First Drive Review: 2010 Mini Cooper S Convertible
By Sam Mitani of Road & Track
Klangenfurt, Austria — One number jumps off the page when looking down the fact sheet of the new Mini Cooper Convertible: 164,000. That's how many of these compact, open-top playgrounds on wheels the BMW Group has sold since the car's inception in 2005. Another notable fact is that Minis across the board boast one of the strongest resale values around. So when we saw that the cunning minds at Mini wanted us to test drive the all-new Mini Cooper S Convertible in the freezing climes of Austria, in the middle of winter, it didn't come as a big surprise; when you sell 164,000 of anything, you're allowed to torture journalists.
To be sure, it was cold. The temperature dipped to 24 degrees Fahrenheit, well below freezing, and we were expected to keep the top down for our entire 3-hour drive. Anyone who had thoughts of not complying with this rule would be ratted-out by the car's new Openometer gauge. This round instrument that resides next to the tachometer behind the steering wheel keeps track of how long the top is retracted while driving. It's really quite useless, so I asked a Mini engineer, "What's the point?"
"There is no point," he answered matter of factly. End of discussion.
So unless you like showing off to friends how long you can brave the elements while driving, the Openometer offers little by way of real-world practicality. I suggested to the engineer that it should offer rewards at certain time increments; for example, after two hours or so, the car goes into super-handling mode or gives you 10 extra bhp.
"What an interesting idea," he said as he scribbled down notes on a napkin.
On the icy roads of the Austrian Alps, the new Cooper S Convertible shined like the Southern California sun. It possesses the same basic go-kart-like handling character as the previous open-top Mini, but a notch sharper. Credit here goes to the car's revised suspension — MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam rear — that's been specially tuned for the convertible. Despite not being an all-independent setup, the Mini suspension does a commendable job of providing near-neutral cornering balance through all types of corners while keeping body roll in check. Also, the beefed-up body structure does its part by exhibiting rock-solid stability through corners and over bumps, as well as providing collision protection. And speaking of safety, the new Convertible features an electromechanically operated rollover bar behind the rear seats that's activated by the car's central safety electronics in the event of a rollover.
Under the hood is Mini's new turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-4 that produces 172 bhp at 5500 rpm and 177 lb.-ft. of torque from 1600 to 5000. It boasts a long list of technical features including BMW's variable valve timing, direct fuel injection and a twin-scroll turbocharger. Step on the throttle and the engine delivers seamless power to the front wheels, without the lag associated with most turbocharged engines. Our test car came with the manual 6-speed gearbox, whose short throws and well-defined gates add to Mini's sporty demeanor — why anyone would get this car with the 6-speed automatic is a mystery to me. According to Mini, the 2855-lb. Cooper S Convertible gets to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds and through the quarter in 15.3; both figures are marginally better than those of the previous model.
As for the car's styling, it looks virtually identical to the old Mini inside and out, although the car does have different side panels and slightly larger taillights. While the Mini Cooper S Convertible looks striking with the top down, its appearance hardly suffers with the roof up. Speaking of the roof, it's still a soft top that's automatically lowered/raised by a toggle switch on the dash. It takes 15 sec. to do its job in each direction and works while the car is in motion, provided you're traveling at less than 20 mph. Also, the front section of the soft top opens as much as 16 in. for a sunroof effect. The new Mini Cooper S goes on sale in April for $27,450 ($24,550 for the base 118-bhp Mini Cooper Convertible), complete with the Openometer...which ultimately revealed to everyone that I drove most of my test route with the top up. Damn modern technology.