Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Vince Pornelos | posted November 04, 2011 13:32
The Open Top Dream
I have to admit, I'm a sucker for convertibles now.
Yes, I know some say they're hairdresser's cars or even "chick" cars, but driving with the top down is something every car enthusiast should get to do at least once. There's just no feeling in the world like it.
We've driven the MINI Cooper before and had loads of fun with it, but now its time to see what MINI's convertibles are like. And oh, it just happens to be a Cooper S Cabrio. Insert smiley here.
On the outside, there's not much difference in terms of the overall look. There are, however, some subtle differences (when compared to the Cooper S hardtop) like the wheels, the trunk (it flips downward) and the cool Union Jack on the fenders. Oh, and of course, the retractable soft top roof. More on that later.
Inside, again, it's signature MINI. The large dials, the tachometer that stares you in the face, the 3-spoke wheel (for the Cooper S models) and the funky controls and buttons. I still don't like the redundant BMW-style paddleshifters (up/down for both), but it does make driving with one hand rather easy. This upgraded Cooper S Convertible still doesn't get the audio system in the new Countryman S that we tried earlier in the year, but its not a big deal. Aux-in works fine and the sound quality is good for such a small car.
Up on the ceiling is a toggle for the retractable roof. Pull and hold it the first time and the soft top roof slides back, making for a larger-than-usual sunroof. Pull and hold it again and the entire roof lifts up and folds to the back, giving you open top freedom.
Taking it out for the first time, the Cabrio S is easy to fall in love with. The engine, like its brothers in the S line, is a turbocharged 1.6 liter twin cam that is capable of 175 horsepower and 240 Newton meters of torque. Because it's a twin-scroll turbo, there's not as much lag as expected, and the car can accelerate from 0-100 km/h in a claimed 7.7 seconds, though 8.3 seconds was the best I could do... though I think my heft ruined the power-to-weight ratio.
Some think that making a convertible out of a coupe is an easy deal. Just cut the roof, install a folding one and voila! Instant cabrio. Well, no. In fact, making a convertible perform as well as its hard top counterpart is one of the hardest things to do in automotive engineering. Because the roof is being removed from a monocoque/unibody car, you're losing out on the car's structural integrity.
Common sense states that by removing the metal roof, the car should be lighter. It's the exact opposite. Engineers have to beef up the floor of the car to cope with the lost rigidity that the car provides, meaning more weight to reinforce the frame, not to mention the heavy mechanism for the retractable roof. As a result, the Cabrio S gains 90 kilos of weight by removing the roof over the standard Cooper S.
Also, by having that extra beef in the framework and suspension, the comfort and ride of the car has been significantly compromised. You should have a rag handy if you happen to have a cup of Starbuck's (or whatever coffee you prefer) in the cupholder when you run over a bump.
No, the Cabrio S is not a very comfortable drive. What it is, like any other Mini, is an exhilarating drive. Even when just in the confines of the city you can have plenty of fun. Even more with the top down.
The transmission, a 6-speed automatic, is derived from BMW. In town it's smooth, but when you engage sport mode it will hold on to the gears longer, allowing you to use the full rev range. Of course, you should get used to the (again, redundant) paddle shifters before you try the manual mode. There is also a noticeable amount of torque steer, but its the kind you can play with.
As it stands, the PhP 2.995M Cooper Cabrio S was the most expensive of the range until the Countryman came along. For sheer driving (sorry, BMW) fun, driving the Cabrio S easily puts a smile on your face... and everyone else around you too.
Got your sunglasses ready?