The 2006 Mini Cooper convertible.
But if this is a bathtub, the rubber duckies better buckle up, because the Mini continues to be one of the snappiest, most fun drives on the planet.
The Mini Cooper, reintroduced four years ago as a cult classic comeback, is headed for one million in worldwide sales. Not bad for a car whose aura did not necessarily derive from its intended 1960s mission of being an English version of a people's car. Instead, its reputation was established after a handful of racing enthusiasts took it onto twisting road racetracks and proceeded to best far more powerful competitors.
Today's version of the Mini Cooper would run away from any of those old Minis, and -- thanks to reasonable pricing -- it also remains a people's car for these times. The base model sells for $22,000, well below the average price paid for a car in the United States these days.
And its fun factor -- in hardtop or drop top, base or hot-rod S model -- is way above average.
To prove the point, we tested the base 115-horsepower with its normally aspirated 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine with a five-speed manual transmission (continuously variable automatic is also available).
In comparison, the S model gets a supercharger that stuffs it with enough power-enriching air to boost horsepower significantly, to 168.
When last I tested an S, I advised that if zip, zest, zigging, and zagging hit you in the solar plexus, then the $3,000 or more for the extra ponies was well worth it. Where the base engine sets you off on a moderate leap that leads to a confident cruise, the S power plant rockets a driver to the far edges of traction (and with a Mini, those edges are far out).
But convertibles are not made for hurtling into country corners or even racing in a club event. For one thing, this one is not stiff when put to hard cornering or jostling over bumps. You can see the windshield pillars twitch slightly.
So live with it. Accept that you're behind the wheel of a convertible that is, like all convertibles, made for cruising in the sunlight and the wind. It was plenty powerful to pull out for highway passing. Steady on long uphill climbs, and while it sashayed where the S model would snap, that also is part of the package.
One of the coolest features of the convertible Mini is the two-stage fold process that its top goes through on the way down. Press a button just above the rear-view mirror and the front portion of the roof slides back and stops -- a sunroof. Press it again and the top unhinges, lifts, folds back and down, and tucks itself neatly away. A portion of the roof top becomes a tonneau cover. And for convenience, if you want to air your car out on a hot day before entering, you can use your electronic key to issue the same commands.
Inside, the Mini is classic road-rally retro with a speedometer in big, round form dominating the center dash. Other gauges, including an appropriately dominant tachometer, are mounted behind the wheel.
Aluminum framing, braces, and tubes sit amidst a generous swath of two-tone leather seating. The upfront seating is race-car enveloping: seats that hug you tight, toggle switches at lower center control stack control, and side windows.
Front-seat space is as big as you want to make it. The rear seat shrinks considerably, and rapidly.
Standard equipment, with what is becoming a necessary blend of safety to meet consumer demands, includes driver and front-passenger, seat-mounted side air bags, antilock brake system, traction control, stability control, and a tire pressure warning system. Comfort considerations include power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, and the power folding top/sunroof.
Mini is looking to move into other areas while carrying the same brand -- most notably an upcoming, oxymoronic bigger Mini. It's probably a wise move, given that the reappearance of a cult car, even one so popular, often loses its luster after an initial buying burst.
How well Mini is able to extend its appeal beyond hardcore believers will provide an interesting measure of the auto industry's volatility.
Royal Ford can be reached at email@example.com.