On my second day with the MINI Cooper Convertible I got the chance to take a good look at this soft-topped MINI's exterior, as well as put some quality miles on the odometer. The first thing I am struck by in looking at the exterior of the droptop MINI is how well BMW/MINI kept the shape intact (I think the only better job I've seen in this area is on the New Beetle Convertible). But, it is when you fold the top down on this MINI that you really understand how this car was meant to be. It just looks fun, as though you should literally jump in and start driving the world's largest go-kart.
And driving the MINI Convertible is a lot like driving the world?s largest go-kart. As I stated on day one, the car is magnificently solid, and only an everyday hardtop MINI driver will notice the bodyflex of the softtop version, as BMW/MINI did a fantastic job of re-enforcing the convertible?s frame. Initially, I did have some skepticism about the powertrain setup of this base Cooper though. With a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, putting out 115bhp, and mated to a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), I figured this MINI wouldn?t be able to get out of it?s own way. But I have been pleasantly surprised to find that was certainly not the case. Now, the standard MINI Convertible isn?t going to win many drag races, but it was never intended to do so. I think a manual transmission would make my time with the MINI Convertible more pleasureable, but by no means has the CVT been a disappointment. Being the first time I have driven one, it has taken some getting used to, but having the ability to switch between full automatic, sport drive, and step-tronic mode does help give the driver a better sense of control.
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Like it?s hardtop bretheren, the MINI Convertible loves a twisty road. It was built for a twisty road, and this is where it truely shines, but around Chicagoland finding a twisty mountain or coastal road is, well, somewhat difficult to say the least. So the MINI leaves you looking for that road with that one great turn, that great highway on/off ramp, or that section of paved road that if you hit the stoplights just right turns into a series of great turns, as I found myself going a bit out of my way to take an alternate route to work in order to hit that great right hander. With a touch of oversteer, and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) to keep the rear-end from swapping ends with the front, the MINI really inspires confidence through corners. In fact, I?m sure I could have pushed this vehicle much harder around corners, but that angel over my right shoulder always seems to win out when the vehicle is not mine (that, and I?m not so keen in owning a totaled vehicle).
The one big complaint I have about driving the MINI Convertible with the top closed, is the terrible rear visibility. Not that other convertibles are better per say, but the MINI seems particularly bad, so it is nice that MINI includes the back-up assist feature (which scared the crap out of me the first time it beeped on as I was backing up). With the dual rollbars above the rear seats, rear visibility is limited at best, and blind spots are especially bad, which left me checking and double-checking lane changes, especially on the highway. On the highway, I am really impressed with how quiet the car is. It has been a while since I have driven a convertible on the highway, but I remember it being pretty loud, the MINI Convertible however, is quieter than some hardtops I have driven at highway speeds.
Now this is what everyone has been waiting for, what the MINI Convertible is like to drive with the top down. Well, I can tell you that in mid-December it is cold. On day two, it warmed up to 43-degrees, as warm as I figured it would get while I have the car, so I had to fold the top back, don my hat and gloves, kick on the seat warmer, blast the heat, and go motoring. You get a lot of funny looks when you are driving your convertible with the top down in mid-December in Chicago. With the roof opened up, the MINI Convertible seems a lot more open than other convertibles due to the more vertical windscreen and seating position that puts the driver at almost dead center in the car. Even in mid-December though, driving the MINI Convertible with the top open was, for the lack of a better word, fun. You are completely awash in everything that is going on around you, and from time to time you will have to remind yourself that you are actually driving, as you just want to look around at everything and take it all in. I only wish now that it was mid-June, and I could ride around with the top down at all times. Once you drive with it open, there is no other way to go.
Read about Day 1 in the MINI Cooper Convertible.