2016 MINI Cooper Review

2016 MINI Cooper - Drop-top sun, affordable price, fun-to-drive, the Cooper Convertible checks all the boxes.


MINIs are cute and diminutive. Though nearly 5 inches longer than before, the latest Convertible is no different. Getting a complete redesign for 2016, the new Convertible sports a familiar exterior but completely revised interior and chassis. Drop-top competitors are few but include the Buick Cascada, Mazda MX-5 and Volkswagen Beetle

The Convertible comes in three trims, Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works. Each trim relates to the engine fitted. The Cooper comes with a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine that makes 134 horsepower. The Cooper S gets a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 189 horsepower. The limited availability John Cooper Works edition gets a "souped up" turbo 2.0-liter that makes 228 horsepower. All models are front-wheel drive and come with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission.

Pricing starts at $25,950 for the Cooper. The Cooper S starts at $29,600 and the John Cooper Works lists for $35,600. Standard equipment includes 6-way-adjustable manual seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth and USB, and automatic climate control and power operated soft top. Cooper S models get sport seats, run-flat tires, LED fog lights, larger wheels and tires, and bigger brakes. The Cooper John Cooper Works edition adds bigger brakes and a stiffer sport suspension.

A Technology package adds a 6.5-inch display, integrated phone apps, navigation system and harman/kardon audio system. The cold weather package adds heated seats and mirrors. Finally, the available sport suspension brings dynamic damper control to further adjust suspension settings.

The MINI Convertible is assembled in the Netherlands and has a destination charge of $850. All Minis come with three years/36,000 mile no-cost maintenance plan.

Don't be put off by the Cooper's base 1.5-liter 3-cylinder. It provides decent acceleration and acceptable levels of smoothness. When pushed, the 3-cylinder will accelerate the Cooper Convertible from 0 to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds. That's certainly not quick, but acceptable for the class. Those wanting more punch can step up to the larger engine in the Cooper S. That turbo four accelerates the Cooper S from 0 to 60 in a touch under 7 seconds.

Both engines mate well to the 6-speed automatic. While the transmission isn't the smoothest shifting in the class, it provides nicely spaced ratios boosting passing punch while still providing relaxed highway cruising. There is a selectable driving mode that allows the driver to choose between Sport, Auto and Green modes.

EPA ratings for the Cooper Convertible with 6-speed auto are 27 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. Those numbers are tops among direct competitors. Unfortunately, premium-grade fuel is required, which somewhat negates the MINI's overall frugality. Thankfully, it's easy to top the EPA's numbers in routine suburban commuting. Plus, the Cooper Convertible has a nifty auto-stop feature that shuts off the engine at stoplights, further enhancing overall fuel economy.

Compared to most vehicles, the MINI Cooper Convertible is a grown-up go-kart. That's not to say the ride is unacceptable, but the short wheelbase, direct steering and firm suspension conspire to provide a firm, sporty and athletic ride. Opting for the available sport suspension amps overall road holding at the expense of some ride comfort, so be sure to drive each different model before you buy.

On the flipside, the MINI is delightful to drive quickly. The steering is direct and nicely weighted. Brakes have great stopping power. There's almost no body lean. Tires have great grip on dry roads. Add it all up and the MINI, in any trim, is a blast to drive around town and carve through twisty roads.

The 2016 redesign brought a sustainably stiffer structure. This certainly helps reduce vibrations and chassis judder - a common malady of convertibles. Still, Cooper Convertible isn't as quiet overall as you might hope. There's a fair amount of road noise at highway speed and more top-down wind buffeting that some competitors.

With switchgear and instrumentation getting a throwback look, MINI's quirky quasi-retro interior theme carries over into the 2016 model. Thankfully, functionality and materials got a definite upgrade. Overall the interior is appealing and modern while still retaining a bit of English charm.

Basic controls fall close to hand and the instruments behind the steering wheel are easy to read at a glance. Ancillary controls and even the start-stop toggle are a bit of a reach at the bottom of the center console. Also, the jog dial that controls the optional navigation system is located low between the seats, forcing an awkward reach. It's interesting to note that the beautiful 6.5-inch navi screen is probably closer to the driver than in any other vehicle, but doesn't support touch.

The convertible top goes up and down with the touch of a button. It doesn't sit flat behind the rear seats but has a finished look when down. There's a nice "sunroof" mode that powers the front section back while leaving the rear half in place. Sadly, the sound quality of the harman/kardon audio system is only marginal.

Front seats are highly sculpted and somewhat confining. They are certainly appropriate for the car's sporty nature but might be too firm for some. Front-seat head and leg room are generous. Visibility is a mixed bag. There's a good view forward and to the sides, but a large blind spot to the rear when the top is down.

Rear seats are nicely fitted, but don't offer much more than occasional room -- and even then best left to children. Getting in and out is facilitated by a one-touch handle at the top of the front seatback that instantly flips and slides the front seat forward.

At a touch under 8 cubic feet, cargo space is about what you might expect for a small convertible. It's certainly enough space for a weekend getaway, but you can't get a traditional golf bag though the smallish opening. At least the rear seatbacks fold, providing for additional storage space. A few cubbies and bins help boost meager interior storage.

MINI Cooper Convertible certainly isn't the car for everyone. However, if you are looking for a fun-to-drive, affordable, two-seat drop top that's more than just a summer car it certainly fills the bill. Fantastic fuel economy, a sturdy top and surefooted front-drive configuration are certainly bonuses. A well-equipped Cooper Convertible comes in under $34,000, so prices are reasonable as long as you don't go crazy with options.

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.