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Geek Review: MINI Cooper S Convertible (2021 Facelift)

I completed a series of pottery lessons last month. In working with pieces of clay to create what would hopefully pass off as usable serve ware, I’ve often agonised over little details, spending double or triple the amount of time others typically would as I tried to make a vessel’s walls a little thinner or round off the base more smoothly. Eventually, I learned to embrace some of the imperfections and accept that they came with the territory.

The second facelift of the current-generation MINI feels like the brand’s own journey in tweaking and refining their cars, which were first introduced in 2015. MINI describes the exterior redesign in this facelift as a purification by reduction: the hexagonal surround is larger; the round headlights feature black inner housings to enhance their presence; and the front fog lights from the previous iteration are now replaced by vertical inlets at each corner of the front bumper to improve aerodynamics with the air curtains.

The Piano Black Exterior option suits the Zesty Yellow paint on this MINI Cooper S Convertible – the MINI logos, door handles, side scuttles, fuel cap, model lettering and tailpipes, as well as the surrounds of the headlights, radiator grille and rear lights, are finished in high-gloss black.

On the inside, the redesigned sports multifunction steering wheel with Piano Black controls and a new keypad structure is the same one featured across all the hatchbacks, from the MINI Electric and MINI John Cooper Works to the MINI One. Despite the fourth time of asking, I haven’t taken to it and found myself missing the previous design (see the 2020 MINI Cooper S Clubman). The MINI Cooper S Convertible also features the same updated five-inch multifunctional instrument display together with an 8.8-inch colour central touchscreen (read more about them here). Wireless Apple CarPlay is supported, but the lack of wireless charging options means occupants are not quite liberated from cables if their phone battery is running low.

The MINI John Cooper Works I reviewed a fortnight ago was an accomplished hot hatch, so as I started the engine in the Cooper S Convertible, I wondered if it was a mistake to have reviewed the JCW first since it’s difficult to come down from that sort of performance without being left wanting for more.

But what the Cooper S Convertible lacks in top-line numbers on paper, it more than makes up for with its more transparent driving experience. The poorer noise insulation because of the soft top made me feel more connected with my environment even with the roof up, which meant the convertible’s ‘flaw’ actually increased my driving engagement. The bassy engine note heard within the cabin always reminded me of the car’s Cooper S credentials; a 6.9-second century sprint time from a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that knocks out 178 hp and 280 Nm through a seven-speed Steptronic Sport double-clutch transmission is still on slouch.

But numbers only tell part of the story about the MINI’s performance, given how its typically short overhangs and sporty suspension characteristics contribute to a lively and communicative time on the go. The steering was just the right weight for me, relaying enough feedback without being unnecessarily heavy. The short wheelbase added to the car’s darty characteristics in the wet, and I could feel the car rotate as the tyres slipped slightly if I let myself get too lead-footed on the turns. Fitted with the same type of 205/40R18 Goodyear Asymmetric 3 tyres as the JCW, the Cooper S Convertible was just as exciting to drive. Despite not having the same brake system in its more illustrious sibling that was co-developed with Brembo, they delivered good stopping power and were easy to control; leaning into them progressively to shed speed on the approach to fast downhill corners, the Convertible held my intended line faithfully.

The Convertible’s electrically-driven roof can be opened and closed in 18 seconds and at driving speeds up to 30 km/h; the front section of the soft top can also be retracted by up to 40 cm to replicate a sunroof-like feature. The wind buffeting can get quite severe, however, and raising the windows only reduced the cabin turbulence slightly. This was where the open-top experience started to come apart for me, because the foldable wind deflector had to be manually installed over the top of the rear seats, which meant a pleasant roof-down drive can’t really be enjoyed spontaneously without faffing about with a metal contraption.

Rear visibility in the Convertible was limited because of the small window in the fabric top, which tended to collect water droplets in the rain. And because the soft top isn’t stowed inside the boot like most other convertibles, it obstructs the rear view when the roof is down. At just 160 litres, boot capacity isn’t much – nor is it the easiest to load and unload items due to how the tailgate opens to reveal a small aperture for accessing the space.

Many of these inconveniences aren’t new to the MINI Convertible since its earlier iterations, though. Through their two rounds of updates for this model generation, MINI have focused on updating the aspects of their cars that would have the most impact in keeping them up-to-date with what they believe their customers value.

Besides, driving with the roof—or even just the windows—down brings joy in a different form, and if you’re the sort who spends copious amounts of time in front of a mirror painstakingly styling your hair into its picture-perfect ‘do, then open-top driving probably isn’t for you. Like what I’ve learned from my pottery classes, it’s about focusing on the details that matter, and while it may be an unpopular opinion among driving enthusiasts, I’d choose to drive the Convertible over the JCW because it makes me feel more engaged and connected with my surroundings.

Special thanks to Eurokars Habitat for this opportunity.


The original version of this article can be read at Eat.Fly.Drive.

GEEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

The MINI Cooper S Convertible may have less impressive kit than its John Cooper Works sibling but it’s no less engaging to drive, and that’s what counts the most behind the wheel.

Overall
7.3/10
7.3/10
  • Handling - 9/10
    9/10
  • Performance - 8/10
    8/10
  • Design - 8/10
    8/10
  • Comfort - 7/10
    7/10
  • Practicality - 6/10
    6/10
  • Value - 6/10
    6/10


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