2009 MINI Cooper S Convertible Test Drive Review

We’ve been driving the new MINI Cooper S Convertible in Austria.

Thanks to MINI we’ve been able to spend almost six hours behind the wheel of the all new MINI Convertible, with the roof down, on some of the most enjoyable series of roads we’ve ever encountered. In the snow.  And in temperatures as low as -6 Celsius.  Madness.

The new Convertible carries over it’s styling from the second generation MINI, so there’s not very much to report on in terms of the bodywork below the waist, although there are some small but significant differences from both the previous generation Convertible, and the hatch back variant of the second generation MINI.

One change that only a keen MINI spotter would notice at first is the fuel filler cap, as with the first generation MINI Convertible, this moves slightly backwards and upwards, and is actually minutely smaller in overall diameter.  This is more by necessity than choice, thanks to the workings of the hood which are neatly tucked in behind the rear panels.  Also neatly tucked in this time around are the boot hinges.  Gone are the retro style, but perhaps rather cumbersome, external boot hinges, replaced by a more complex and tidy internal hinge system.  But despite the apparent diminutive size of the new hangers, the boot lid can still take up to 80kg in weight resting on it “for tailgate parties” as Marcus Syring, who is responsible for exterior design, put it.

The new hood is pretty similar in style to that fitted to the model it replaces, so there’s not much to report there , but the fabric is different, hopefully improved (no more wear marks this time please MINI!) and features what MINI described as improved channeling of rain water around the front windows, so hopefully no more soggy seats and laps for MINI owners and their passengers who live in damper climes!  The rear window is once again glass and heated, and the whole package folds down pretty neatly, considering the packaging limitations.  The hidden rear anti-roll over bars also improve both the look of the rear of the car and rearward visibility for the driver, so that’s a positive on two counts.

Inside, the styling too is carried over from the hatchback, the over head switch panel gains a toggle for the roof, and feels much nicer and more suitable than the BMW-borrowed switchgear of its predecessor. In fact, the second generation MINI Convertible overall feels very much like the previous generation, but with the little bugbears ironed out or fettled to improve the overall experience.

On the road the Cooper S Convertible can take pretty much anything that comes its way.  Including snow, ice, dramatic twisty mountain passes…. Which is just as well, as these were all prevalent on the chosen test route, as crazy as the chocolate box location seemed at first, it turned out BMW knew exactly what they were doing when they chose it.  There is a small difference between the handling of the soft top and the hatch, but less than you may expect, and certainly nothing that dampens the enjoyment of the car, it’s 10kg lighter and yet 10% stiffer than before, with reinforcements in the familiar locations of the sill panels, under seat cross members, front screen surround and such.

Of course, with the second generation MINI Cooper S we waved goodbye to the supercharger whine, and while that is sadly lacking from the experience, the exhaust tone, turbo noise and relatively low wind noise make for a very pleasurable aural experience.  Especially enjoyable when following other test cars on the more challenging roads, flanked by firs and with lots of lifting off and powering down, the noise certainly raised a smile from us.

We’ve always been a fan of the MINI Convertible, and the second generation really does little than take the first attempt and further refine and improve on an already strong performer.  The design feels more complete, BMW bosses admitted that with the first generation the only initial design consideration was the hatch back, no serious thought was given to any variants, with the new Convertible and the Clubman before it, it shows that the range has benefited from this forethought, the car looks neatly poised and well balanced.

So on the plus side you have better MPG (up over 20%), reduced CO2 emissions (down 20%), and a lighter, stronger car, which performs brilliantly in the most challenging driving conditions for a small soft top vehicle.  On the downside, there’s not much to think of really, rear visibility isn’t as good as the hatch, but that’s a given with a fabric roof, and perhaps one touch roof operation would be a nice feature, but that would come at the cost of the “sunroof” function, but other than that the new MINI Convertible takes an already successful and popular formula, and just tweaks it hear and there, ties up a few lose ends, and presents a more finished product.  Very well done.

For a more in depth analysis, and photos from the Austrian test event, check out theSwitchback.com