Durban is an almost perfect setting to launch the MINI Convertible. I say “almost perfect” because sometimes it rains incessantly for days on end. But when the weather does play ball only the words “South Africa’s playground” can come out of your mouth.
It was against this sun-kissed background that I took control of the brand new MINI Convertible along the east coast. This proved to be a great decision because I was able to negotiate small parts of the Valley of a Thousand Hills in one of the best handling cars in its class. That the body is 10% stiffer and the car 10kg lighter overall comes into play under these conditions.
The front-wheel-drive system takes advantage of the Cooper’s naturally aspirated 1.6-litre’s 88kW (120hp) and 160Nm of torque supplied. Mated to it is the standard 6-speed manual gearbox. At altitudes of between 5m and 300m this suffices but it remains to be seen how it will handle Gauteng. I’m encouraged though, by the fact that the Cooper coupe/hatch doesn’t suffer much here and that in fact those who drive this “lesser” MINI must not at all feel embarrassed. Its claimed 0 – 100km/h time is 9.8 seconds and top whack is 198km/h. Our fun route and apparently cement-fitted shoes made it impossible to achieve the stated 6.1 litres/100km fuel consumption.
Turbo boosted Cooper S on the other hand has more guts at 128kW (174hp) at 5500rpm and 240Nm between 1600rpm and 5000rpm with an extra 20Nm overboost function in overtaking. The 0 – 100km/h sprint is said to come around in 7.4 seconds and top speed is 222km/h.
MINI has the dubious distinction of being referred to whenever something tiny or small is discussed. Spaciousness then, is not exactly a forte the cars enjoy. The designers and engineers tried to overcome this by increasing the luggage compartment’s capacity by 5 litres (imagine you can fit in an extra two 2l bottles of Coke and Fanta plus a one litre of Appletizer) when the roof is down. Load space is 170 litres with the roof closed and 660 litres with the rear seat backrest folded down.
The canvass top can be sorted out in either direction within 15 seconds but if it’s only the sunroof function you want you can just open that part and leave the rest out. In keeping up with current technologies the roof can be operated at speeds of up to 30km/h.
Safety has not been compromised just because the roof is softer than passengers’ skulls. Rollover bars that react quickly in case of a rollover accident pop up in a matter of nanoseconds to protect the occupants. Some vehicles of other makes (I won’t say Mercedes-Benz CLK if you don’t) have the tendency to pop up their rollover bars even when hitting things like speed humps at higher-than-average speeds.
Something called Always-Open Timer is fitted and it appears just to the left behind the steering if that option is taken. It basically measures the amount of time the roof is down from the first time it’s opened. There’s really no engineering or performance purpose attached to the device so it’s just a gimmick for those with no clocks or watches. Exterior comes in 12 colours while the roof can be had in one of three.
Nanny electronics to help keep you in line and on the road include ABS brakes with EBD, Cornering Brake Control, Dynamic Stability Control and Dynamic Traction Control. Standard wheels have the MINI internal code of 2RK and come with runflat tyres, as does the rest of the MINI range. Disappointingly these are the ugliest bunch of wheels one can put on any MINI. You can of course get better wheels from about R7 400 a set or buy them cheapest at R22 500 (R11 300 for the Cooper S) as part of a package called the Chili pack that includes things like xenon headlights and a lights package.
Standard features are surprisingly plenty and count among others, park distance control, foglights, a chunky leather sports steering wheel with multi-function ability and four airbags.
MINI has sold over 164 000 units of this version globally since MINI came back to market. This represents about two in ten of total MINI sales. Though pricing is quite steep for the topless experience, MINI should not find too much trouble in its search for buyers, even though these guys will have to wait for three months to get their cars. Fans of the brand are known to be staunch supporters who hardly ever sell their cars, hence their high resale values.
The cars come with a 3 year/ 75 000km full maintenance plan which can be extended up to 200 000km if the buyer feels like it/ can afford it.
MINI Convertible pricing:
Cooper S automatic