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2010 MINI Convertible Review - VIDEO ENHANCED

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

MORE: Mini Specs, Prices and Comparisons-MINI Buyers Guide



by Marty Bernstein
Senior Editor
Detroit Bureau
The Auto Channel

At Mini stores across American, the new drop top, convertible is on display. Washington’s Cherry Blos-soms are in full, sweet bloom, sunny daffodils are popping up in once frozen earth and seed catlogs are arriving in the mail. Spring!

Yes, the season Italians call Primavera is finally here and it is now officially TDD … top down days.

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So why would anyone want to drive a new convertible with the top down in the snow? Because it’s a Mini … and a Mini is always fun to drive anywhere, anytime…and that’s exactly what I did earlier this year in the snow covered mountains and roads of Austria.

And driving the new 2009 Mini Cooper S convertible with the top down, and both the heater and the sitzplatz warnen (seat warmer) on full blast was just a seasonal adjustment from driving with the a/c on in the summer. Well, not exactly when you live in Michigan as I do, it’s more like a change of scenery.

The Austrian scenery during the 150 kilometer drive at 1,500 meters above sea level, from the airport in Klagenfurt to the historic village of Villach was a cold weather and snowy test of man and ve-hicle. To spectators along the route it was the cause of consternation and puzzlement.

Imagine 50 or so bright yellow and black Mini’s mostly with the top down with two ninja-black jacket and knit cap clad occupants driving though your little hamlet, village or turn-off in a seemingly end-less parade to the accompaniment of throaty, resonant exhaust notes and varying engine gear changes. The locals’ stares turned to glares as speed limits were often exceeded.

The Mini’s looks are deceiving … sure it’s a Mini cause it looks like one, but inside and in places you can’t see are some major changes and improvements. For starters the Mini is one of the easiest cars to enter or exit no matter the driver or passenger’s height, weight, flexibility or age.

Behind the wheel, the ever quirky dashboard instrumentation of the Mini is legible during both daylight and twilight driving and is well lit. The icons for some heater control functions could be a bit larger and illuminated for those of us who wear bifocals.

There is an idiosyncratic new addition to the instrumentation – a top-down-gauge -- called the Openometer – a device that counts the time one has driven with the top down.

Using the convertible top is easy. At the touch of a button the top automatically opens and closes at speeds up to 20 miles per hour. If you’ve ever owned a convertible with a DIY top this new feature can be a wonderful addition when a sudden shower starts.

Seating in the Mini is comfortable without feeling confined in a relatively small space and there is plenty of legroom. At last there’s an optional new loading storage system between the luggage and passenger compartments that expands cargo space when it’s needed.

Thankfully the seat warmers were almost instantaneous wonders of much needed warmth. The H of the HVAC system was equally quick and the fan was quiet even at top speed. Did not use the AC for obvious reasons.

A new electromechanically operated rollover bar allows for optimum visibility to the rear and sides as the MINI avoids rollovers via run-flat tires, tire pressure monitoring and a sophisticated driving stabil-ity system.

Enough about the aesthetics and creature comforts, how does it drive and handle? I’m not an automotive engineer or test driver, but frankly the drive in a variety of road conditions – from dry to wet to snowy to icy to ice and snow – in the mountains was solid and firm. Not once did I feel out-of-control or on the edge of potential danger. Shifting up and own in various gears of the six speed gear box was silky smooth, effortless and effective.

Naturally there was the usual ubiquitous obtuse engineering spiel about the car,(at night, on an outdoor ice skating rink in German with English translation) but I had the opportunity to ask Rauno Aal-tonen, aka The Flying Finn, one of the world’s best rally drivers (he won the 1967 Monte Carlo in a Mini) what made the new convertible so easy to drive and handle for non-pro drivers.

Aaltonen said, “The use of more high-strength steel at the rear chassis of the car makes the car stiffer which gives it a “go kart like” feel … makes it quick and responsive in a precise and accurate way. Softer springs mean wheels stay in the angles planned by the engineers to eliminate tire jumping, poor to bad traction in braking or acceleration and terrible driving comfort. The dual turbo engine has quick response at only 1,600 rpm which gives better control on slippery surfaces like snow and ice.”

World famous rally driver’s techno-explanations aside, the Mini was fun to drive. It is difficult to imagine how refreshing a top down, open to the ski fresh air driving in the Austrian Alps journey can be. Even with snow falling on you, the wind blowing around you and the slush squishing beneath you could be: it was an exhilarating exceptional experience. Nice. But one I rather repeat in a warmer climate this long winter.

In Mini dealers now priced from $24,450 to $27,450.

MORE: Mini Specs, Prices and Comparisons-MINI Buyers Guide

Click PLAY to watch the RoadTrip review of the new MINI Convertible