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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Remember fun? Sure you do. Fun is riding the trolley down a supermarket aisle. Jumping off the high tower at the local pool. Taking your feet off the pedals and rolling down that vertiginous hill.
Cars used to be fun, too. Because they were simple and comparatively unrefined, you were close to the action, getting the same giddy thrills you found on a Hills Hoist, wheelie bin or skateboard as a kid.
These days cars are a bit too cool and clever to have fun. Safe, packed full of tech and better value than ever? Sure. But fun?
Well, that's where the Mini Convertible comes in.
The new Convertible is longer and wider, and rides on a longer wheelbase, with more space in the cabin, and boot, as a result. Visually, you'd struggle to point out anywhere it's grown, but you can sure feel it once you hop into one of the seats.
The half-cutesy, half-retro looks translate just as well on the larger body, thanks to clever nips and tucks. Mini's high-tech, turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol is more than powerful enough to make up for the increase in weight you'd expect the new dimensions to bring.
There’s extra room for rear passengers, transforming the space in the back from parcel shelf and occasional seat to a pair of chairs that you can happily put children in.
The surprising fact is that the new Convertible is actually a few kilos lighter than the old one, thanks to high-strength steel (which means they can use less to achieve the same rigidity), and more than a little clever engineering.
Compared to the old Mini Cabrio, the new Convertible is more practical in almost every way. There's more headroom, legroom and shoulder room in the front, to the point where even professional basketballers would be able to enjoy a ride (roof down, obviously). There’s extra room for rear passengers, transforming the space in the back from parcel shelf and occasional seat to a pair of chairs that you can happily put children in.
There are three cup holders for the rear-seat passengers, while up front, adults get a cup holder each as well, but there aren't any bottle holders in the door pockets.
Out back, a folding tailgate opens up to a surprisingly large boot, all things considered. You won't confuse it with a barn but, with 215 litres on offer, there’s space enough for a few soft bags for a weekend away.
Mini's option list really is a double-edged sword. As Mini's marketers will agree, with some measure of pride, there really are a colossal number of ways to customise your convertible. Seriously, you actually customise the Mini Convertible, rather than just a tick few check boxes on the order form. A Union Jack-motif on the folding cloth roof is just one such example.
That's the good news, but nothing comes for free. Hazard a guess at how much you can jack up the price on this car, without stepping up to the more expensive, more powerful Cooper S? $5000? $10,000? Getting warmer. I totted up more than $17,000 worth of options before I decided I'd made my point and put down the calculator.
We're talking about a $37,900 car. That means that, fully weighed down with extras, you've just added around 45 per cent to the purchase price of your nippy little Convertible.
In better news, there's a lot standard on the Cooper, including an automatic gearbox (a manual option no longer has any appeal to Australian customers, apparently), reversing camera and climate control.
Unfortunately, a lot is missing from the standard fitment sheet that really shouldn't be, like satellite navigation, as well as a lot of the little luxuries that make the cabin such a nice place to be. The head-up display, soft leather upholstery and sonorous Harman Kardon stereo are all optional extras; while the excellent 8.8-inch satnav screen is optional on both Cooper and Cooper S variants.
The standard Cooper has an absolute gem of an engine, so you won’t feel short-changed if you can't stretch to the $45,400 Cooper S. It's a charismatic little unit, thanks to its three-cylinder configuration. Under heavy acceleration, it sounds a bit like a V6 (which is really just a pair of three-cylinder engines bolted together) with a snarling timbre that’ll have you blowing the official 5.3L/100km fuel consumption figure into the weeds.
And despite its diminutive displacement – just 1.5 litres, in fact – it's capable of pumping out 100kW and 220Nm, thanks to the magic of turbocharging. The three-pot is also host to a raft of technologies to make the most of what's available, such as direct fuel injection, constantly variable valve timing and individually adjustable intake valve control. It’s all quite technical, but the idea of it is that you get the maximum bang for your buck.
The six-speed automatic gearbox is slightly different to the up-spec Cooper S, lacking steering wheel-mounted shift paddles and – ostensibly – offering slightly slower shifts. In practice, it doesn't feel any slower. Also, base-model buyers won't rue the lack of shifting paddles, as the floor-mounted gearshift has a manual mode, which is set up properly – forwards for a lower gear and backwards for a higher one.
