It’s finally convertible season for parts of the country that don’t perpetually feel like summer and, lest you forget, the 2017 Mini Convertible is a tiny bundle of open-air fun.
Sure, Minis can be pricey with options and accessories, but a local test drive of the new model reminds us that this little critter is a blast to drive. And despite the small package, the Mini Convertible is a four-passenger car.
This is the third-generation Mini, a marque of the BMW family and thus subject to a premium level of design, engineering, and execution. The new Minis ditch past engines developed with PSA for a new family of modular BMW gasoline and diesel engines with three, four, and six cylinders.
The base engine is a version of the 1.5-liter, turbocharged three-cylinder BMW debuted in the BMW i8. In a Mini it generates 134 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. Most people won’t even realize a three-cylinder is under the hood and it’s a great fit for the new Convertible, which enters its second model year for 2017 (the visually identical 2016 model is pictured here).
The Mini Convertible in Cooper S form moves up to a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo, good for 189 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. Upgrade to the top-of-the-line John Cooper Works model and the 2.0-liter turbo-four generates 228 horsepower and torque increases to 236 lb-ft.
Acceleration from 0-60 mph is manufacturer-estimated in 8.2 seconds for the base engine, 6.7 seconds for the Cooper S, and 6.3 seconds for the John Cooper Works model—add 0.1 second for each if you want a six-speed manual instead of the six-speed automatic. The smooth and quick manual, makes driving this front-drive car a summer treat. About 20 percent of buyers are expected to go manual. EPA-rated fuel economy for the 2016 model year is up to 27/38 mpg city/highway on a manual-transmission, base-engine Cooper trim for the 2016 model year—still respectable despite gaining about 170 pounds (2017 EPA numbers haven’t yet been released).
The chassis is stiffer and there is an optional Dynamic Damper Control system with normal, sport, and eco modes. Whichever you choose, the Mini has not lost its signature go-kart handling. Cornering is gleeful and the turning radius is ridiculously small.
It is a true convertible and top-down driving is relatively protected from the wind; no need to put the windows up.
The Mini Convertible now has a fully electric top—the prior model was a combination electric and hydraulics and it was louder and took longer to open and close. For $1,250 you can get a woven Union Jack flag top of a fiber alloy material containing aluminum. The top folds down completely and does not encroach horribly into the cargo space. The redesign of the back provides a bigger opening through which to get luggage in and out.
The car is bigger—4.5 inches longer, 1.7 inches wider and almost an inch higher—providing 25 percent more cargo capacity for a less-cramped 7.6 cubic feet, or 5.7 cubic feet with the top down.
The overall look is a bit more sculptured and refined, but is unquestionably Mini. The visible roll bars of past Mini convertibles are gone as the bars now come out when the car senses a rollover. Inside are some delicious colors including a malt brown leather interior option. Although the toggle switches have been updated, fortunately they remain a mainstay. The steering wheel is hand-stitched; drivers will appreciate the addition of a center armrest, and the lighting options create a customized ambiance.
Standard equipment includes a 6.5-inch screen that replaces the dinner plate-sized speedometer from the last car, in the center of the dash.
Last year the automaker sold more than 58,000 Minis in the U.S. and convertibles accounted for just over 4,000 units including the Convertible and discontinued Roadster. Magnus Aspegren, head of Mini product planning, expects Convertible sales to increase with the new model, which seems possible as consumers continue to buy new vehicles in record numbers and there aren’t many four-passenger convertibles on the market.
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