The MINI Roadster has stolen its limelight recently, but the Convertible is still a mainstay of MINI’s ever-expanding line-up. Plus, in Cooper S guise this British icon has the hot hatch heritage to rival the new GTI. Not that you’d guess from the look of this new Cooper S Highgate model.
The Highgate Convertible is the latest in a series of special-edition cars named after fashionable areas of London, and has a distinctly upmarket look. What MINI describes as Iced Chocolate paintwork is matched to blue trimmed bonnet stripes, a brown roof and truffle-coloured leather seats.
There’s lots of kit, too. The Chili Pack is standard, so you get xenon lights, front foglights, a multifunction steering wheel and climate control. The cabin has the same highlights as the exterior, with blue piping, brown trim and plenty of Highgate badges.
Still, all this comes at a price – the Highgate costs nearly £4,000 more than a standard Cooper S Convertible, at £24,085. And while the cabin is far from low-rent, it can’t match the Golf and Audi’s for upmarket ambience. Still, what the car lacks in premium appeal it makes up for with sparkling performance.
Although the 1.6-litre turbocharged engine trails the Golf’s on power and torque, with 182bhp and 240Nm, the MINI feels every bit as fast because it’s more than 200kg lighter.
The engine is eager and happy to work hard, while the slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox is a joy to use. Pressing the Sport button weights up the steering and sharpens the throttle response, while the exhaust pops and bangs on the overrun.
Find the right road and the smaller MINI is more agile than its rivals. It turns in sharply, with plenty of grip and lots of feedback from the chassis. Still, this feisty nature can be a little too much at times.
For instance, it has less traction than the GTI, and the steering writhes around in your hands when you accelerate hard over rough surfaces. You’ll also be likely to notice a small amount of vibration around the screen, while the consistency of the steering’s weighting changes a little as the body flexes when cornering hard on bumpy roads.
A firm ride and boomy exhaust make the MINI tiring on long journeys, too. Still, as in the VW, the well made roof is fully automated, while multi-stage operation means the front section can slide back like a giant sunroof. You just need to be going under 20mph to stow the hood completely, but the folded fabric is left stacked behind the rear seats.
The MINI is also left trailing on space. There’s virtually no legroom for rear passengers, while the 125-litre boot puts a strict limit on the luggage you can carry.
But the Cooper S is good value, with the best residuals in this test, plus fixed-price servicing, low emissions and small tax bills.