Car Review: the MINI Cooper S Cabrio

Sexy and topless… Get ready Jakartans for a whole new dynamic in car pleasure—the true joy of cruising around the city totally topless, day or night. Welcome to the world of the MINI Cooper S Cabrio. By Renaldi Hutasoit


You might wonder why anybody would want to drive a convertible car in hot, humid and polluted Jakarta. This does not seem to be the most logical purchase. For one, you would not want to open the roof 10 percent of the time you are driving the car, maybe less. Second, storage space is inherently smaller due to the mechanism of the folding roof. Third, and sometimes most important, you would have to pay a steep premium over the same car, but with a fixed roof, about Rp 60 million in the case of the MINI Cooper S Cabrio (notice the all capital spelling of the BMW-owned MINI, as opposed to the original Mini).


I too was a skeptic when it came to cabriolet (convertible) cars. In addition to the above points, being a driving enthusiast and a race car driver, I know that with convertibles, especially the four-seat versions, you would lose some chassis rigidity, which, in turn, makes the car handle less well. However, after driving the MINI Cooper S Cabrio I am a now changed man. We start with the chassis. Contrary to my initial thought, the MINI Cooper S Cabrio’s chassis felt very rigid, which, in automotive engineering parlance, means good news. I was expecting some hood shake and squeaks from the 3,000-km-old demo car, but there was absolutely none. This with the suspension setup tailored more toward handling and not comfort, with the stiffer springs.


Nevertheless, the chassis never once showed that it was lacking rigidity. The steering was accurate and very responsive. Turn in was immediate. The shocks and springs are in perfect harmony, which provides excellent transitional stability. The car felt light on its feet even during a quick left-right-left maneuver that would unsettle any other front drive car this side of a hot hatch. Whatever I asked of the car to do on the road, the car took it in stride. The MINI Cooper S Cabrio does corner really, really well. Whoever did the R&D for the suspension definitely deserves a raise. If he (or she) had managed to rid some harshness from the ride without sacrificing the already excellent handling, then a promotion is certainly in order. A switch to non-run flat tires might be a good start. The S version of the MINI Cooper has never been considered slow.

The twinscroll turbocharged 1.6-liter engine is capable enough to produce a maximum of 184 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and most importantly, 240 Nm within a broad 1,700 – 4,500 rpm range. I can gladly attest to the fact that the MINI Cooper S Cabrio does not have any perceptible turbo lag at all. Even from standing start, the power delivery is very similar to a large capacity 6-cylinder but without the bulk or weight that would hamper the cornering ability. From 0 to 100 kph is done in only 7.6 seconds, according to MINI’s conservative estimate. By my watch, this time should be closer to seven seconds flat. With a top speed in excess of 220 kph, you will never need more power or speed on the road. But, if you are still craving more power, there is still the John Cooper Works Cabrio version with 211 horsepower. Not that fuel cost should worry you if you were MINI owner or would-be owner, but my overall fuel consumption during the three days with the S Cabrio was about 8 km per liter, although during highway drives, the car gets about 11 km per liter. Still pretty decent for Jakarta’s stop-and-go traffic and my heavy right foot. The MINI Cooper S Cabrio is very direct. You think it and the car does it. Spot a gap in traffic, press the throttle and the car is there.


Not only does it have enough power to move its 1,300-kg body, all that power is transmitted through a 6-speed automatic transmission with the option for manual shifting. If you are in a rush, press the ‘Sport’ button. The gear shifting will follow a much more aggressive map, holding to gears longer and downshifting earlier. With this map, as you enter a turn the car will downshift to the right lower gear that can pull you out of it the quickest. In other markets, the MINI Cooper S Cabrio is also available with a manual transmission, but trust me, in Indonesia you don’t need it. Pressing the Sport button will also make the exhaust go snap, crackle and pop on the over run. To the uninformed, this sound could be thought of as a symptom of an out-of-tune engine. However, to those in the know— especially car enthusiasts familiar with the original Mini, this sound actually mimics the sound a high-performance/race-car exhaust noise during that era. So it drives great, pulls great. But it does not stop there.


In fact, for Indonesia, MINI pulled out all the stops. Inside, you will be greeted by a full leather interior and a wonderful Harmann Kardon audio system. A comfortable seating position in the MINI Cooper S Cabrio is easy to find, because of the tilt and telescopic steering column and also the height-adjustable seat. The MINI is not a huge car, but you can certainly be comfortable inside. With the Cabrio version, the rear seat width is less compared to the hatchback version, due to the roof folding mechanism. Nevertheless, two average-sized Indonesian adults would not complain too much for in-town drives. Looking out, visibility is great. Only on the rear quarters is it slightly blocked by the rear corners of the roof where normally a C pillar would be. The roof cannot be any easier to operate by pressing one button and nothing else. You can even operate it up to a speed of 30 kph. Unlike other convertibles that need to be at a complete stop, you only need to slow down to unfold the roof when the sky opens and starts to rain. Further, the roof can also be opened halfway so you have an extra-large sunroof.

One convenience I found with convertibles was that if you have a relatively large, oddly shaped object that you need to transport, just open the top, place it on the rear seats and close the roof. Voila. With the roof up, the MINI Cooper S Cabrio was relatively quiet. However, the downside to having a roof made of fabric, no matter how good, is that you can hear outside noises more than you would have with a hardtop roof. This is not anywhere near the annoying level, though, and perfectly livable. Something very unique to the MINI is the MINI-Connected system, where you can connect—sadly, not wirelessly—your I-thing (put in your own words there, Pod, Phone or Pad) and your MINI then transforms into a ‘person.’ It will communicate the status of the car to you in a conversational way. It talks to you. It even tries to comfort you when it rains. Really. This is where the MINI brand excels. The car is great.


As a car enthusiast, the MINI Cooper S Cabrio ticked all of my boxes. However, BMW knows that there are more people out there who will appreciate convenience, playfulness and comfort more than the act of driving itself. With this car, you are acquiring a lifestyle product that says something about yourself like your shoes, watch, bag, shirt, etc. The MINI is more than a car, it’s an accessory that you can enjoy to drive. Being proudly made by BMW (there are a plaque on the door sills that say so) the driving enjoyment is guaranteed. I know, by now you would comment that you don’t need a convertible car. The truth is not many people, if any, really do. Just like no one needs a luxury car, or a sports car, or a humongous SUV. These are cars that prompt you to own them because you love them and can afford them. The first two days I had the car with me it was mostly raining. While the car was perfectly fine with the top up under the rain, I was coming to terms with the notion that the extra premium charged for a convertible is a waste. It was hard for me to think differently.


Then came sunny Sunday morning. Destination Serpong, via the Simatupang toll road, so at least a 30-km drive. I left home at 8 a.m. with the missus and little miss, already with the top down right out of the gate. The sun was shining with no clouds in sight. AC at maximum (admittedly only to the benefit of the front passengers), all windows up to minimize wind buffeting, cruise control set at 108 kph, light traffic on the road, Beyonce on the Harmann Kardon. My God, this feels heavenly! Everyone has to drive the MINI Cooper S Cabrio like this at least once in their life. That rare 10 percent opportunity to take the roof down really makes up for the other 90 percent of the time you have it closed.




SPECS: MINI Cooper S Cabrio

Engine: Twin-scroll, turbocharged 1.6-liter

Power: 184 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm

Torque: 240 Nm between 1,700 and 4,500 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed automatic with option for manual shifting