2010 MINI Cooper

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First Drive Review: 2009 Mini Cooper Convertible

This 2009 review is representative of model years 2007 to 2013.
By Steve Siler of Car and Driver

What can we say about Mini's convertibles that we haven't said before? They're fun? Said that. Terrific handling? Countless times. And now we're awfully close to saying that the base Cooper convertible is just as entertaining as the turbocharged Cooper S convertible.

With a 118-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder spinning the front wheels, the Cooper is nowhere near as quick as the S with its blown, direct-injected, 172-hp version of the same engine. However, the Cooper convertible nonetheless comes darn close to the S in sheer entertainment value, and that's because with Minis, acceleration is only a small part of the fun.

The Guy Who Went to Austria Is a Bit Miffed
Our most recent driving experience in the new-gen Cooper convertibles — which made their debut at this year's Detroit auto show — was on a sunny 55-degree winter morning in San Diego, unlike our first drive of the latest Cooper S droptop, which happened in subfreezing temps in Austria last month. Due to vehicle availability, we wound up doing what journalists try not to do when comparing cars, which is drive the fast one first. Doing so can skew the driver's perceptions in favor of the more powerful model as he or she grows accustomed to the additional grunt and miss it when it's gone. What we knew going in — that Mini estimates the Cooper S convertible with the manual hits 60 in 7.0 seconds (7.2 with the six-speed automatic), and the Cooper takes 8.9 with the manual and a lethargic 10.2 with the auto — had us expecting the worst. But in this case, the base Cooper we wrangled in the afternoon was nearly as much fun as the Cooper S we drove in the morning.

Why? When the roads are tight and squiggly rather then long and straight, you can exact every bit of the base Cooper's happy horsepower without ever having to worry about the frightful onset of torque steer when exiting corners. Just be sure to keep the revs up and the engine in its power band. The deft suspension and the always-there brakes have no trouble managing the Mini's minuscule mass. Meanwhile, the world rushes by in a blur of sunshine-y goodness that, for some reason, inspires passengers to stick a camera out the top to snap corny pictures of themselves. At the same time, the Mini is returning fuel economy well above 30 mpg.

Smooth Roads, Take Me Home
On smooth San Diego roads, we didn't note too much chassis flex in spite of the roof-ectomy, something that's most easily observed in the form of rearview-mirror shake when the top is down. We admit, however, that we didn't really use said mirror. In spite of a much lower top stack and the use of pop-up roll hoops in place of the old fixed ones, rear vision in the new Cooper convertibles is still pretty lousy. If flex had any effect on ultimate grip, we couldn't detect it in either Cooper variant.

We didn't spend much time with the top in place, what with its massive blind spots replacing the hatchback's band of glassy windows. There's something about dropping the Cooper's top — which raises or lowers in 15 seconds, according to Mini — that makes losing the S's extra grunt more palatable than in the Mini hatchback or Clubman. Perhaps this is why Mini so ardently encourages driving with the top lowered by installing an "Openometer" gauge next to the tach that tracks the amount of time the top is down while the engine is running on any given day. Combining time spent in both the Cooper and Cooper S convertibles, we registered about four-and-a-half hours of top-down driving.

Would You Call It Minibook?
Look for more fun from Mini as it prepares to launch the new convertibles, including its usual smattering of clever advertisements and a Facebook-like website for Cooper convertible owners, wherein they can log their hours of top-down driving time and share their experiences with other "motorers." The Cooper convertibles go on sale in late March, starting at $24,550 for the base car and $27,450 for the S. For torque-steer aficionados, Mini plans to release a factory-built $34,950 John Cooper Works edition of the droptop in April.

Performance Data
PERFORMANCE (MFR'S EST):

Zero to 60 mph: 8.9 sec
Top speed (drag limited): 124 mph

FUEL ECONOMY:
EPA city/highway driving: 28/36 mpg

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BB05 - 8/27/2014 4:15:37 PM