A couple of years ago, at a conference on the future of automobile design, I recall asking the legendary Gordon Murray — one of the greatest automotive designers ever — what he considered to be some of the best designs of the 20th century. Chewing over the question briefly, Murray mentioned the original Mini Cooper, among a few others. Despite having designed some of the world’s most sensational supercars, Murray isn’t given to visual extravagance — it’s quite the opposite, in fact, since he advocated simplicity and functionality of design over everything else. And that’s exactly what the Mini Cooper has always been about — simple, good old-fashioned fun on four wheels.
It takes a great design to survive the rigours of time and still be instantly recognizable, and there’s no mistaking a curvy, round-eyed, striped little puppy for anything but a Mini Cooper. Many a purist has prophesied the end of Mini-ness, as international safety norms and a few other engineering concerns inflate the Mini’s exterior to a point of no return. That day might be approaching fast, but all we need to contend with is the fact that that day is not today. The 2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible has been courteous enough to not break away from tradition, and is still the hottest hatch you will find in a thousand square kilometer radius.
It’s not too different from the previous one. The canvas roof folds a bit quicker (18 seconds), and there’s a bit more cargo space in the new one. To add to the novelty, the new one also gets a Union Jack pattern woven directly into the fabric, so that you really don’t mistake the Germanbuilt car for anything but a British automotive icon. The Mini Cooper has evolved from a sprightly little runabout to hot hatch royalty ever since BMW revived the brand, and it’s easy to see why. On a winding mountain road, with the setting sun for company, the Mini is absolutely magical, dancing to the soundtrack of that rorty John Cooper Works exhaust.
The soft-top folding mechanism on the new Mini Cooper S Convertible takes only 18 seconds to open up
The John Cooper Works Mini Cooper S is the most powerful variant available in the Mini range.
This is the absolute top-spec car, retailing at Rs 34.9 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai). For that money, you get a turbocharged 2-litre, inline-four petrol engine which puts out 192 bhp of power. At the moment, this is about as agile and fast as hot hatches get in India. In terms of handling, the convertible is just as great a handler as the standard, 115 kg lighter hardtop version. Its power is deployed quite effectively, but it all boils down to the acceleration. For quick sprints around city traffic and a tasty set of switchbacks, the JCW Cooper S is extremely compliant and rewarding. It’s vast, linear tracts of tarmac that don’t interest its modestly sized engine, with power tapering from the 5000 rpm mark.
The electrically operated roof, once tucked away, reveals an extremely stylish cabin — another attribute that allows the Coop’ to gain traction over its immediate competition. Tan leather seats are accompanied by a funky, round centre console — one of the best in the business, with one of the most intuitive user interfaces in the market. It’s the vibe that the Mini Cooper generates that has allowed it to become such a strong lifestyle statement. Being a one-car brand helps, but there’s something uniquely stylish about the convertible that sets it apart from anything else in its range. The kind of attention a relatively small hatchback can get on India’s chaotic streets shows that the Mini is still a celebrated automotive icon, making it a deliciously appealing option in an environment where superlative speed and wedge-shaped exoticism can prove to be infuriatingly impractical in everyday life.