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HEELS ON WHEELS: 2009 MINI COOPER CONVERTIBLE REVIEW


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SEE ALSO: Mini Specs, Prices and Pictures-Mini Buyers Guide


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HEELS ON WHEELS
By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

INTRO TO THE MINI VEHICLE
MINI Coopers are so hip an entire generation of followers has emerged to celebrate its cuteness. To own a Cooper is to own a piece of coolness – but to own a MINI Convertible is to be the queen of your vehicle species. The convertible top allows for sunroof mode or full top down, tucking away neatly above the boot. Also, there is no visible rollbar but a sensory feature that activates one.

I drove an automatic 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible with the 118-horsepower dual overhead cam 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine featuring a variable valve system developed on the basis of the BMW Group’s unique VALVETRONIC technology. The packages found on my ride include: $2,000 leather seating; $500 Cold Weather (heated seats; power folding mirrors); $1,250 Premium (chrome accents, auto air conditioning); $1,250 STEPTRONIC automatic transmission; and Sport ($500 Dynamic Traction Control, $250 foglights and $250 Xenon headlights). Total vehicle price came to $32,050.

Other vehicles in the family include the MINI Hardtop, Clubman and John Cooper Works. The Convertible also comes in an S trim featuring the same sized 1.6-liter engine but with a twin-scroll turbocharged engine and direct gasoline injection offering an increase to 177 horsepower.

HEELS ON WHEELS REVIEW CRITERIA

Stylish But Comfortable Results: The color combo was great on my ride – leather seating done in a "Hot Chocolate" palate set off by the "Horizon Blue" exterior paint job. If you've never been inside a MINI, you're going to be tickled by the oversized gauges that remind you more of a jukebox than a dashboard. The layout of the MINI dials and switches take some getting used to – for example, the power windows control is not embedded in the door armrests but in the center console. That second row is so small it makes the Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit look like mid-compacts.

Reliability & Safety Factor: A non-visible rollbar made me look into the safety of the MINI rather seriously, and I was impressed with the results. The Active Rollover Bar has sensor features that move up the single-piece bar; also a reinforced windscreen frame and head/thorax airbags are administered. The MINI uses a laser-welded advanced steel to create Advanced Crumple Zones designed to spread crash force evenly throughout the body. The vehicle is also equipped with Corner Braking Control (CBC); electric powered assisted steering; Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD); Tire Pressure Monitoring (TPM); and anti-locking brakes.

Cost Issues: The base price for my non-turbo test drive MINI is $23,900; the turbocharged S trim starts at $27,850. As I showed in the intro, it does get expensive fast with all the options. Select and S trim, all the options, and your MINI can reach as high as $37,200.

Activity & Performance Ability: I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a kick to drive and be seen in; and I'd be lying if I said an automatic 118-horsepower 1.6-liter had enough gusto. I would have liked to test the manual turbocharged engine. The Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) is new for 2009 and an excellent gripping addition to any car. The road noise with the top up is pronounced and nothing – no blaring audio system or BWM engineer move – has the smarts to drown it out. But when you start weighing the superior build, convertible safety features and cute looks, you find yourself in a very uncompromising situation (however, not as much as the cramped back seat passengers).

The Green Concern: The regular 1.6-liter engine gets 25-city/34-highway driving; the turbocharged just slightly less at a little more than 24-city/33-highway driving. So 28-29-mpg average is a fine achievement for a car (but expected for a compact).

FINAL PARTING WORDS
The pros are the MINI is stylish, safe and saves gas money – the cons are the MINI doesn't have a reasonably sized second row and is more expensive than other compacts. But if a quest for something small yet attractive is your main priority in a compact car, it's hard to out-cute a MINI.

©2009 Katrina Ramser

SEE ALSO: Mini Specs, Prices and Pictures-Mini Buyers Guide