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First Drive: Mini Convertible

Always Open

by on Jan.30, 2009

Mini Convertible - dashing through the snow

Mini Convertible - dashing through the snow

You think it’s cold back in the U.S.? Try Kärnten, one of the most beautiful parts of the south of Austria. And at this altitude, this time of year, well, you’d think we might have enough common sense to keep the top closed on the new Mini Convertible. Think again. We just couldn’t imagine being the only ones driving back, at the end of the day and have to admit we didn’t get a good whiff of fresh mountain air.

But, to be honest, there’s something about the new Mini cabriolet that would have made us pull the top down, even if no one else was around; maybe that’s why the marketing gurus have hit the right note with their new slogan, Always Open.

Since the introduction of the new Mini, in 2002, some 164,000 convertibles have been sold and the new models are likely to match that success considering some of the new features the British automaker has added. Like the ability to open the soft top in just 15 seconds – and operate it even while driving at up to 20 mph. Another plus is that with the top neatly folded behind the rear seats, there’s now 4.4 cubic feet of cargo space, 0.17 cf more than before.

(With the top up, the luggage space increases to 6 cubic feet, while with the seats folded the Mini Convertible has 23.3 cf of luggage space. To keep burglars out, the split and foldable back rests of the rear seats can be locked with the car’s key.)

For those who wimp out, the top operates in 15 seconds

For those who wimp out, the top operates in 15 seconds

Also new is the electromechanical extendible rollbar, which rests behind the headrests of the rear seats and automatically activates within 150 milliseconds to provide rollover protection. The hidden position offers optimal visibility to the rear and sides, and optimal loading storage between the luggage and passenger compartments.

Since we’re touching on safety, the new Convertibles – Mini Cooper and Cooper S – come with standard ABS and electronic brake force distribution (EBD), cornering brake control CBC, brake assistance, dynamic stability control DSG. Dynamic traction control DTC with electronically differential lock control is an option with the Sport package.

The fun part

But let’s get back to the fun part – going for a ride.

There’s another reason to keep the top down: the new Openometer, a tattletale gauge to let of the instrument panel that records the time spent travelling with the roof down. It can not be reset and is meant to record topless driving during the car’s life span.

Watch out for that tattletale "Openometer"

Watch out for that tattletale "Openometer"

So, with seat heaters on and scalding hot air blasting from the vents, we headed off into the Alpine Winter.

With its electromechanical power steering the Mini is agile and responsive, the engine willing and able. The engineers have fine-tuned the convertible, opting for a softened rear suspension with stabilizer bars that are 1 mm smaller in diameter than the hatchback: 16 mm for the Cooper and 17 mm for the Cooper S. The coil springs are softer and have a longer travel, while the bump stops are also longer. The result is a car that feels comfortable, but still very firm. Even with the lack of a hardtop, the Mini Convertible maintains a significant feel of rigidity. On the icy you’re about to start slipping and sliding.

Some basics on the powertrain are in order. The Cooper Convertible is equipped with a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine delivering 118 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque. It does 0-60 in 8.9 seconds and has a top speed of 124 mph. The Cooper S Convertible has the same engine with the addition of a Twin-Croll turbocharger and direct gasoline injection, good for 172 hp and 177 lb-ft torque. Zero to 60 mph takes 7 seconds and the top speed is 139 mph.

Better mileage

Both engines come standard with the latest EfficientDynamics technologies (such as Start/Stop and brake regeneration) for a higher standard of performance, reduced fuel consumption and lower emissions. Compared to the old engines the fuel efficiency has reportedly been improved 20 per cent.

“We foresee a lasting trend towards a huge increase in prices for energy,” explains Wolfgang Armbrecht, senior vice-president of brand management for Mini. “So fuel efficiency, and thus CO2 emissions remain the highest priority in our Research and Development.”

Does Mini consider a full hybrid? “Of course, the company considers all possibilities, but the ecological foot print of a hybrid versus a gasoline engine is not justifying it.” Not now, anyway.

More room and cargo space

More room and cargo space

The price for the Cooper Convertible is $24,550, and the Cooper S Convertible will set you back $27,450 respectively (including $650 destination charges). The numbers are somewhat higher than the first-generation Convertible, but the new one offers more standard equipment. And the good news is that Kelly Blue Book recently presented the 2009 Best Resale Value Award to the Mini Cooper models in recognition of the best resale values across all vehicle segments.

If that’s not enough to warm you up, bring a pair of gloves. With the Openometer spinning, we’ll bet you may never put the top back up.

What’s Coming from Mini? Check out more on the Mini One.
Then check out our spy shots of the upcoming Mini Crossman.

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