MINI Cooper S convertible

Written By nyit on Thursday, April 14, 2011 | 3:42 AM

How do you improve upon the fun-to-drive genius that is a MINI Cooper? This car’s tossable suspension, funky styling and excellent fuel economy make it one of the better all-around daily vehicles for both the style-conscious and driving enthusiasts. Well, there’s the Cooper Clubman, which adds a bit more room. And for summertime fun, there’s the Cooper convertible, which provides all of the same thrills as the MINI Cooper, but without a roof to contain the exuberance.

The previous MINI Cooper convertible didn’t have many downsides other than a lack of rear-seat interior space, so there wasn’t much for designers to address when updating the ragtop for the second-generation body. This compact, high-performance package won’t fail to put a smile on your face.

The styling is instantly familiar, of course. The adorable, stubby MINI Cooper is made stubbier and more adorable by the removal of the roof. With the top down, the one-box MINI Cooper looks not unlike a bathtub on wheels, with comfortable seating for four, of course. The new body is slightly longer than before, but the unmistakable large oval lamps and chrome grille remain true to the aesthetic. Emergency rollover hoops are located behind the rear seats and pop up in the event that they’re necessary. The new MINI convertible’s top stack is slightly lower than before, offering a sleeker, more finished appearance. The MINI Cooper convertible’s roof is power-operated, and can be raised and lowered at speeds up to 20mph. It also includes a sliding section that mimics a sunroof.

The interior appointments are not all that different from those of the hardtop, either. The centrally mounted pie-plate speedometer and love-‘em-or-hate-‘em toggle switches are the same. If the Cooper makes you feel claustrophobic, then the roofless version is the way to go. MINI’s quirky designers have included an “Openometer” that will tell you how much of your time has been spent with the top down.

The trunk isn’t that large, but the lid pivots up and out of the way to provide easy access to the six cubic feet of space within. The rear seats also fold down, expanding space to just over 23 cubic feet, and there’s a small two-tiered shelf for additional storage space.

Entertaining performance is a part of the package, of course. The MINI Cooper convertible is offered with the same new 1.6 liter four-cylinders that power the hardtop, in 118-horsepower naturally aspirated and 172-horse turbocharged guise. The naturally-aspirated engine uses VALVETRONIC variable valve timing borrowed from parent company BMW to improve fuel efficiency and response. The Cooper S’ more powerful turbocharged powerplant features direct-injection fuel delivery and a twin-scroll turbocharger. The Cooper S is capable of creating a bit of torque steer, but it’s never unmanageable.

The MINI Cooper convertible is nothing if not tossable, of course. This is especially true in Cooper S trim; a low curb weight and comparatively wide track mean that some serious twisty-road heroics are possible. MacPherson struts are used in the front, with a multi-link rear. It’s not an exotic setup, but the MINI’s diminutive, wheels-out stance and light weight mean that the seemingly mundane suspension is capable of serious performance. I experienced no significant chassis flex, even when hammering the MINI Cooper S convertible around a race track. MINI offers a range of driving aids to improve things even further, including Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with an electronic limited-slip differential and anti-lock brakes that include Cornering Brake Control and Brake Assist. Run-flat tires are available if you want to save the weight of a spare. Nervous about flinging the roofless MINI Cooper around at high speeds? A pop-up roll bar lives behind the rear seats.

The MINI Cooper S convertible will staple a smile to your face, whether the top’s up or down--and if you were already smiling, then the 172 horses motivating a curb weight of significantly less than 3000 pounds are likely to turn it into a mad cackle. It’s okay. Just try to behave yourself, and wear sunblock. The MINI Cooper S convertible starts at $27,450, while the standard Cooper convertible stickers for $24,770.

By Chris Jackson

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