inline / 4 / 4|
|Engine management||MEV 17.2.2|
|Max output||kW / hp||90 / 122|
|Battery/installation||Ah / –||55 / Engine compartment|
|Suspension, front||Single-joint MacPherson spring strut axle with anti-dive control|
|Suspension, rear||Multi-link axle with aluminium longitudinal struts and centrally-pivoted control arms|
|Front brakes||Vented disc|
|Diameter||mm||280 × 22|
|Diameter||mm||259 × 10|
|Driving stability systems||Hydraulic two-circuit brake system with anti-lock brakes (ABS), Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) and Cornering Brake Control (CBC), ASC+T traction control, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with Brake Assist and Hill Start Assistant, optional: Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) and Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC). Parking brake acts mechanically on rear wheels|
|Steering||Electric power steering (EPS); 2.4 rotations in total|
|Steering transmission, overall||:1||14.1|
|Tyres||195/55 R16 87V|
|Wheels||6.5J × 16 LM|
|Type of gearbox||6-speed automatic transmission|
|Gear ratios I||:1||4.044|
|Final drive ratio||:1||3.683|
|Power-to-weight ratio to DIN||kg/kW||13.4|
|Output per litre||kW/l||56.3|
|Acceleration 0–100 km/h||s||11.1|
|In 4th/5th gear 80–120 km/h||s||– / –|
Next Page for Features and Options with Images>>>
Features & Options with images
Spec sheet and options list for the MINI Convertible
Aircraft turbine inspired AC vents are beautiful and functional.
The cabin looks absolutely fabulous. There is space for kids at the backseat. Medium sized adults can use the back seats for short journeys, provided the driver and front passenger is not too tall.
Harman Kardon audio system would cost you Rs 92,000 extra. Sounds great though.
Chunky steering wheel is a delight to hold. Mounted controls include volume, seek, buttons to make and receive calls, and cruise control
Door panels don’t have much space. Do we care?
The big, beautiful center console forms the soul of the MINI’s cabin. Retro styled speedo is on the rim. There’s another digital speedo in the instrument console.
Various readouts on the instrument console.
Aircraft style steel switches look absolutely stunning. Notice the the roof operation switch in the center.
The white dial, chrome lines instrument console looks beautiful
Would you believe it? There is a boot too! The roof gets stowed above the rear deck releasing some space for small luggage. That lid can take a weight of 80 kg. Also, you can drop the rear seats for through loading.
80 kg weight limit for the boot lid.
Rear seat parcel tray, and the procedure to install it.
205 / 45 – 17 inch wheels. There is not dearth of grip from those lo-pro Continental tyres
The lever behind the front seats to drop them and get out of the backseat
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