WEST BLOOMFIELD, MI – The Mini Convertible is no heavyweight, as big punchers from Chevrolet, Ford and Volkswagen dominate annual U.S. sales in the segment. But the car is as important to the quirky British marque as the Union Jack.
“It is fundamental to our brand,” says Magnus Aspegren, director-product planning at Mini. “If you think about Mini, you think hardtop, 2-door and you think about a convertible.”
So while 7,000 units annually in a robust sales year is just a fraction of what the Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang or VW Beetle droptops may deliver over 12 months, the arrival of a redesigned Mini Convertible is met with equal excitement, because it goes together with the brand like chips and bitter.
“This is a nice extension of the brand,” says Aspegren, newly arrived to his position at Mini from BMW Design Works USA. “It is playful, fun-to-drive and fits the lifestyle aspect of the brand.”
It also receives a substantial jolt of refinement for ’16. The redesigned convertible moves to a newer platform used in the hardtop line that promises improved driving dynamics with BMW engine technology for the first time, tighter fit-and-finish, higher-grade materials and a lengthier queue of customization options.
At the same time, the new model is more practical than its predecessor, Aspegren says, with extra roominess and cargo space. At a starting price of $25,950, it is a modest $250 more than the previous-generation car despite all the new content and the most economical European-sourced convertibles available.
“The practicality of the car is there,” he tells WardsAuto at a media event here. “It’s a very good business case. And if a consumer were looking for a premium convertible, this would be the car to get. The outlook from our perspective is very positive.”
In addition to the standard Cooper model, buyers can step up to a Cooper S variant at $29,600 or the fastest Mini Convertible ever with the John Cooper Works model at $35,600. All pricing excludes an $850 destination and handling charge.
Standard is a gasoline direct injection inline 3-cyl. with BMW TwinPower turbocharging technology. The 2015 Wards 10 Best Engines winner makes 134 hp and 162 lb.-ft. (220 Nm) of torque. The 1.5L engine easily motivates the 2,855-lb. (1,295-kg) Mini Convertible around the Lake District here and a lively foot returned 27 mpg (8.7 L/100 km).
Moving up to the Cooper S model shifts to a GDI inline 4-cyl. with TwinPower making 189 hp and 207 lb.-ft. (280 Nm) of torque. The JCW boasts a 2.0L 4-cyl. with 228 hp and 236 lb.-ft. (320 Nm) of torque. Mini estimates the Cooper S will hit 60 mph (97 km/h) in 6.8 seconds.
“We benefit greatly from our relationship as part of the BMW Group,” Aspegren says with a grin.
Base models come with a standard 6-speed manual transmission, while a 6-speed automatic is optional.
A Bona Fide Mini
The chassis of the Mini Convertible becomes more rigid with the new architecture, which heavily employs high-strength steel, and it feels nimble and well-composed in the curves. Crossbeams are added to the convertible from coupe models with a gain of about 200 lbs. (90 kg), although weight distribution remains an optimal 50/50.
The redesign adds integrated rollover braces in place of hoops on the old model, and Mini says the top is quieter when it is up and folds more quickly in a switch to fully electric operation versus a combination of hydraulics and manual work on the predecessor. It folds almost completely into the body of the car. The soft top includes a nifty sunroof mode, although there is a fair amount of wind reverberation using it with the windows up.
There are 11 exterior color choices, including new offerings in Honolulu Blue, Bermuda Blue and Aquamarine, and a uniquely executed Jacquard weave for the rooftop Union Jack is optional.
Premium seating options include new Malt Brown leather with diamond stitching recalling a classic English Chesterfield sofa, although standard leatherette in the Cooper tested here looked and felt like the real McCoy for hundreds of dollars less although it does not dazzle as much.
The Mini Convertible also joins new models in the range with infotainment and connectivity options up to snuff with the competition with items such as a standard 6.5-in. (16.5 cm) high-resolution center display screen with third-party app capabilities. Customers can upgrade to an 8.5-in. (21.6 cm) screen with inclement-weather warning to alert them when to close the top.
But since the emphasis is on top-down driving, the car comes with an “Always Open Timer” to log how much time is spent with the roof retracted.
The convertible segment in the U.S. is not what it was a few years ago, as automakers have narrowed their entries. But for Mini, which boasts brand strength in convertible-friendly markets, the car makes sense, Aspegren says. And drawn off an acclaimed Mini Cooper platform, it comes with few compromises versus a hardtop.
“People are expecting a rigid chassis,” Aspegren says. “People are expecting good performance. People are expecting fuel economy, not a top priority at the moment, but they want the car to be reasonable. Our car is fulfilling those requirements.”