new MINI Cooper
never had it so good!
WHEN WE REVIEWED the MINI Cooper hatchback we said it was "probably the most enjoyment you can have with your clothes on..."
Well, now the MINI Cooper has gone topless you can have even more fun. And unless you've been living in an extremely remote location these past few years, you'll know that since its 2001 launch the MINI has sold like hot cakes. And you won't find anyone who has a bad word to say about it.
The MINI Convertible is not simply a MINI sans roof, but a completely new vehicle. While retaining the chic, well-balanced proportions and wheel-at-each-corner styling, it exudes a fresh-out-of-the-box glamour. All three MINI models the One, Cooper and Cooper S are available in convertible guise. Middle of the range, as reviewed here,
is the Cooper, which at £14,625 attracts a premium over its three-door hatchback sister of around £2,900. But then you do get a quite amazing fully-automatic electric folding roof that's a dramatic piece of street theatre every time it opens or closes. Oh yes, and all the fresh air you can manage.
More good news is that the Convertible model has ushered in some neat styling enhancements. Nothing drastic; just some nice touches that don't endanger the MINI's 'coolness' and all done in the best possible taste. These include subtly redesigned bumpers, a revised front grille, meaner looking clear glass twin-lens headlamps, some new detailing to the rear end with new lights and a choice of vibrant new colours.
What you can't see are the comprehensive modifications beneath the skin that make sure that the convertible is just as safe as the metal-topped MINIs. These include a reinforced floor assembly and sills, extra crossbars and strengthened side panels and A-pillars which, aided by twin rear hoops, are able to absorb one and a half times the car's weight in the event of a rollover.
When raised, the snug-fitting hood is as tight as a drum and retains the already-established MINI profile but, for obvious reasons, without the distinctive wraparound glazing effect of the standard car. The fact that the Convertible's looks don't suffer one bit was confirmed time
and again by the amount of approving looks our test car attracted, both parked and on the move. Finished in a brilliant metallic British Racing green with a dark green hood, optional beige leather upholstery and striking white-enamelled five-star 17-inch alloys it was a real
piece of eye-candy.
As well as being a MINI marvel, the hood (finished in a superior fabric and available in a choice of three colours: black, blue or green) is easily up to the task of making the Convertible a genuine everyday car that can defy the elements as well as the metal-topped models. The rear window is glass, is heated and adds a high quality look.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the soft-topped MINI's core appeal is its convertibility. And happily, accessing it is a doddle. There are no tricky catches to unlatch. Simply press a two-stage switch above the rearview mirror. Push it once and the sliding roof section in the front half of the canvas top glides back almost 16 inches to provide a wide-screen sunroof. This can be opened or closed while driving, up to a speed of 75mph.
Press the switch a second time and the roof pillars are automatically retracted (the rear side windows move down at the same time) and the electro-hydraulically operated roof opens to the waistline where it sits, neatly stacked behind the rear seats above the boot. With no
call for a tonneau cover. Proudly exposed to the world, the elaborate roll-hoops-cum-headrests are a striking counterpoint to the MINI's dramatic interior architecture. Time to topless: 15 seconds.
Inside, the Convertible's cabin is as classy and as interesting as any other MINI. For a start, the roof-lining is nicely finished. Up front it's especially comfortable, with fit and finish every bit as good as you'd expect from a BMW. Improvements include bigger doorbins, new armrests and redesigned door handles.
As well as a near faultless driving position, the driver gets a height-adjustable seat with lumbar support, an adjustable steering wheel and a one-shot up/down electric window (the passenger's is one-shot down only). Headroom is notable a good five inches and front legroom is ample for six-footers. The on-board computer (mpg, range, etc.) is easily operated by a button on the left-hand stalk and key instrumentation is improved with a rev-counter and matching-size speedometer, both now mounted directly ahead of the driver. Filling the large speedo's original centre stage spot is a circular multi-dial
unit incorporating fuel, oil and water gauges. All this and a decent, strident horn too!
Our test car benefited from the new, chunky and great-to-hold three-spoke steering wheel with a thick leather rim that comes as part of the Chili Pack a worthwhile option which, amongst other things, adds an on-board computer, 7-spoke 16-inch alloys, a height-adjustable passenger seat, front sports seats, cloth/leather upholstery, Brilliant Silver interior trim and sports suspension.
Standard Cooper Convertible kit includes cloth upholstery, 15-inch alloys, body-coloured electric door mirrors, a grille, boot handle and tail pipes all enhanced by chrome trim, runflat indicator, electric window lifts front and rear, electro-hydraulic power steering, Park Distance Control, tinted glass, rev-counter with outside temp display, a Categ-ory 1 remote-control alarm, a Thatcham 2 immobiliser and remote central locking that opens or locks not only the doors, rear lid and fuel tank cover but using the comfort function the roof and the windows from a distance of up to 15 metres. There's even automatic 'drive-off' locking.
Optional equipment takes in Xenon headlights, a TV/navigation system featuring a 16:9 colour display, high quality HiFi audio systems, automatic climate control, a huge choice of light alloy wheels and interior colourways, a rain sensor and a rearview mirror with automatic anti-dazzle function.
