Alfa have the Alfisti, Ferrari have the tifosi and Porsche have…the Germans? All manufacturers have their faithful, regardless of what they decide to call them, but a new breed of ultra-fan has seen an emergence over the past 16 years or so. The MINIac. Since its revival at the turn of the millennium, the MINI brand under the auspices of BMW AG has grown from strength to strength, as have both their products and the following thereof. Appealing to a wide variety of humans from funky youth to nerdy petrolhead, the MINI’s universal appeal is arguably the secret to its success.
This universal appeal is a theme that can be seen right through the evolution of MINI, right from Sir Alec Issigonis’ original to the modern day F56 model, German engineering and all. In short, a MINI feels just at home on the high street being flaunted as a fashion item as it does on the racetrack, treating it’s driver to a little bit of lift-off oversteer.
Now in its third reincarnation, the BMW era MINI is more advanced, refined and efficient than ever before, so for the high street flaunter, that is very good news indeed. But what of the oily-handed tinkerer who enjoys taking his engine apart and putting it back together just for fun?
Both the R53 and R56 Cooper S models offered impressive ‘go-kart like’ dynamics and performance, with the earlier supercharged models offering a harsher ride with linear supercharged power and the later R56 being a little more pleasant for everyday use but with boosty power delivery and a throaty exhaust burble. They were both relatively uncomfortable as everyday cars, but at least you knew that you and your bruised pelvis looked urban-chic. Whatever that means.
Which brings us to the main topic of this little ditty. The brand new MINI Cooper S Convertible or F57 to those who speak in code. Sporting 141kW and 280NM (300NM on over boost) from it’s now completely BMW derived 2 litre inline 4 ‘TwinPower’ unit, it certainly delivers the goods when the right foot is planted, but immediately there’s an issue. With the refinement of a 1 series and the build quality of a 3 Series, the MINI has immediately lost a great deal of ‘that go-kart feel’. This is a great shame for the oily weirdos who wouldn’t even be able to take a modern MINI apart, but this is where MINI’s newest droptop does a brilliant job, not at blurring the lines but in fact, defining them.
In ‘Mid Mode’ with the top down and youthful tunes blasting through the excellent Harman Kardon sound system, one could not actually look cooler. Few cars at this price point offer both the street cred and brand cache that MINI does. Switch the car into ‘Sport Mode’ however and the MINI tightens up like a yoga instructor and farts like a flatulent grandpa on the overrun. This is further enhanced with the omission of the roof, as well as a slightly louder exhaust tune for the Convertible over the Hatch. For those with money to waste and the desire to be heard 2 blocks away, the optional John Cooper Works active exhaust system for the Cooper S delivers aural pleasure like few 4 pots can.
In conclusion – what the rest of the MINI range may have lost in the way of excitement due to much-improved refinement, it has certainly regained in everyday usability and comfort. While this may be perfectly suitable for the fellow with a satchel or Tasha’s patron, it just doesn’t cut it for the MINIac in overalls. The day, however, is saved by the MINI Convertible where its lack of a roof and ever present MINI cheekiness still shines through. It may be pricey starting at R389 00 for a Cooper Convertible, but at least now you’re getting the quality you’ve paid for!