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Mini's soft (top) option driven

2009-04-16 08:25
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Mini
Model Convertible
Engine 1.6l, turbo
Power 88kW @ 6 000r/min, 128kW @ 5 500r/min
Torque 160Nm @ 4 250r/min, 240Nm @ 1 600r/min (260Nm overboost)
Transmission Six-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 9.8 sec, 7.4 sec
Top Speed 198km/h, 222km/h
Fuel Tank 40l
Fuel Consumption 6.1l/100km, 7.2l/100km
Weight 1 165kg (1 230kg)
Boot Size 125l
ABS Yes, with EBD, CBC
Airbags Four (dual front and side)
Tyres 175/65 R15 (205/45 R17)

Lance Branquinho

BMW’s Mini range. A curious range of cars, which despite their rather girly image retain peculiarly high residual values, and in terms of driving dynamics, are perhaps the most sorted small cars around.

The second generation Mini was launched locally in 2007, and since then has been joined by the Clubman estate version for those discerning same-gender couples with matching pets who need the extra space.

With the launch of the convertible version, the range is now expanded to three body styles, and though we are on the cusp of autumn locally, you suspect BMW is cognisant of the convertible Mini’s rampant popularity not being easily stymied by the approaching winter months.

The first generation convertible accounted for nearly 17% of all Mini sales – indicative of the soft-top market niche hatching sufficient demand for such a product.

More capacious, slightly more rigid and lighter too.

The second generation soft-top is slightly roomier and more dynamically resolved. Optically gifted Mini enthusiasts with a keen eye for detail will notice the larger side-windows, and with the soft-top retracted, the lack of a cumbersome rear roll-bar.

In an effort to blend the rear styling elements more seamlessly (not to mention improve rearward visibility) the roll-over protection is now integrated into the chassis behind the rear seats.

Roll-over protection and retracted roof mechanism now better fused, plethora of blind-spots remain with roof in place, yet in convertible mode rearward visibility is an improvement on the first generation cars.

For the rest it’s standard Mini fare, which means negligible front and rear overhangs, and just enough heritage styling details to err on the tasteful side of retro.

Inside you get an extra toggle switch (as if there were not enough of them already) to actuate the electro-hydraulic canvas roof, which retracts in only 15 seconds. The soft-top can be operated at speeds up to 30km/h too, if you’re keen on making a fuss of yourself cruising around the Ballito beachfront or Sea Point promenade.

Mini's Always Open timer. Outer ring measures the top-down sun exposure in minutes, black ring in hours. If you're good at math you can calculate your SPF protection factor to sunburn time-frame. We believe it's probably an example of BMW's peculiar brand of German humour.

To ensure the replacement of a fixed roof with open-top convertibility does not incur a significant dynamic penalty in terms of significantly increased scuttle shake, the bodywork, A-pillar and side sills have been strengthened and the chassis is 10% more rigid.

Despite the added refinement and strengthened design, mass is 10kg down on the first generation convertible.

Loadability is improved too, with the boot volume increased by an additional five litres with the roof open (125l) or closed (170l), a small improvement over the previous generation car.

Boot-space is up 5l, so you can now pack-in both SPF day-time moisturiser and eye-cream for those weekends away...Fabulous.

Camp or Champ?

So, even with a canvas roof Mini still looks as cute as a button (or loony as a toon with the new Interchange Yellow finish) and blends German design neatness with a very fluid identity.

Question remains though: is this the campest new car available or a veritable driving champion?

Mini optioned on launching the convertible in the rolling hills of the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, and with splendid weather factoring in plenty of opportunity to fold down the roof, the new Minis were given a thorough working over.

I have never quite understood the wisdom which dictates all convertible top cars as being infinitely inferior to their fixed roof siblings in terms of dynamics. Contemporary body design and construction techniques mean all you notice when driving at speed with the roof down is more noise.

On a track, with slicks on, perhaps there are a few tenths of second in it, but in the real world, where you drive your convertible with dynamic verve for about 45 minutes on a Sunday, you’ll never notice the dynamic difference between it and a hardtop. Especially when the underpinnings are as well sorted as they are in the Mini range.

With a proportionally huge wheelbase, yet truncated overall length, and buoyed by independent suspension front and rear, Minis remain perhaps the most resolved range of front-wheel drive hatchbacks around.

Although most of the roads around the KwaZulu-Natal midlands have been pounded to pieces by heavy transport, the Mini convertibles were hardly bothered.

Mid-corner bumps were dismissively absorbed (superbly controlled by the z-axle rear suspension especially) and the blend of high-speed poise and ride-quality would undoubtedly invoke a grin of approval from the late Alec Issigonis.

Interchange Yellow is a new colour to the range; it looks awesome when exposed to direct sunlight and has bit of a green tinge in shade. Cooper S dynamics still remarkable - and no, that's not Lenny Kravitz driving.

Powertrains are carried over from the rest of the Mini range. This means you get relaxed progress with the 88kW naturally aspirated 1.6l, and plenty of turbine spooling and whooshing madness from the turbocharged 128kW version.

With both engines featuring the same under-square architecture profiled for optimal rotational force at low engine speeds, there is little need for frantic shifting to keep up with traffic in town. Efficiency over the previous range is noticeable too, with the unblown engine 16% more frugal, and the turbo unit 13% lighter on fuel.

Refinement is hardly compromised either. With the roof in place the Mini convertible ushers in a cabin environment which feels airier than the hatch or Clubman.

Roof down and rear deflector screen (a R2 390 option) in place, wind-swirl is a non-issue with casual conversation still easily audible at speeds way beyond 120 km/h.

Mini’s convertible is a fabulous little car all things considered. Splendidly designed, with a well executed soft-top, the dynamics shine through almost in spite of the brand’s image as a girly/gay car choice of first resort. In reality, this is probably the most entertaining convertible around for less than Audi's TT or BMW's own 1 Series soft-top – especially in hooligan Cooper S spec.

The soft-top Minis are not cheap though. The Cooper retails for R272 500 and the S is R327 500. For those prices you get a single slot MP3 enabled CD-player, air-conditioning and four-airbags, which leaves a long list of option boxes still to be ticked.

Finding a canvas roof competitor is not the work of a moment either. Peugeot's 207 CC sport is much cheaper but hardly as dynamically able, it's also not a soft-top either...

So, if you’re Daddy’s favourite little girl (or toy-boy) with a yearning for top-down driving dynamics and speed, be sure to sure to get your sugar Daddy to sign for one as soon as possible.


Cooper    R272 500
              R288 600 (auto)
Cooper S R327 500
              R343 600   (auto)


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