Mazda MX-5 1.5-litre automatic 2015 review
Richard Berry road tests and reviews the Mazda MX-5 1.5-litre automatic with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
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While many cars have to serve particular purposes, such as the school run, groceries and uncomfortably frequent trips to IKEA, we're grateful that some cars are still simply about having fun.
And if there were any one shortcut to fun, it'd have to be the convertible. With the roof down, Australian speed limits don't seem all that low, the long way around doesn't seem that long, and every break in the clouds is reason enough for roof-down celebrations.
The new Mini Convertible seems to follow the drop-top brief to the letter; there's a folding cloth roof, dynamic handling and the ability to have about 20 miles of headroom in 18 seconds.
The all-electric unit folds away the Mini's soft top and stows it in a neat bundle at the rear of the car. While it's true that many modern convertibles can stow the roof out of sight, Mini's Product Planning Manager Daniel Silverwood says that the origami roof is a bit of a design signature for the brand.
Would sir care for diamond-quilted leather on his seats?
"The way the roof folds back is part of the design; it balances out the lines from side on," he says.
"And, because about 38 per cent of Mini Convertible customers buy one based entirely on the exterior design, it's something we really had to get right."
And, perhaps because Mini Convertible buyers are such aesthetes, there's a plethora of ways to customise each convertible. There are four option packs, nine different alloy wheel designs and no fewer than 45 discrete options to choose from in total. While certain options are pretty standard fare – a Harman/Kardon stereo, a larger media screen, and so on – there are some truly unique choices to personalise each car.
Expect to see this scene in a Mini dealership near you: "Would sir care for diamond-quilted leather on his seats? And how about you, madam; would you like racing stripes and a piano black interior? Right this way…"
As wonderful as a basically bespoke Mini sounds, convertible buyers of old have had to go without certain practicalities, such as a large cargo area, useable rear seats or decent headroom with the roof up.
However, thanks to its brawnier dimensions – and some clever engineering on Mini's part – the boot space is up from 170-215 litres. Inside the cabin, there's enough room in the front for LeBron James and, if he isn't driving, enough space in the back for a couple of kids.
In further concessions to practicality, the convertible features ISOFIX mounting points for both rear seats, as well as a standard reversing camera.
Even though the old base-spec Mini Cooper Convertible was a $42,700 proposition, it had to make do with a pretty paltry 1.6-litre, naturally aspirated engine. And, while the 1.6-litre turbo in the Cooper S was a much stronger performer, it meant a $51,150 drain on your bank balance.
The new Cooper Convertible, with a brilliant turbocharged 1.5-litre, starts at just $37,900. You’ll likely drop a few thousand more on options and personalising, but you’re still ahead. So too with the sporty Cooper S; with a bigger, more powerful 2.0-litre turbo, it still comes in at just $45,400.
If you needed to describe how the Mini Convertible drives in a way that fits on Twitter, you'd probably be most accurate with "This thing is so much fun! #onlymycarisMini #sunsoutgunsout".
Both models benefit from BMW-Mini's new turbocharged, direct-injection engines and smooth-shifting, six-speed automatics. Mini has reworked the transmission in the Cooper S to deliver faster, crisper shifts than the Cooper, but you'd struggle to find fault with the base model's response. The Cooper S also gets a pair of shift paddles to help you bang through the gears on a twisty bit of road. Or on the way to work, if that's your thing.
Quick, responsive handling is a bit of a Mini mainstay, so it's great to see the dynamic ability of the hatch translate so well to the convertible. Usually, cutting the roof off makes for a floppy mess but, thanks to a series of well-placed strengthening beams, the drop-top Mini feels rigid and planted.
And, although the reinforcements do come with a 115-120 kilogram weight penalty over the three-door hatch, the convertible never feels sluggish or like a second-rate option to the hard-top.
The fully independent suspension strikes a great balance between handling and ride comfort. The sharp response is helped in no small way by the convertible's short wheelbase, wide stance and low centre of gravity. If you've grown accustomed to your family SUV, it'll take time to relearn just how agile cars can be when you're not three feet in the air.
This is a car best enjoyed with the roof tucked away
With the roof down, however, it's easy to forget about driving dynamics and start soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of the road around you. And, at speeds up to about 80km/h, it's easy to maintain a conversation and roughly 90 per cent of your hairstyle. At anything above that, it's probably best to get the roof up, but you will have to slow down to about 30km/h or less so the system will let you operate the controls. At highway speeds, the wind buffeting with the top down isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it can wear a little over time.
With the roof up, wind can make a bit of a racket as it whips across the fabric but, thanks to Mini's attention to NVH reduction, the noise is suppressed well enough that it won't become burdensome on longer trips. There are a few squeaks from the roof mechanism, however. While they can be remedied with a quick prod in the offending area, they really shouldn't have to be in a new car.
Should you want for a taste of the elements, rather than a heaped mouthful, there's a clever cloth sunroof mounted inside the folding roof like a Matryoshka doll that'll work at highway speeds without issue. But this is a car best enjoyed with the roof tucked away, and you'll find any excuse to do so.
Put simply, the Mini Convertible is a double helping of fun. And, thanks to a series of replacements and improvements to the engine, chassis and interior, it's actually pretty great to drive.
Better still, it's cheaper to buy and cheaper to run than the old one, as well as fit bigger people and more luggage than ever before.
The drawbacks are exceptionally few and far between, extending only to a pricey options list and a few errant squeaks from the roof mechanism.
If you've always wanted a cute little cabrio but couldn't justify spending more than $40,000 on a one-trick pony, the Mini's new convertible warrants a second look.
Price – Both models are cheaper than their predecessors; the Cooper is down $2450 on the old manual Cooper and $4800 on the auto. The Cooper S is down by at least $3400, extending to $5750 on the previous-generation auto.
Technology – Reversing camera and auto transmission are now standard, as well as new, pyrotechnically actuated rollover bars, replacing the fixed hoops from the old model.
Performance – Power is up and consumption down across the board, thanks to new 1.5- and 2.0-litre turbocharged engines.
Driving - Fully independent suspension and electric power steering, as found in the Mini hatch, is used to great effect in the convertible, offering sharp steering and a comfortable ride.
Design – The trademark folding cloth roof and aircraft-style switchgear remains, but the speedo, rev counter and 'Openometer' have been repositioned for a more conventional cabin layout.
|(base)||1.5L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$12,200 – 17,710||2016 Mini Cooper 2016 (base) Pricing and Specs|
|5D Hatch||1.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$14,200 – 20,020||2016 Mini Cooper 2016 5D Hatch Pricing and Specs|
|Carbon Edition 5D Hatch||2.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$31,300 – 41,030||2016 Mini Cooper 2016 Carbon Edition 5D Hatch Pricing and Specs|
|D||1.5L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO||$16,300 – 22,660||2016 Mini Cooper 2016 D Pricing and Specs|