Mini Convertible Cooper S (2009) review

Published:28 January 2009

Mini Cooper S Convertible (2009) CAR review
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Greg Fountain

CAR's former managing editor, editor, caption chiseller, noticer of ironies

By Greg Fountain

CAR's former managing editor, editor, caption chiseller, noticer of ironies

All style and no substance? You could be forgiven for thinking so, but BMW values its reputation for dynamic excellence very highly, and the Mini has much to live up to. So don’t be too surprised to hear how good the Cooper S Convertible is, both as a driver’s car and as an increasingly neatly packaged piece of niche marketing.

The Mini Convertible? Neatly packaged? Haven’t heard that said about any new generation Mini.

Okay, so students of Issigonis won’t be tearing up their dissertations, but the way the canvas hood works is really quite neat, plus the all-new single-piece rollbar stays hidden behind the rear seats until needed, creating a much cleaner look and better rear visibility, and allowing the roof to exactly ape the tin-top’s shape, thus not looking even slightly crap.

It’s a 15-second job to retract the roof into the boot, and the boot space you’re left with is marginally improved over the previous car (by five litres, to 125 litres with the roof open and 175 with it closed). Admittedly the canvas stacks itself into a rather cumbersome looking pile that sticks up so proudly it could almost be taken for a rear spoiler, but it makes for a kind of ‘roadster’ look. Which is cool.

Fine, but how does it go?

The Cooper S packs the familiar turbocharged 1.6-litre engine, with 175bhp and 177lb ft of torque, which we know is a gutsy performer, and it doesn’t disappoint here. There’s loads of fun to be had wringing out the urge via the snicky six-speed manual box, yet the engine never feels stretched thanks to so much of its twist action being so available low down the rev band.

The only thing we’ve lost is a fraction of the character we once enjoyed – even with the top down there’s not much reward for tunnel hooligans. Unless you blip it hard.

But the engine’s improved nature is worth that loss of character, right?

Right. In environmental terms it makes the old lump look like a well-alight Ukranian paint factory. Mpg on the Cooper S is up 23 percent (from 34 to 44.1), while the increasingly deal-breaking CO2 headline plummets from 199g/km to 153. Upping the enviro-ante even further is automatic stop-start, brake energy regeneration and a change-up indicator, although the latter is too fussy by half, having you shuffling cogs like a card shark in an unwinnable quest for planet-pleasing rpm.

>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our Mini Convertible Cooper S first drive

Is there a dynamic price for the loss of a roof?

Surprisingly little – the Cooper S is about as taut and agile as you could possibly hope. The weight disadvantage is less than before, making the car 10kg lighter than its predecessor despite a new floorpan and extra body stiffness. If anything the Mini feels more planted at the front than some of its tin-topped cousins, resisting the family tendency to tramline except on the worst Alpine ruts of our Austrian test route and digging in chirpily to get round tighter-than-you-thought bends.

As for headline performance, nobody’s going to grumble about 0-62 in 7.4 seconds, and 138mph should be enough unless you plan a ceremonial wig release.

Sounds a bit too good to be true.

It says a lot about Mini’s confidence in this car that they chose the snowbound Alps as the first testing ground. These are roads that wind and twist through frozen forests, with the tarmac cracked and broken and the holes filled with random ice. The inclines are seriously sharp and the drops potentially terminal, yet the car is a revelation.

With sympathetic inputs of throttle and minimal use of the brakes it goes about its task with relish, virtually steering itself across the slush with occasional yet unintrusive dabs of traction control. Even when you floor it there’s decent grip.

The steering is a freshly sharpened delight, and the progression of the brakes operates at near Porsche levels of balance. A foray onto a snow-covered ice track underlines the poetry of the chassis, allowing you to go hard and safe with Dynamic Stability Control behind you, but offering a pliable, slidey treat in hooligan mode with DSC and its optional ‘sub-function’ – Dynamic Traction Control – switched off. Feels almost rear-wheel drive.

Impressive, but Mini Convertible buyers are going to want trinkets – what’s on offer?

All the wine bar talk will be about the optional ‘Always Open Timer’, which basically allows you to log how much time you’ve spent with the roof down, thereby impressing, err, nobody really. Pointless? Oh yes, but you’ve got to hand it to these Mini guys – they’ve made it a huge analogue dial plugged onto the side of the already massive rev counter, giving it more eyeline prominence than the speedo!

You can spec the canvas roof in denim with 'jeans stitching' or go for metallic chocolate paintwork, which you can also expect to be coded on the cabin trim, and if you’re mad for it there’s a lighting pack which alters the ambience from orange to blue.

Note to Chingford hair stylists: spec with care – the Mini’s still-leading residuals can only take so much bad taste when it comes to selling on.

>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our Mini Convertible Cooper S first drive

At the end of the day, how big a deal is the Convertible on Planet Mini?

Well, they’ve shifted 160,000 soft-tops globally since 2004, 40,000 of which have been in the UK. And if their sums are right, Brits will snap up another 7000 in each of the next two years. Of these only around 2000 will be Cooper Ss, which is no surprise when you look at the slightly eye-widening price tag of £18,995. And that’s without the key trinkets.

Verdict

It's not the Mini of choice for enthusiast drivers – there’s no dynamic advantage and you’d be more comfy in the boot of a Mondeo than sitting in these measly back seats, which take on extra sombreness with the canvas roof seeming rather too close for comfort. But, if you want open-air stuff, it’s the absolute business. Can’t think of a more resolved cabrio, bar none. 

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Specs

Price when new: £18,995
On sale in the UK: March 2009
Engine: 1598cc 4-cyl turbo, 175bhp @ 5500rpm, 177lb ft @ 1600-5000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 7.4sec 0-62mph, 138mph, 44.1mpg, 153g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1305kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3714/1683/1414

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  • Mini Cooper S Convertible (2009) CAR review
  • Mini Cooper S Convertible (2009) CAR review
  • Mini Cooper S Convertible (2009) CAR review
  • Mini Cooper S Convertible (2009) CAR review
  • Mini Cooper S Convertible (2009) CAR review
  • Mini Cooper S Convertible (2009) CAR review
  • Mini Cooper S Convertible (2009) CAR review
  • Mini Cooper S Convertible (2009) CAR review

By Greg Fountain

CAR's former managing editor, editor, caption chiseller, noticer of ironies

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