Although it will seat four adults, the Convertible functions best as a 2+2. The front seatbacks have a quick slide 'n' fold operation which, combined with wide opening doors, makes entry and exit hassle free. Some people might, however, find travelling in the back with the roof up a little claustrophobic due to the hood's wide C-pillar. And while
the rear seats are relatively comfortable for adults top-down, you may prefer to utilise them for luggage overflow or to create extra boot space. While by no means 'mini', the boot is certainly not vast but there's no spare and runflat tyres are fitted as standard on all 16 and 17-inch wheels.
Roof down, the boot volume is 120 litres. Top up, it goes up to 165 litres. However, a substantial 605 litres of cargo space is readily available by folding down the split rear seat backrests. This takes seconds and converts the drop-top into a practical load-lugger. The drop-down boot lid held in position when open by two steel cables on a spring-mounted retractor system makes loading easy, espec-ially as it will bear up to 176lbs. The ideal platform, in fact, on which
to park your shopping before loading up.
To make fitting in bulkier items easier, simply turn two levers in the luggage compartment and you can fold up the tail end of the raised roof by 35 degrees, improving access to the boot or parcel shelf.
Hood up or down the convertible lacks the first class rear visibility of the standard car, which is why electronic parking assistance (Park Distance Control) is standard on every Convertible from the One to the Cooper S.
With the hood down you'll feel the wind in your hair just but only at top-end motorway speeds will you need to reach for your baseball cap. You sit fairly low behind the deep windscreen which makes the draught-free cabin something of a sun-trap. Wind noise is low enough to make conversation easy and if you drive one of these you certainly won't be short of friends to talk to!
For optimum comfort, especially at higher speeds, it's worth using the effective wind deflector with all four frameless side windows raised
a single switch raises or lowers the four windows with one press. On the move you can feel that all that extra bracing has clearly done its job. Top down the car feels rigid even over poorer road surfaces.
And it's that extra engineered-in stiffness that makes the Convertible such a delight to drive, endowing it with fine levels of grip and a controlled and comfortable ride thanks to well set up damping. The steering is sharp and turn-in crisp. Like its tin-top sister, the drop-top Cooper is keen to corner with gusto.
The convertible MINI has put on a bit of weight blame its sturdy hood mechanism and extra body strengthening and as power is the same as for fixed-roof models, performance has been mildly blunted.
It now takes six-tenths of a second longer to get to 62mph: 9.8 as opposed to standard car's 9.2 seconds.
But, who cares! Because the Convertible is fun to drive and, thankfully, retains the same sporting point-and-squirt agility as the tin-top.
Which means it will power you safely round corners and through quick switch-backs at a fair old rate of knots. The all-new, five-speed manual Getrag 'box is a smooth shifter with a tactile spherical gearknob and only adds to the pleasure, along with the characterful rasp of the 1.6-litre powerplant when it really comes alive around 4,500rpm.
In town, the accuracy and feedback of the positively light steering combines with the responsive chassis to make zipping in and out of gaps a breeze. Brakes are discs all round, ventilated at the front, and they work extremely well. Overall the ride is a touch firmer than in
the standard car but not to the detriment of comfort.
Top speed is 50mph over the legal motorway limit, which will be more than enough for most and cabin refinement at speed is good. The Cooper Convertible cruises smoothly at 70mph in 5th at an unstressed 3,200rpm.
However you drive, hefty fuel bills are not going to darken your horizon. The Cooper Convertible's middle name is Economy: 49.6mpg on the extra-urban cycle and 39.7mpg combined, matched by CO2 emissions of 175g/km. And a handy 500-mile touring range from the
11-gallon tank. Insurance, too, should be a pleasant surprise given the Cooper's 9E rating. For the record our test mileage worked out at a reasonable 34mpg. But bearing in mind that our test cars are driven pretty hard, we'd expect most owners to achieve the higher figures.
It may have lost its top but, the convertible MINI comes packed with a mass of safety kit as standard to ensure that you never lose yours. In addition to the reinforced windscreen A-pillars and the roll bar of high-strength aluminium tubes behind the rear seats that feature integrated headrests, there are two 'intelligent' front airbags and two integrated head/thorax side airbags, four-channel ABS, Electronic Brake Force and Cornering Brake Control.
Further active safety features include Automatic Stability Control + Traction (ASC+T) as well as Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), both standard on the Cooper S Convertible.
In addition to being decidedly practical, the MINI Convertible is enter-taining to drive and, with its desirable brand image, should enjoy bank-able residuals. Do add the £100 'tlc' servicing package that covers
all routine maintenance for five years or 50,000 miles it has got to be the the bargain of the year as well as bringing total peace of mind. Judged on a fun-per-pound basis, you're definitely onto a winner. Looks like the MINI adventure is going to just keep on running...
The MINI is a small car with an extensive options list usually associated with bigger, more expensive cars. So much so that, statistically speaking, only two in every 100,000 MINIs built could be exactly the same. And, talking of options, just available is a smart new range of MINI luggage by Mandarina Duck as well as brand name sunglasses designed by De Rigo, creators of sunglasses for Police, Fendi and Givenchy. Both ranges, along with a host of lifestyle items, are avail-able at www.mini.co.uk as well as through all UK MINI dealerships.
MINI Cooper Convertible | £14,625
Maximum speed: 120mph | 0-62mph: 9.8 seconds
Overall test MPG: 34mpg | Power: 115bhp | Torque: 111lb ft
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