The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2009 Mini Cooper Convertible Review


PHOTO

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2009 Mini Cooper Convertible

Mini size, maxi fun, now add sun... The second-generation Mini Convertible provides all of the spirited driving experience of its hardtop siblings, and all of the good fuel economy, plus fresh air and sunshine on demand. It improves on the first generation in the same manner as the hardtop. It's a touch larger but no less Mini, with new engines in both naturally-aspirated Cooper and turbocharged Cooper S trim and structural revisions benefitting both safety and handling. As before, the fully-lined power soft top is fully-automatic, with no need for manual latching, and can be partially retracted while on the move to act as a sunroof.

Mini established the premium subcompact market niche in the US, and while the hardtop now has a few competitors, the convertible is still unique. It holds four people, and even a bit of luggage, in a footprint smaller than that of many a two-seat roadster. With its split-folding rear seat, the convertible can hold items considerably larger than expected, and in any case is a more practical car than a two-seat roadster -- not that anyone is really going to consider any convertible on logic and practicality alone. Emotion is the key, and the Mini Convertible engenders nothing but positive emotions. If you're not smiling after driving any Mini, and especially the convertible, check your pulse...

Mini, Generation Two (or is that Three, since the "real" Mini was made from 1959 to 2000) debuted in 2007. The Gen One convertible took a while to appear after the hardtop version of that car was released, and Mini has also had a few other line-expanding projects like the stretch-model Clubman and electric MiniE, so it's no great surprise that the second-generation convertible had a couple of years of gestation. It was worth the wait.

I've just finished a week with a rather well-optioned example of regular Cooper convertible, with the optional six-speed automatic transmission. Besides being my first time in the new convertible, it was my first time in a second-generation Mini with the naturally-aspirated engine, and with the automatic.

I actually preferred the first-generation naturally-aspirated Cooper over the supercharged Cooper S, as low- and mid-range power wasn't all that different. The old S had all of its punch at the top. The newer turbocharged engine addressed that very well, with strong torque almost everywhere. It also, especially in hotrod John Cooper Works 208-horsepower trim, can be a fine primer on the effects of large amounts of torque transmitted through the steered wheels of a short-wheelbase car. Like with a shaft-drive motorcycle, the laws of physics will make themselves felt.

The new naturally-aspirated engine, with 118 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque, doesn't have much effect on the steering, making for a kinder, gentler Mini. It still has plenty of zip, and, likely because of its diminutive size, a Mini of any stripe feels plenty quick, quicker than mere numbers would suggest. There's plenty of torque for the automatic to work with, and especially with "Sport" mode engaged the transmission works well enough that even I mostly just left it in D. In any form, the Mini is as much fun as ever. And with the top down, even more so. But it's also a practical everyday car, if your practical side demands justification.

APPEARANCE: As with the Hardtop, the Mini Convertible is immediately discernible from the previous generation only by true Mini enthusiasts. As it has been since Sir Alec Issigonis's original of 50 years ago, a Mini is a minimalist two-box machine with the wheels moved as far as possible to the corners to improve passenger space. The newest models are slightly larger than their predecessors, with all body panels changed, but the overall visual difference is minimal. A good thing. The Convertible keeps the two-box shape top-up, and improves visibility compared to the previous generation with larger side windows and redesigned rollover bar. Top-down it presents a jaunty appearance, in keeping with its character.

COMFORT: The original 1959 Mini established the formula for maximum space efficiency: place the engine transversely in front, put the wheels as far to the corners of the car as possible, and put the passengers in a box between it all. The current Mini -- and many other cars today! -- continue this. Result? Four adults do fit, better than in many externally larger cars, and while rear-seat access may be tricky in the hardtop or convertible top-up, it's easy with the top down. The power top goes down or up at the touch of a button, with no manual latching. It can also be put down remotely via the key fob. On the way down, it first stops with the front portion rolled back as a sunroof. This can be done in motion. For extra carrying capacity, the rear seat folds 50/50. Like the original Mini, the convertible's trunk lid is hinged at the bottom. Back up front, as ever, find best-in-class seats and retro-modern style. The speedometer is mounted in the center of the dash, where it was in the original Mini, with the tach on the steering column. An LED digital speedo readout in the tach is more useful than gazing over at the "real" speedometer. A new addition to the second-generation convertible is the "Openometer", a whimsical gauge that measures the time the top is down. With its thicker ``C-pillars'', the top does reduce rear visibility a bit when up, but the mirrors are useful, as is the optional park distance control system.

SAFETY: One reason the new Mini is slightly longer is to increase front crush space for collision and pedestrian safety. For protection in rollovers, an electromechanically-operated rollover bar behind the rear seats is activated by the electronic safety systems when deemed necessary. The passenger safety cell is stronger than in the old convertible. Front and front-seat side airbags are standard. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution and cornering brake control are standard, with Dynamic Stability Control available.

RIDE AND HANDLING: It's not really a go-kart, but of all easily-available and affordable street-legal vehicles a Mini feels the closest to one. Short, wide, and low will do that. A fully-independent suspension, with MacPherson struts in front and aluminum-intensive multilink design in the rear ensures maximum tire contact and very reasonable comfort for a sports car. The electromechanical power steering is not over-assisted, a good thing for the driving experience. To make up for removal of its top structure, the Mini Convertible gets reinforcement to its floorpan and side sills. Although there is some minor cowl flex, the Mini's enthusiastic handling is unaffected.

PERFORMANCE: Additional reinforcement to the floorpan and sides of the Mini Convertible's unibody structure adds about 180 pounds over the hardtop, so there is some decrease in performance. Not that you're likely to notice in everyday driving. Even in naturally-aspirated Cooper form, a Mini feels entertainingly quick, and even more so with the top down. Raw numbers don't do it justice. With only 118 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 114 lb-ft of torque (at 4250), and a 10-second 0-60 time with the automatic, a Mini Convertible shouldn't feel quick. Sometimes numbers lie. The 1.6-liter twincam engine uses parent BMW's VALVETRONIC variable valve lift and timing technology for optimum power and driving characteristics. It works surprisingly well with the optional six-speed automatic transmission, especially when the "Sport" button is pressed. It re-maps the electronic controls for the engine, transmission, and steering for quicker, more-precise response, and even matches revs during downshifts.

CONCLUSIONS: Less Mini equals more fun when the top is removed.

SPECIFICATIONS>br> 2009 Mini Cooper Convertible

Base Price			$ 23,900
Price As Tested			$ 32,050
Engine Type			16-valve dohc inline 4-cylinder
Engine Size			1.6 liters / 98 cu. in.
Horsepower			118 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			114 @ 4250 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic (opt)
Wheelbase / Length		97.1 in. / 145.6 in.
Curb Weight			2822 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		24
Fuel Capacity			13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
				 recommended
Tires				Continental Conti Pro Contact SSR
				 P195/55 R16 87V
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, EBD, CBC standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		25 / 34 / 30
0 to 60 mph				10.2  sec


OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Horizon Blue metallic paint			$   500
Leather Lounge Hot Chocolate interior		$ 2,000
Cold Weather Package - includes:
  power folding heated mirrors, washer jets,
  heated front seats				$   500
Premium Package - includes:
  multi-function steering wheel, anti-theft alarm
  system, Chrome Line interior and exterior,
  automatic air conditioning			$ 1,250
STEPTRONIC automatic transmission		$ 1,250
Sport seats					$   250
Dynamic traction and stability control		$   500
Park Distance Control (rear) 			$   500
Foglights					$   250
Xenon headlights				$   500
Destination charge				$   650