Drop-top dy­namo

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

NEW Mini con­vert­ible own­ers will be rightly rapt to be buy­ing the cheap­est drop-top in the brand’s Aus­tralian his­tory. Ex­ist­ing own­ers may be less en­thused the new and im­proved model is about $5000 cheaper than the one in their garage. Mini is un­apolo­getic about the move say­ing it has come as a di­rect re­sult of mar­ket feed­back and the com­pe­ti­tion.

Mini gen­eral man­ager Tony Sesto says deal­ers will make less money on each car but should sell more of them.

“I asked ‘Do you want to sell cars, or do you want to sell cars’,” Sesto says. “Mini had 30 per cent growth last year and is up 17 per cent year to date on that fig­ure. We’ve trimmed the lineup back to our core mod­els and the con­vert­ible is an im­por­tant part of that range.”

When Mini launched the lo­cal con­vert­ible range in 2005 a Cooper with an au­to­matic trans­mis­sion was $38,100. To­day it is $37,900 and in­cludes dual-zone air­con, a re­vers­ing cam­era and a tur­bocharged 1.5- litre three-cylin­der en­gine that can pro­pel the four-seater to 100km/h in 8.7 sec­onds.

The Cooper S is now on sale for $45,400. Be­yond the sportier en­gine and an auto trans­mis­sion with pad­dle shifters, it adds LED lamps, up­graded nav­i­ga­tion, sports seats and a trio of driv­ing modes. The 2.0-litre turbo four­cylin­der is the en­thu­si­asts’ pick, with power and torque up by 40 and 30 per cent re­spec­tively.

The body is much stiffer than the pre­vi­ous model and there is more leg and shoul­der room in the cabin — though still not enough down back for this to be a se­ri­ous four-seater — and the boot space is up by a quar­ter to 215 litres with the roof up or 160 litres with it down.

The roof is an elec­tri­cally clos­ing soft-top that takes 18 sec­onds to raise or lower and can be done up to 30km/h.

A six-speed auto is the de­fault trans­mis­sion, though a six-speed man­ual is a no-cost op­tion. That’s your fault too — 85 per cent of Mini con­vert­ible buy­ers opt for the auto. Speak­ing of op­tions, the list is as ex­ten­sive as al­ways and it takes lit­tle pen­man­ship to boost the price of ei­ther car by $10,000 or more. The vis­ual high­light is prob­a­bly the Union Jack flag wo­ven into the roof fab­ric for $900.

ON THE ROAD

Con­vert­ibles should be about driv­ing en­joy­ment as well as pose value and this lit­tle car man­ages both. Un­der full ac­cel­er­a­tion or hard cor­ner­ing there is lit­tle body flex in the Mini. Cor­ru­ga­tions can pro­voke the oc­ca­sional tick from the top of the car but it is a fairly re­fined lit­tle pack­age. Put that down to a tougher donor car in the form of the new Mini hatch and plenty of V-shaped brac­ing through the un­der­body to keep the car tied down.

In other re­gards it is a typ­i­cal Mini, from the re­spon­sive steer­ing to the slick gear changes. The 1.5-litre is the ob­vi­ous choice for city driv­ers. It’s not slow, uses half a litre less fuel over 100km than the four­cylin­der and is $7500 cheaper.

The Cooper S, with more go, makes an ideal open-top tourer.

A back seat makes it more prac­ti­cal than most drop-tops and Mini says it sees the likes of the Citroen DS3 and Peu­geot’s yet-to-ar­rive 208 CC as ob­vi­ous ri­vals. I’d toss the Golf con­vert­ible into that mix as well.

The down­side of con­vert­ible own­er­ship is usu­ally rear vis­i­bil­ity. The plas­tic rear win­dow doesn’t show a lot of real es­tate and the view is sim­i­larly limited when head- check­ing blind spots be­fore chang­ing lanes. Drop the roof and it bunches up be­hind the rear seats, ef­fec­tively ob­scur­ing most sedans.

Wind noise with the roof down is more than ac­cept­able and those of av­er­age height will find the breeze faintly ruf­fles their hair. A de­flec­tor can be quickly fit­ted to sit above the back seats to quell in-cabin tur­bu­lence at speed. It works … but you’re not car­ry­ing four at that point.

VER­DICT

On price, per­for­mance and fea­tures this is the best Mini con­vert­ible yet.

While far from per­fect, it is a rel­a­tively af­ford­able drop-top with some abil­ity to hang on around a cor­ner with­out warp­ing the chas­sis.

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