Mini Cooper S convertible: On manoeuvres
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SUN OUT, ROOF OFF, THE COOPER S CONVERTIBLE MOVES TO ITS OWN EXHAUST BEAT
My second, and most beloved, car was a 1972 Morris Mini that came to an unfortunate end when it was stolen, twice, by a 14-year-old fanatic of the famous British car.
The Mini maniac stole it from outside my flat, took it back to his house, fitted it with a new stereo and tyres and spray-painted Michael Jackson album titles on the outside (which gives you a clue of the timeframe). The police found it three weeks later and I reinstated it outside my flat, only to find the next morning that the 14-year-old and his mates had stolen it again, this time writing my Mini off.
When the teen appeared in youth court, there was a long line of Mini owners whose cars he had also stolen.
Twenty-something years later I wonder what happened to the teen Mini fanatic. Is he selling Minis or is he a Mini mechanic, or should Mini owners of Auckland still be aware of a Michael Jackson-loving thief?
Despite the incident with my cherished Mini, I still have affection for the car and even had a chance to visit the Oxford plant when BMW Group launched version 2 of the new Mini in 2006.
So, given the chance to have the first media test drive of the new Mini Cooper S convertible, I snaffle the key fob from Mini NZ's brand manager and roar off before there are second thoughts from the company.
The performance Cooper S is priced from $53,990, with my model specced up to cost $58,200, including a sports six-speed automatic transmission and the stunning Caribbean Aqua metallic paint finish.
That hero colour is a standout and Mini NZ says a number of Kiwi customers have pre-ordered this hue. It's one I'd pick, too.
My test vehicle also comes with front (heated) and rear leather seats, rear view camera, parking assistance and Harman Kardon 12-speaker stereo system. The convertible is also sitting on 17in propeller style alloys.
The Cooper S convertible is powered by a 2-litre petrol engine producing 141kW of power and an impressive 280Nm of torque, while it goes from 0-100km/h in 7.1 seconds.
Mini's latest convertible is built on the platform of the third-generation hatchback that was launched in 2014. It is larger than the previous generation Mini convertible, at 98mm longer, 1mm taller, 42mm wider and increased legroom for rear passengers of 35mm.
It has a larger and deeper boot, providing 215 litres with the roof on and 160 litres with the roof open. The boot also has an Easy Load function that swings the roof frame out of the way during loading; a 50:50 rear seat split helps when packing the Mini with long items.
The two rear seats, while gaining legroom, are suitable only for small adults or children, with my 1.524m teenage daughter reporting that, with the roof on, the head space is limited and the back padding uncomfortable.
The roof can be opened via the key fob. Hold the open button and the roof rolls back to a sunroof measurement, push the button again and it retracts fully within 18 seconds.
The function can operate from a distance, which makes it practical. While waiting to cross a busy city road, I point the fob at the parked car and have the roof open before I even step off the footpath.
The roof can also be operated inside using a toggle-style button near the roof, with the front, sunroof -style retracted at any speed and the soft top retracting fully at up to 28km/h.
When the roof is fully open, it folds on top of the boot which can obscure your rear view while driving although the rear-view camera is great when reversing out of parking spots.
With the roof on, the cabin space is insulated with little traffic noise but, at speed or on rough bitumen, there are distracting rattles through the space -- which even the stereo can't block out.
I know the rattling will annoy some people, but on smooth roads such as motorways it isn't as obvious.
The Mini has three drive modes: green, mid and sport. The green is to help gain factory fuel consumption figures of 5.8l/100km via a diagram in the front console that indicates the sweet spot you should be driving in and warns you when you're a leadfoot with a picture of a foot lifting off the throttle. Message received.
While you can try to be a thrifty driver, any attempt is thwarted with sport mode; the throttle response is instantaneously ramped up and the infotainment Mini made for city manoeuvres
screen promises "go-kart" style driving. And it is. Add to the alluring "bop-bop-crackle" from the exhaust and you're in for delightful driving -- when on decent bitumen.
Around Auckland city, the Cooper S convertible is fabulous to drive in sport mode, especially with the roof off. But on our trip this week to visit the Leadfoot Ranch at Hahei, Coromandel, the pitted bitumen and stiff suspension in sport mode took its toll.
The exhaust noise can't make up for the rough ride quality, which is a shame as the Cooper S convertible has some of the best handling in this segment, providing effortless cornering and sure footedness.
To counter the effects of a rough drive from Tairua to Hahei, we have a blat in the Mini up the ranch's famous driveway, the setting for the annual Leadfoot Festival held by Rod and Shelly Millen.
The Mini's quick steering response and minimal body roll make it a joy to take on the famous corners of the driveway, while heading back into Auckland the sport mode proves effective when overtaking.
But it's around the city that this car is in its element, with the combination of the roof off, the sun out and the exhaust as the soundtrack.
Thanks to Shelly and Rod Millen for the use of the famous Leadfoot Ranch driveway for our photo shoot (leadfootfestival.com).
MINI COOPER S CONVERTIBLE
Price: From $53,990
Engine: 2-litre petrol engine (141kW/280Nm), optional auto
Pros: Roof off, Sport mode is fantastic
Cons: Roof on, rough road isn't fantastic