2013 MINI Cooper

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Review: 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible

This 2009 review is representative of model years 2007 to 2013.
By James Tate of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.5

Bottom Line:

No one would argue the MINI Cooper is a fun, hip car. The chopped roof has a minimal effect on performance, but could arguably make the overall experience more than fun enough to compensate.
Pros:
  • Lively, torquey engine (Cooper S Convertible)
  • Stiff, solid-feeling chassis for a convertible
  • The base leatherette interior is actually quite nice
Cons:
  • Extra weight is noticeable
  • Run-flat tires are never as good as regular
  • Chrome interior surfaces can produce glare with top down

It may be hard to tell, but BMW's highly acclaimed remake of the MINI Cooper is now in its second generation, and the convertible version is finally here as well. The roofless version of the nimble compact was a smash hit in its last generation, having sold 164,000 units worldwide. Now based on the slightly sleeker body and stiffer chassis of the latest MINI Cooper, the new convertible is aiming to be just as successful.

Model Lineup
Like every Cooper since its reintroduction in 2001, the new convertible is available in two primary trim levels: the basic Cooper Convertible and the more powerful Cooper S Convertible. Although both have taut suspension and a good chassis, the Cooper S is far and away the performer, thanks to its punchy turbocharged engine. Aside from proprietary badging, the Cooper S can easily be recognized from its hood scoop and center-exit exhaust pipes.

Both convertible trims offer plenty of features, with many former options now standard equipment. They are available with dozens of additional options, accessories and packages, including a navigation system and a $1,500 Sport Package consisting of a traction-control system, 17-inch wheels, hood stripes, fog lights and sport seats, but not the "Sport Suspension" option, oddly enough.

Under the Hood
The engine in the 2009 Cooper Convertible is the same unit found in the solid-roofed Cooper: a 1.6-liter four cylinder capable of 118 horsepower at 6000 rpm, with 114 lb-ft of torque at 4250 rpm. While the convertible does add weight, the engine is still sufficient to get around town and enjoy the breeze. For those looking for a bit more kick, the Cooper S Convertible offers the same turbocharged engine found in the Cooper S. With direct injection and a twin-scroll turbocharger, this one produces 172 horses at 5500 rpm, and 177 lb-ft of torque in a flat plateau starting at just 1600 rpm and lasting until 5000 rpm. Additionally, there is a momentary "overboost" function that increases torque by 15 lb-ft from 1700 to 4500 rpm.

Both trims are offered with either the new 6-speed paddle-shift automatic or a traditional manual transmission, also with six gears. Most would agree that a car like this is best enjoyed with a traditional clutch and shifter, though as automatics go, this one offers crisp shifts and gear ratios that make the most of the available torque.

Gas mileage of the base Cooper Convertible is an impressive 28 mpg city/36 mpg highway with the manual transmission, meaning a theoretical 475 miles out of a single tank will be a blessing to many commuters. Perhaps even more impressive is the mere two mpg penalty of jumping to the Cooper S Convertible, with 26 mpg city/34 mpg highway.

Inner Space
True to the original design, the convertible's interior is much roomier than it appears — and notably more so than the previous generation. While the novelty of its hip and modern interior may be starting to wear off, it's miles from drab and depressing. Bold, rounded shapes abound throughout the cabin, as do contrasting colors and materials. While the buttons and switches do appear a little cheap, they actually feel and operate nicely.

The easy-to-read tachometer is still a plus, and hints at the car's sporty personality. The large, center-mounted speedometer flies in the face of BMW's typical "eyes up" driver theme, but there's a digital readout in the tachometer. One of the most interesting features of the new car is the "Openometer," a gauge to the left of the tachometer, designed solely to log the hours spent driving with the top down. Sure, it's technically a gimmick, but it's bound to be fun for owners, and is the kind of purely playful idea that only MINI would have the guts to realize.

The four seats are comfortable and supportive, and even the base black/gray leatherette feels surprisingly nice to the touch. Carbon Black cloth is an option, and leather is available in different colors. Additional color accent and trim options are available as well. Like the exterior, there is no shortage of interior color combinations from which to choose.

On the Road
For a front-wheel-drive compact car, we found the MINI Cooper S Convertible hard to beat for sheer fun. While it's possible to feel the weight increase from the additional chassis reinforcements and bracing, the MINI convertibles don't suffer like most cars originally designed with a roof do that's now lopped off. MINI says that the suspension is tuned specifically for the convertible, but the nimble handling owes itself to simple physics — the cars are diminutive.

Turn-in is quick and responsive, and there's ample grip from the 195-width tires. A little more weight and feedback in the steering wheel would be welcome during hard cornering, though, and experienced drivers seeking to push the MINI to its limits may wish to keep the stability control (DSC) turned off, since its intervention can be a nuisance. The brake pedal communicates nicely, and the brakes themselves offer sufficient stopping power and feature a plethora of electronic aids including ABS, Electronic Brake Force Distribution and Cornering Brake Control.

MINI claims a zero to 60 mph time of 8.9 seconds for the manual-transmission Cooper Convertible, and 7 seconds flat for the S. In driving both the Cooper and the Cooper S, we're left wondering if the ideal engine would be somewhere between the two. The regular Cooper Convertible just isn't powerful enough to have any real fun, while the Cooper S Convertible is plenty fast, with instant turbo boost almost always on tap.

Right for You?
The MINI's small and economical size and lively, tossable demeanor cater to both the green-conscious demographic tired of gas-guzzling SUVs, as well as enthusiasts thrilled to see the tradition of the classic "hot hatch" still alive and kicking. There is certainly a price premium for the convertible, however, with the base Cooper starting at $24,550 and the Cooper S beginning at $27,450. Begin adding some options, and the price will be in the $30Ks before you know it. They both offer plenty of personality, although those who enjoy spirited driving should walk past the base Cooper and straight to the Cooper S.

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side asSenior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.

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BB04 - 7/29/2014 4:33:26 PM