Anyone who knows me – either personally or professionally – will immediately tell you how this review is going to go: Rah-rah, all things MINI are wonderful, rah-rah go UK, rah-rah, Union Jack, rah-rah all hail the Queen.
Well, they’d not be wrong. But instead of skipping this entire review after reading that intro, I implore you to take a few minutes and delve a little deeper into this one. It’s going to get interesting (I promise).
The MINI Cooper has always held a special spot in my heart. And yet, I’ve never owned one. Odd, no? I hold a certain kind of kinship with the Cooper. From the moment I first got behind the wheel of one in the early 2000s, I was hooked. I’ve never driven a Mk1 (though I’m absolutely dying to), and I really only know how the modern-day MINIs drive. And yet, it’s enough.
My mother, growing up in the UK in the ‘50s, was driven around in a Mini Estate with my grandparents and her brother. She loved the Estate (not as much as the Allard, but decidedly a helluva lot more then the three-wheeled Reliant Robin they also had at one point or another), and she shares my love of the MINI brand and loves when I get to bring one home.
One of the first real words my son ever said was, “car.” Could have possibly been because I was constantly saying it in front of him, but that’s besides the point. I was chuffed when that happened. And even more so when one of the first car models he instantly recognized and pointed out on the road were MINIs. Always. He never failed to point one out. Instantly recognizable to a 2-year-old.
When I brought home the 2016 MINI Cooper S Convertible, that toddler awe and amazement remained as he excitedly clambered into the back and demanded I drop the Union-Jack decaled soft-top for open-air driving. How could I say no?
Roof down, sun shining in, and my iPhone hooked up to the MINIs all-new iDrive-inspired infotainment system; “Come Together” by the Beatles started to play quietly through the Harmon Kardon sound system and form the back seat I hear, “Mummy, I love this song. Turn it up!”
And so, I do.
Next questions: “Mummy, who is this?”
“Why, it’s the Beatles, of course.”
“They’re so good! We need to listen to them all the time when we’re in the MINI!”
As I cruised around country roads, open highways, and cramped city streets in the MINI Cooper S drop-top with the Beatles blasting on stereo and my near-5-year-old rocking out in the back, wind whipping through his almost-white blonde hair I realized that this, this is why I love MINIs so much.
Every time I get behind the wheel I’m overcome with this giddy feeling. These cars make me happy. They make me smile. They make me excited to drive to my destination, no matter what that might be. Suddenly, going to the bank to pay bills or picking up forgotten eggs and milk becomes interesting and something fun. Errands are no longer lamented chores; instead they’re epic drives and adventures to be experienced.
It’s not only the driver with a grin on their face in a MINI either. Whether it was my son, my mother or my best friend in the car with me, we were all smiling. All the time.
I know a great deal of my grinning came from the fact that this particular MINI Cooper S was equipped with a 6-speed manual (really, the only way a MINI should be equipped, by the way). And with “Sport” engaged and centre-console mounted screen prompting me to “Motorhard” it really is impossible not to feel jovial. And if you’re into it, the Cooper S will automatically rev-match for perfect downshifts every time. (Side note: If you’re fast enough with your own revs, you can override it, because it can’t be turned off.)
Of course, the MINI Cooper S was dressed to the nines with all the latest in interior creature comforts that included the all-new Leather Chester Malt Brown quilted seating, contrast piping and carbon-fibred detailed paneling across the dash. As mentioned above, the grey-scale Union Jack decal on the retractable soft-top roof was a fabulous touch (as were the matching mirror caps). Looking at this particular model, optioned the way it was, I assessed this is precisely what I would order if I were to own a MINI Cooper S Convertible myself.
My only real complaint, and it pains me to say it, is the flimsy pop-up head-up display screen that can (thankfully) be retracted into the dash behind the steering wheel. It’s distracting and looks cheap and like an afterthought when it’s raised. I understand MINIs need to “fit in” and play in the big-boy BMW world of head-up displays, but in this case it just looks horribly tacky.
It’s always hard to give back the keys to a nice vehicle at the end of a week behind the wheel, but it’s particularly hard for me to hand over MINI keys because I feel such a connection with the car. Like saying good-bye to a long-time friend and not being sure when I’ll see them again. I know we’ll have fun times together again soon. Hopefully.
There’s so much in the world that makes us sad, angry, frustrated, upset, and generally stressed. So, it’s no wonder the MINI Cooper is so appealing when all it does is make you smile.
2016 MINI Cooper S Convertible
MSRP (all-inclusive): $35,335
Configuration: Front-engine, front-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 2.0L 4-cyl Twin Power turbocharged, 6-speed manual
Power/Torque: 189hp/207 lb-ft
0-100km/h: 7.2 seconds
Competition: Volkswagen Beetle convertible, Mazda MX-5, Fiat 500 Cabriolet
- Instant mood lifter, so much fun to drive
- Can be fuel efficient (depending on how you drive)
- Can be personalized to the nth degree
- Trunk is very small due to drop-top
- Only seats 4
- You will not drive it carefully and so will not garner great fuel results (you've been warned)