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OPEN WIDE AND SAY AHHHH

MINI's second generation Convertible is as cute as ever. Jonathan Crouch checks it out a restyled range that now even features a diesel option

Ten Second Review

It's pretty hard to take exception to MINI's second generation Convertible. It looks sportier (and is), yet it's cheaper to run and more eco friendly. It offers more space and plenty of hi-tech features. But best of all, it's still just as much fun to drive as the original. Some things never change.

Background

The MINI has turned out to be a bigger sales success than parent company BMW might ever have dared hope. Take this Convertible model, which now takes 20% of the marque's sales. The brand managed to sell over 164,000 examples of the first generation R52 version and had even higher hopes for its replacement, this car, known as the R57 in MINI circles and launched in 2009. This improved drop-top model has done well so far, stealing sales not only from small cabriolets aimed at Kings Road cruising, but also grabbing a few from more focused open-topped sportscars.

To keep the sales momentum going, the car has been improved for the latest model year, with a subtle re-style, both inside and out. Most notably perhaps, a diesel variant has at last been added to the range. The result, MINI reckons, is a must-have small soft-top for the fashion-conscious. Let's see.

Driving Experience

This second generation MINI Convertible feels a much more solid thing than its predecessor, yet weighs just 30kgs more. It's isn't very rapid in 98bhp 1.4-litre MINI One or 122bhp 1.6-litre MINI Cooper guises, but pulls quite nicely in diesel guise, with a freshly developed 112bhp 1.6-litre unit. Real performance though, starts with the 184bhp Cooper S version, where rest to sixty takes 7.3s on the way to 140mph and there's 240Nm of torque. In the tuned John Cooper Works model, power is upped to 211bhp and 0-60mph takes 6.9s.

As for the go kart-like handling you expect from a MINI, well this drop-top version isn't quite able to exactly replicate the fixed-top model but it now gets pretty close, thanks to improved stability and grip, plus quick, accurate and nicely-weighted steering and ride quality that remains firmer than some will want. Resist the temptation to ruin it completely by specifying larger alloy wheels. What isn't in doubt is the improvement in rearward visibility, roof up or down, which makes a significant difference to this car's day-to-day usability.

The fixed rollhoops that were sited behind the rear seat on the original version have now been replaced by hidden ones that pop up from the same place in just 150 milliseconds (or should I say 'miniseconds') when needed. For all that, this is still not the easiest car to reverse into tight spaces. That MINI themselves understand this is evidenced by the standard fitment of rear parking sensors on most models.

Design and Build

With a raised shoulder line, highlighted by a chrome strip which extends around the body of the car, the MK2 MINI Convertible has a more purposeful and dynamic stance than its predecessor. The most recent stylistic changes aren't hugely significant - restyled bumpers, headlights and side indicators, plus LED brake lights. The Cooper S Convertible sets itself apart visually through the presence of an enhanced 'powerdome', which sits 20 millimetres higher than the MINI Cooper's bonnet and houses a large air scoop.At the rear end, large twin tailpipes, a large diffuser in the rear bumper and a two-piece rear fog lamp mark it out.

The automatic canvas roof of this car can be fully retracted or closed using a roof-frame mounted toggle switch in just 15 seconds.In the event of a driver being caught unexpectedly by a sudden downpour, this function will fully operate with the car at speeds of up to 20mph. As an alternative to the complete top-down driving experience, the full-width of the electric roof can be retracted by approximately 40cm to create the effect of a sunroof. This function can be operated at speeds of up to 75 mph.

Unlike its predecessor's fixed anti-roll bars, the MK2 model features a single-piece roll bar situated behind the rear seats, ensuring passenger safety in the event of a crash.The roll bar will extend in milliseconds at the point of impact to protect the car's occupants should the car overturn. Clever use of space means the luggage capacity of the MK2 car is considerably improved, at 125 litres roof-up, 170 litres roof-shut and 660 litres roof-up and rear seats folded.

Market and Model

There's a mainstream choice of 98bhp MINI One, 112bhp Cooper D, 122bhp Cooper 1.6 and 184bhp Cooper S variants and all are decently equipped. You can expect to find Electromechanical Power Steering (EPS), ABS brakes with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Cornering Brake Control (CBC) and Brake Assist, plus Dynamic Stability Control (DSC). The other option is the 211bhp John Cooper Works Convertible which has a considerably more hardcore focus.

All Coopers come with air conditioning which also keeps the glovebox cool to stop your chocolate getting sticky, rear parking sensors, MP3 compatability for the stereo and alloy wheels. It's a pity though that the wind blocker that makes roof-down motoring at speed so much more relaxing resides on the options list. One option of dubious value is what MINI are calling their 'Openometer'. This, believe it or not, records the amount of time spent by the owner driving with the top down.....

Cost of Ownership

The engines feature technologies based on BMW's acclaimed EfficientDynamics systems, so you can expect class-leading fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions.Auto Start Stop (where the engine switches on and off in heavy traffic), Brake Energy Regeneration and a Shift Point Display on the dashboard telling you when to change up all contribute to the impressive cost of ownership figures, with improvements of over 20% based on a model-for-model comparison with this car's predecessor. Emissions are 137g/km for the Cooper and 153g/km of CO2 for the Cooper S, while the respective combined fuel economy figures for the two cars are 49.6mpg and 44.1mpg. The Cooper D variant manages 70.6mpg on the combined cycle and puts out just 105g/km of CO2.

Summary

You could perhaps complain about the premium pricing but in truth, there's not really much more than that to put off would-be MINI Cabriolet purchasers. This car has so much more street-cred than obvious rivals and is far-less gender-specific (read female-orientated) which will matter to male buyers nearly as much as the fast that it's huge fun to drive. Expect to see plenty of them.


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