Convertible Mk 2
New MINI Cooper Convertible:
more gadgets, more money, less
tax and less CO2. Its
also great to
drive with trustworthy handling, is
cheaper to run and brings a smile
to your face...
THE NEW MINI CONVERTIBLES, on sale from 28 March (2009), look very much the
same as the first generation versions a closer inspection, however,
reveals they are very different. They also feel much more 'grown-up',
arguably of better quality and can justify their 'premium' brand
They're also longer, lighter, wider, more fuel-efficient and less taxing
for CO2 emissions and road tax. In addition, a 146mph, 208bhp John Cooper Works
variant joins the Mini Convertible range.
Despite the Government's recent reduction in VAT, the prices have gone up by
between 5.2 and 6.4%. That doesn't sound too bad until you convert percentage
points into pounds: roughly £990 to £1,025. That said, air conditioning
which used to cost an extra £665 is now standard across the range so
there's an immediate claw-back. In addition, the new MINI Convertible brings
a host of other benefits to the market, not least of which is the use of the
latest 1.6-litre direct injection petrol engines already serving in the latest
MINI Hatch models.
With 8,000 MINI Convertibles available for UK customers this year more
next year when the MINI One version becomes available 550 customers have
already placed orders. Prices start from £15,995 for the Cooper Convertible
118bhp model, £18,995 for the Cooper S 173bhp turbocharged version and £23,470
for the John Cooper Works 208bhp variant.
As 88% of all MINI UK customers specify one of the option packs, these have
been enhanced and upgraded as well: more individual options and body and hood
colours are now available. Take, for instance, the £115 optional 'Openometer'.
Want to know how long you keep your hood down? Well, this gadget records the
time the overall total or just journey time the top is down. Look
out for MINI club chatrooms comparing notes on whose has been down the longest…
And, as it's the 50th birthday of MINI this year, no doubt owners of the new
Convertibles will be comparing 'top-down' times at the MINI United celebration
to be held at Silverstone Circuit on 22-24 May.
The new Convertible is a significant improvement over its predecessor. On the
outside, owners will appreciate the improved, electrically-powered canvas roof
design, new wheel options and new body and roof colour finishes. Inside there
are new upholsteries, improved (but still not great) rear visibility, new switch
clusters, marginally increased luggage capacity, a lockable glovebox and air
conditioning as standard on all cars.
Under the skin, high-performance engines use 'MINImalism' fuel-saving and CO2-limiting
technology but, thankfully, not at the expense of out-and-out performance. The
body structure has been strengthened by 10% which has reduced scuttle shake
although it is still evident. Chassis technologies, including the standard-fit
Dynamic Stability Control, keep ardent drivers as safe as possible. Overall,
I'm pleased to report that the MINI Convertible remains a thoroughly enjoyable
and engaging car to drive.
Specific design cues differentiate the Cooper and Cooper S models. Both derivatives
feature MINI's trademark hexagon radiator grille and large round headlamps with
integrated indicators. The high-performance MINI Cooper S Convertible sets itself
apart visually through the presence of an enhanced 'powerdome' which sits 20
millimetres proud of the Cooper's bonnet and houses a large air scoop. And whereas
a hexagonal grid pattern on the radiator grille of the Cooper S is its finishing
touch, the new MINI Cooper Convertible's grille boasts a chrome frame and three
horizontal, chrome-plated bars. At the tail, a two-piece rear fog lamp, large
twin tailpipes and a large diffuser in the rear bumper mark it out.
Exclusive to the new drop-top will be two all-new colours: Interchange Yellow
and Horizon Blue. Also new for 2009 across the MINI range is Midnight Black
metallic. In all, a total of twelve colour options are available for the MINI
Convertible. Three contrasting roof options add visual appeal to the newcomer,
and British customers will be able to choose from Black, Denim Blue and Hot
Available exclusively (as an option) for the Convertible Cooper and S models
are very striking 17-inch rims in Black Star Bullet design.
For the first-time in a MINI Convertible, air conditioning is fitted as standard.
An added benefit to owners will be the cooled lockable glovebox, ensuring its
contents remain chilled while passengers enjoy basking in the sun.
The automatic canvas roof of this second-generation MINI Convertible can be
fully retracted or closed in just 15 seconds. In the event of a driver being
caught unexpectedly by a sudden downpour, this roof will operate at speeds of
up to 20mph.
As an alternative to the complete top-down driving experience, the electric
roof can also be retracted by approximately 40 centimetres to create the effect
of a sunroof and this function works at speeds of up to 75mph.
Occupants wishing to drive with the top down but in a peaceful environment can
specify the optional wind deflector. Fitted behind the front seats, it moves
up quickly and easily in one simple operation and will lighten your wallet or
purse by £180. Driven with the hood down and the windows up, the wind and noise
intrusion was very low and it was perfectly possible to hold a normal conversation
at 80mph. In fact, there was more buffeting from the wind with just the sunroof
section open than with the whole roof down.
Agility remains superb, as does grip and so does driving enjoyment. The
ride can be on the harsh side and there is some body shake because of the roofless
design. The attributes of the Cooper, Cooper S and JCW models I have covered
in the past, so there is no need to go over those again in depth. But briefly,
the Cooper S is the best version to drive because the engine is more responsive;
the turbocharger not only boosts power up to 173bhp from 118bhp but, more importantly,
the torque goes up from 118lb ft to 177lb ft and that really gives the car some
The Cooper version will be the best-seller for a number of reasons: cost, better
mpg, lower road tax and a significantly lower insurance premium. With a top
speed of 123mph, 0-62mph in 9.8 seconds, an official combined consumption of
49.6mpg (35.6mpg actual during my road test) and a road tax bill of £120, it
is the sensible way to go topless in a classy sort of way.
The 146mph John Cooper Works Convertible model cannot be left out although it
will sell in small numbers when it comes to overall MINI sales. It has the same
1.6-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged engine but with 208bhp and 192lb ft of
torque the standout figure in my mind, however, is the £23,470 price
Yes it is fun and great to drive, and with all that power and no hard roof to
maximise on bodyshell stiffness it didn't, surprisingly, want to tie itself
in knots under hard acceleration and very fast cornering. Indeed, the 'flex'
in the body seemed to give it a more compliant ride than the JCW Hatch version.
Even this second-generation MINI Convertible is not quite perfect it
costs more to buy, there's very limited boot and rear seat space, rear visibility
is still not good and some of the switchgear is cheaply finished and fiddly.
That noted, in every way except for the inevitable rise in the purchase
prices over the old models the new MINI Convertible is a vastly improved
product over the previous version. It has better engines, uses less fuel, emits
less CO2 and remains a design icon which now really does justify its 'premium'
brand status. Happy 50th Birthday MINI! David Miles
MINI Cooper Convertible Mk 2 | £15,995
Maximum speed: 123mph | 0-62mph: 9.8 seconds | Overall test MPG: 35.6mpg
Power: 118bhp | Torque: 118lb ft | CO2 137g/km | Insurance group 9E