Official combined fuel consumption is an almost diesel-low 5.3 litres per 100km, but you'd have to have the joie de vivre of Eeyore to match that. The Cooper Convertible is made to be played with, burbling happily and zipping around corners like an atomic-powered bee.
In a combination of heavy city traffic and the kind of lead-footedness that happens when you're finally free of said traffic, the Cooper's trip computer registered 9.3L/100km – certainly not close to its official figure, but definitely nothing you’d demand a refund for.
The fuel tank is quite small, however, at just 40 litres, which means you'll have to spend more time at the local petrol station than you'd like.
There's an optional drive mode selector called 'Mini Driving Modes' that's available for $250, which can dial in a sport mode, which you'll want, a regular mode, which you’ll stop using, and a green mode, which saves petrol at the expense of throttle response – and fun. Standard across the convertible range is a start-stop system; it’s unobtrusive, but you'll still turn it off.
Driving the Mini reveals something so rarely found in cars these days – fun. Along with the Mazda MX-5, it may be the only reasonably priced new car on sale that offers genuine joy, all day, every day.
The steering is incredibly sharp and accurate, and the 1.5-litre turbo lets you crack on at a pace that’s entertaining.
Now, due to very technical reasons involving something called the moment of inertia, a car with a longer wheelbase will pivot about its axis more slowly. In English, that means that the new, longer Mini convertible should feel slower to turn in and less sharp than the old one. Someone clearly forgot to share this information, because it’s just as darting and agile as the old one – and more comfortable.
The steering is incredibly sharp and accurate, and the 1.5-litre turbo lets you crack on at a pace that’s entertaining, without running the risk of landing in front of a magistrate.
Only one real issue saps the fun of press-on driving; the six-speed auto's ratios leave a bit to be desired (and oh what fun it would be with a manual). Second gear is a little bit too short, i.e. you hit redline at too low a speed, which takes some of the shine off.
But with the roof down it's pretty easy to forgive and forget, because cruising – or blasting – with your top off is one of life's little joys. That said, you will become acutely aware that your music isn't all that cool, which will leave you flicking through tracks at a traffic light at a manic pace, trying to find something fit for public consumption.
And should you ever field a personal phone call over Bluetooth, in a public setting, with the roof stowed away, it’ll likely be an experience as cringe-worthy as watching a Game of Thrones sex scene next to your mum.
In any convertible the biggest problem is rolling it onto its occasionally absent roof. Instead, car manufacturers have to engineer rollover protection, usually in the form of hoops and bars. For its new Convertible, Mini redesigned the rollover protection to fire out from just behind the front seats, which offers the same protection as a hoop without the visual lines getting ruined.
Four airbags are all that service the Convertible, and they only extend to front seat passengers. Even so, the Mini hatch – on which the convertible is based – scores a four-star ANCAP rating. The Convertible itself hasn't been tested but if the 120kg of strengthening beams that go into the rag top have anything to say, it'll be close to as safe.
It's possible to spec your new Mini Cooper Convertible with a raft of active safety equipment, such as AEB, active cruise control and pedestrian-warning system, as part of the 'Control' equipment package. The package is $2600 on its own, and also includes fog lights, tyre pressure monitors and LED headlights. If you spec the 'Chili' – yep, just one 'l' – package for $3500, the price drops to $1500 for the Control package.
Servicing the Cooper Convertible is probably a little different to what you're used to. Instead of a prescriptive, mileage/time-based system, the Mini is fitted with onboard sensors that feed maintenance information back to the main computer. So, if the coolant level drops, the oil gets dirty or the air filter gets clogged, it'll flag that you'll need to drop it off for a service.
So, if you take care of your Convertible, it's possible to reap real rewards – extending the service intervals of your car. In any case, it's probably best to pre-purchase the capped-price service plan, which is $1080 for the basic five-year fee, equating to $216 a year. Or, if you’re a decent negotiator, you could barter with the salesman to get it for free.
Mini's warranty, happily, extends across unlimited kilometres, if only for three years.
It's easy to fall for the Cooper Convertible's charms, but it's equally easy to overlook just how much of the experience commands a hefty premium over the $37,900 sticker price. It's true that the basic package will have the same peppy verve, wonderful handling and characterful drivetrain, but the in-cabin experience will suffer unless you open your wallet a little further. Or a lot further.
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