Although it’s owned by BMW these days, the still British-built Mini doesn’t look that different to the original car, which revolutionised small cars in the 1960’s and led to all the hatchbacks we see on the roads today. A little-known fact, fifty years ago the Mini Cooper S set a record at Bathurst that stands today. Not only did it win the classic event, but Mini’s filled the top nine places.
Stars of stage and screen fell in love with the Mini, including the Beatles, with George Harrison’s psychedelic painted Cooper S appearing in the movie ‘Magical Mystery Tour’. The Mini also starred in both versions of the Italian Job alongside Michael Caine and Mark Wahlberg respectively.
One thing that’s not ‘Mini’ is the huge choice facing buyers, with three and five-door versions, petrol and diesel engines, manual and auto transmissions, a soft-roader and a convertible; which we are driving in Cooper S form.
My first day with the Mini didn’t go to plan. It bucketed down, but I discovered the rag top, complete with union jack embossed on it, kept me dry and did a beaut job of suppressing outside noise, so I could enjoy the Harmon Kardon audio system.
When it did stop raining, I dropped the roof with a click of a button and enjoyed the serenity of open top motoring, wearing an ear to ear grin.
Inside the Mini Cooper S you’ll find BMW like fit and quality. The retro theme continues here too, with chrome toggle switches, door handles and instrument surrounds. The soft leather seats are wonderfully comfortable and finishing it off nicely, there’s brushed aluminium and gloss black trimmings.
Mounted on the steering column is the instrument cluster with an analogue speedo and tacho in old-school font. Sitting in the central display (where the speedo sat in the original Mini) is the circular infotainment screen with the outer edge changing colour depending on the drive mode selected. Featured in the system is satnav, Bluetooth, Digital radio and the Mini office, which lets you send and receive emails and text when parked.
The driving position is near perfect, legs outstretched, arms slightly bent, the small, multifunction steering wheel set high, seat positioned low and everything within easy reach. Up front, it is surprisingly spacious but very tight in the back.
A flick of the large chrome toggle switch fires up the punchy 147kW 2-litre turbocharged four, which emits a burble at idle. All three drive modes, Eco, Mid and Sport can be switched on the move. Eco mutes the performance but maximises efficiency and is suited for city motoring. To be honest, Mid setting didn’t feel much different to Eco, but Sport sure did. When selected, a go-kart and rocket appear in the central infotainment screen and given the transformation of the car, the graphics are appropriate.
The Mini Cooper S convertible is wonderfully engaging and addictive. Its wide track, pin-sharp handling, velcro grip, electrically assisted go-kart steering and flat cornering tingles your senses and the suspension does a good job of ironing out bumps.
Jump hard on the accelerator and its ample low and mid-range torque flings you up the road, each rapid fire upshift in the six-speed autobox signalled with a guttural exhaust note and every downshift, a volley of pops and backfires.
The Cooper S convertible is well decked out with fog lamps, dual-zone air-con, gear shift paddles satnav, Aux Input USB Socket, heated washer jets, keyless start, Bluetooth, bonnet scoops, partial leather trim, trip computer, multi-fun and cruise control. At night, the Mini logo lights up the ground under the mirrors.
It also has all the safety stuff like traction and stability controls, ABS brakes and the like, but they sit in the background and don’t impede your fun behind the wheel.
Although bigger and heavier than the Mini of the 60’s, BMW has captured the essence of the original Cooper S, but in a totally contemporary package.
Niggles? Just one. Trying to pry the keys from my now Mini-loving partner.
The Mini Cooper S convertible delivers a smile-making, unadulterated driving experience that makes it worth every cent of its $45,400 price tag, plus on-road costs.