Fleet News

MINI Cooper Convertible



It's the equivalent of a little puppy in automotive terms.

Who cannot fail to be won over by it cute, chunky proportions, it big loveable face and wagging tail? Even me, an old cynic when it comes to product so conspicuously tugging at the heartstrings like this, couldn't help thinking I needed one of these on my drive.

Looking at it, I'm of the belief that to own a MINI Convertible you need to be young and female, but according to the marketing department, orders for the car so far have ranged across both sexes and all age groups, fleet and retail.

The firm reckons that 20% of all MINIs sold from now on will be Convertibles, which is a hefty slice, and about 15% of those should be fleet cars, although the number of small business purchases which don't come under fleet registrations, and cash-for-car buyers should be high. In fact, I can envision female executives all over the country opting out of company car schemes to get their hands on one of these little cuties.

They'll have a long wait though, because the UK allocation of about 5,000 cars is already pretty much sold out for this year.


So why will the Convertible be so popular? Well, the MINI is a car that people fall in love with, and in the UK everybody loves a soft-top – they sell by the bucketload. So combining those two automotive darlings together is a sure-fire, iron-clad, Brad and Jen-style winning recipe.

The residual value forecasters have recognised this match made in heaven (or BMW's Oxford factory, where it will be built). CAP has predicted residual values of around the 50% mark for three years/60,000 miles, which is up there among the best cars there are for keeping their value, such as the Porsche Boxster and BMW X5.

But don't think that it's as simple as just chopping the roof off the MINI and bolting a fabric roof on. This is BMW after all and they like to do things properly.

To try to keep the handling prowess of the MINI intact after taking the roof off and to keep safety at its previous levels, the body structure has had to be stiffened with crossbars and thickened side panels have been added at critical points.

For rollover protection, there's a high-strength steel tube in the A pillars and rollover bars on the back of the rear seats above the headrests. All this extra metal adds about 100kg in weight to the car.

There have been some styling tweaks around the nose and internally, but the effect is limited, and with so many MINIs specced up in so many individual ways, a bog standard car is difficult to spot anyway.

Enough of the humdrum stuff. What about the star attraction – the roof? When it's closed, the cloth roof mirrors the lines of the metal top, although it is slightly lower to keep the MINI's muscular appearance and the waistline is slightly raised at the back.

The roof opens and closes entirely hands-free, apart from some prodding at a button. Push the button once and the front will slide back sunroof-style and will do this at speeds of up to 75mph.

Press it again and it retracts in a Z folding shape, snuggling up behind the rear seats. All this should take 15 seconds, and it looks well-engineered and operates smoothly. The same is true going in the opposite direction and there is no need to lock it into place, as it is all done electrically.

Because of the problems which packaging a soft-top poses, designers have gone back to the original Mini for solutions, so the boot hinges downwards. The space for getting stuff in the boot is no more than a glorified letterbox, but it's helped by the roof, which can be swivelled upwards from the base to create a larger aperture.

It's not particularly well-specified. Manual air conditioning is a £630 option and a CD player will set you back £70, although the five year/50,000 mile TLC servicing package is only £100.

At nearly £15,000 for the basic car, the Cooper is competitively priced, although there will need to be an investment on equipment to make life more comfortable. However, bear in mind that in the long run its brilliant residuals will more than make up for the extra initial outlay.

Behind the wheel

A hardtop MINI is about as practical as a chocolate teapot so it's not surprising that the Convertible is even worse. Rear seat room is awful and boot space is minimal, although it can be improved by folding the rear seats down.

The driving position is very good though – the front two passengers sit very low which means there is hardly any buffeting, especially with the windbreak in place across the two rear seats. In fact, it's as calm in the MINI as in any other convertible.

The stereo doesn't need to be turned up to 11, you don't have to shout at your passenger like they are 500 metres away and those who have a well-tended hairstyle won't feel the endless hours under a blowdryer were a complete waste of time.

Visibility out of the back is poor, with the roof up or down. With the roof up, there's a small bucket-shaped hole between the two rear headrests and rollover hoops, and with it down, pretty much everything is blocked out by the roof sitting above the bodywork. The fact that all cars come with Park Distance Control as standard speaks volumes.

The extra weight means that the 1.6-litre 115bhp engine struggles to cope and you need to redline it in every gear to get any sort of performance out of the car.

At least it handles almost as well as the tin top. There is still loads of grip, it's great fun to throw about and there's very little scuttle shake apparent, even if you hit heavy ruts at an angle, which tests the torsional stiffness.

With the roof up, there was some rattling around the windows over bumpy roads, which isn't surprising as it is stiffly sprung, but the Convertible really isn't far off the standard car.

So it's not particularly fast and it rattles a bit, but these facts pale into insignificance as you drive around and soak up the reception the Convertible gets. The launch was near Seville and as we passed through various one-donkey towns on the route, we attracted a large following fleet of dusty urchins on smoky mopeds, all keen to get a closer look.

If it garners that reaction in the middle of a Spanish nowhere, imagine the reaction in middle England. There will be riots on the streets of Esher and Evesham as drivers fight to get hold of the remaining few cars.

Driving verdict

Take one of the most desirable cars on the road and chop its roof off. Result? This is the car to have this year. Get your orders in now.

Model: Cooper Convertible
Engine (cc): 1,598
Max power (bhp/rpm): 115/6,00
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 111/4,500
Max speed (mph): 120
0-62mph (sec): 9.8
Comb fuel consumption (mpg): 38.7
CO2 emissions (g/km): 175
Transmission: 5 sp man
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 50/11
Service interval (miles): Variable
On sale: Now
Prices (OTR): £14,625

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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