1.5 Cooper Shadow Edition 2dr [Comfort Pack]
One of the most stylish convertibles around is the cheeky MINI drop top. June Neary tries it for size.
Let's face it, I don't have a large family to cart about daily. My other half isn't even that big, so I don't really need a car with a whole lot of seats. Therefore something MINI-sized would suit me nicely and I'm a sucker for anything with a soft top. Once the MINI Convertible arrived at the office, I made sure I intercepted the driver, signed the forms and then surreptitiously sneaked the car to the end of the car park behind a Renault Master van. There was no way the boss was going to pull rank on me with this one, especially as it was Friday and the weather forecast for the weekend was uncharacteristically promising. Time to work on that tan.
Let's not get too hung up on the practicalities. This car is all about fun. The roof itself is a fully automatic fabric affair, MINI wisely choosing to reject the far more complex folding hard top fashion. Opting for this more complex engineering solution would not only have ruined the MINI's shape but also severely impinged on its luggage space. As it stands, the MINI retains a characteristic profile with the roof in place yet looks appealingly cheeky with the hood down. Press a button once and the roof slides back by 40cm, creating a sunroof effect. Press it again and the hood retracts fully, folding down behind the rear seats. Clever use of space means the luggage capacity of this MK3 model car is considerably improved - 215-litres with the roof closed and 160-litres with it folded down. This allows for up to three typical airline cabin cases, so everyday practicality is much improved. That's enough for a couple of squashy bags but if you're planning a week away, you're going to need to pack light, pack cheap or else, schedule a trip to the Laundromat.
The first thing that I would say about driving the MINI is that it is not a reproduction of Alec Issigonis's original dream, but more a synthetic repackaging. Unfortunately, the word synthetic fits pretty well - what at first looks like aluminium is in fact rather thin plastic. Still, these things are cosmetic - I could learn to live with them. MINI claim their Convertible offers the same go-kart style handling as the hatch and this is testament to thorough bracing. Weight has crept up and as a result acceleration is a little blunted compared to the hard top sibling but even the base petrol Cooper version will sprint to 62mph in a very reasonable 8.8 seconds. At speeds of up to 18mph, the fabric top can be lowered or raised in 18 seconds, so when the British weather does what it does, you'll not be left out in the rain for too long.
MINI motoring isn't especially cheap. The basic petrol MINI Cooper Convertible starts at around £18,500 for the manual version, the diesel costs from just over £20,000 and the top of the range John Cooper Works model from a little over £28,000. All variants are available in Manual and Automatic transmissions. Safety kit includes ABS brakes with EBD Electronic Brake Force Distribution to maximise their effectiveness, CBC Cornering Brake Control and Brake Assist to help in an emergency stop. Twin front and side airbags are of course standard too, as is DSC Dynamic Stability Control to help you out on slippery roads or if you enter a corner too fast. All Coopers come with air conditioning which also keeps the glovebox cool to stop your chocolate getting sticky, rear parking sensors, MP3 compatability for the stereo and alloy wheels. It's a pity though that the wind blocker that makes roof-down motoring at speed so much more relaxing resides on the options list. One option of dubious value is what MINI are calling their 'Openometer'. This, believe it or not, records the amount of time spent by the owner driving with the top down. I've given it a lot of thought and I'm still not sure why you'd ever want to know that...
I think I could live with MINI's Convertible, even in a country where the sun shines as infrequently as Britain. It's not quite as sharp a driver's tool as its hard top siblings but that's a small sacrifice to pay.
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