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2009 New Mini Convertible Review

2009 Mini Convertible (select to view enlarged photo)
2009 Mini Convertible

Always Open – the new Mini Convertible


By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
Amsterdam Bureau
The Auto Channel

Do you like to smell the grass in spring, or inhale the oxygen filled air in the winter time? You might be a fan of cars with folding tops, or even be one of the more than 164,000 owners of a Mini Convertible. Someone who was seduced buying it after the relaunch of the Mini brand in 2002.

On March 28, the second generation Mini Convertible will hit markets world wide and will probably outsell its predecessor. Why? Because it has been improved, and, like all new cars, it has new technology and new features that were not (yet) available some years ago.

The design of the new Convertible is unmistakeably Mini. With the top up, the second generation just looks better than its predecessor. That’s because of the longer side windows and the raised shoulder line. The circular headlamps and the grille have not been changed.

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More significant is the different shape when most of the canvas roof is folded into the rear end. The Convertible looks more stretched an cleaner, because the rollover bar is now hidden behind the rear seats and pops up electromechanically within 150 milliseconds after the car’s electronic safety system registers a rollover in the making. In case of such an emergency, this protects, in combination with the very strong structure around the windshield, the occupants.

The construction has no negative influence on the boot space. There is even optional loading storage between the luggage and passenger compartments that increases the contents to 23.10 cu ft, with the backrests of the rear seats (50/50) folded down.

Compared to the first generation Mini Convertible the luggage compartment of the new version has 0.17 cu ft. more: 4.4 cu ft. with the top down and 6.0 cu ft. with the top up. The seat backs can be locked with the car’s key, a nice safety feature to prevent opening the boot from within the cockpit, when the car is parked with the top down. The top has an integrated sliding roof and can be partially opened to act as a sunroof.

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The cockpit has the familiar Mini lay out, but there is something you will notice immediately. It is the extra gauge on the left side of the odometer, that Mini dubbed an ‘openometer’. It is not only a new word in the automotive dictionary, but it is also a new feature. The openometer is a timer that records how long the car was driven with the top down. It will show the total hours, accrued during the car’s life span. The marketing people foresee that this will be a new communication tool on the Web, as owners will use the read-out in blogs to talk about how long they have driven ‘Always Open’, which is the slogan for the 2010 Convertible.

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But driving the Mini Convertible is more than driving with the top down alone. It is also about the handling of the topless Cooper S in the south of Austria. The mountains were covered under a white blanked and fortunately my colleague/passenger and I had warm jackets, gloves and warm head-gear. So, we did not need to think twice about driving ‘Always Open’.

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The standard air conditioning and the wind deflector kept us warm and comfortable. And I even took off my hat to feel if the wind was going to blow through my hair. It didn’t. So I stayed bare haired until late in the afternoon, when the temperature dropped far beyond the freezing point. Indeed, with the top down (and windows up), you could smell the fresh air and the pine trees. After fresh snow had covered the roads at night, we got into the car again. Would we drive open again? It was snowing lightly. We just tried, but soon after the snow got more intense, we needed to close the top. You can do that while driving up to 20 mph and it only takes 15 seconds. Disregard the openometer!

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In the meantime I was enjoying the handling of the Convertible. Its suspension has been tuned for a comfortable feel, although the structure is definitely rigid. This is essential for a car without a roof, but with softer springs in the rear and some other measures, the Mini is not bumpy and nicely evens out bad surfaces. The Mini gives enough feed back to feel exactly if you are still having grip, or if you are about to loose it. Should the latter be the case, DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) will help you to stay in control, but we did not get into a position to need it. Of course, the (run-flat) winter tyres, that are obligatory in the Alpine area, do their job.

Lucky us: we also were invited to drive on a frozen lake covered with snow, just to drive the Convertible to its limits and beyond. Switch off the DSC completely and you could really play, while quickly appreciating its friendly character. It is quite clear, the Mini loves slipping and sliding as much as we do and as it lacks meanness, it is well controllable.

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The Convertible comes in two models, the Cooper and the Cooper S. Under the hood is the new aluminium 4-cylinder 1.6-liter VVT engine that delivers 118 hp and had 114 lb-ft of torque. In the Cooper S this motor is assisted by a Twin-scroll turbocharger and has 172 hp and 177 lb-ft torque. No doubt we loved to drive the Cooper S. It felt strong enough to climb the mountain roads and supple enough not having to shift the 6-speed gearbox constantly up and down. With the new electro-hydraulic steering gear, input from the wheels is exactly what it should be and response to the steering wheel was direct and quick.

We could not do top speed, nor the zero to 60 mph acceleration. But Mini promises a top of 222 km/h 138 for the Cooper S and 124 mph for the Cooper, whereas 0-60 will take 7.0 and 8.9 seconds respectively.

Nowadays as important as performance is the fuel consumption. Thanks to new technical features and Efficient Dynamics technology, such as StartStop and brake regeneration, the fuel consumption of the new engines is even 20 percent better – with subsequently lower CO2 emission. Could we find a flaw in the new Mini Convertible during our first test drive? Only one. We could not open the hood. The release works, but the handle under the hood is to stiff to open, even for my male colleague. We told the Mini staff about it. The problem will be addressed.

The Cooper Convertible will be available for $ 24,550 and the Cooper S for $ 27,450, including $ 650 destination charge. Customers may feel comfortable with the new generation’s performance and feel. And with its safety features, such as four airbags, ABS and electronic brake force distributing, cornering brake control, brake assist and stability control. Added piece of mind may be provided by the knowledge that Kelley Blue Book awarded the Mini Cooper models the 2009 Best Resale Value Award for the best values across all vehicle segments.