While the second-generation Mini Cooper has been on the market for some time, the 2008 convertible is based on the first-generation car. That will change soon as BMW, owner of the Mini brand, moves convertible production to the new platform for 2009.
The Mini is a hoot, and a convertible is even more fun. The power top goes up and down easily, and scurrying around with the top down is a blast.
The droptop Mini is not a hatchet job, but a sophisticated convertible whose fully automatic power top can be opened partway like a sunroof, or all the way, at the touch of a button. The folded top stacks neatly behind the back seat and infringes very little on the already small trunk.
The rear seats have aluminum hoops integrated into the headrests for rollover protection, and they are tall enough to spoil rear vision even with the top down. You have to be especially adept at using the outside mirrors, and backing out of parking spots requires great care. Rear parking sensors are standard, in part because it is hard to see out the back. The next Mini convertible will have a lower back seat and improved rear vision.
Convertible prices begin at $22,600. The supercharged Cooper S starts at $26,050.
I drove the regular model, and its transversely mounted, 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine had more than enough poke. The engine produces 115 horsepower, but it is rated at 23 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway.
The transmission was a five-speed manual. The tight shift linkage and stubby shift lever make it fun to run through the gears.
The Mini handles like a grown-up go-kart. The steering is quick and direct, and you can shift gears with a flick of the wrist. Attack corners, which the Mini loves to do, and it retains its composure.
Though the Mini is technically a four-seater, legroom in back is suitable for kids at best. If you're driving on the highway, a detachable wind blocker snaps in place over the back seat and helps negate wind buffeting in the cabin.
The Mini's tachometer is directly behind the steering wheel while a large speedometer is mounted in the center of the dash. It takes some time to get used to looking at the center of the dash for the speedometer.
Toggle switches for the power windows, door locks and fog light are mounted on the center of the dash.
The Mini's standard cup holders are small and won't hold anything larger than a soda can. A larger auxiliary cup holder has been fitted to the dash, but it is definitely an afterthought.
There is no bulkhead between the very tiny trunk and the back seat. The saving grace, however, is that the back seat folds down for luggage space.
The Mini's trunk lid opens out like a tailgate, and the bottom of the top pivots up a few inches, to facilitate loading large items.
The base price of the test car was $22,600. Options included the British racing green metallic paint, heated front seats, automatic air conditioning, sport seats, vehicle stability control, white hood stripes and Harmon-Kardon stereo. The sticker price was $28,850.
Four years or 50,000 miles, with free maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles.
2008 Mini Cooper convertible
Engine: 1.6-liter, 115-hp 4-cyl.
Wheelbase: 97.1 inches
Curb weight: 2,700 lbs.
Base prices: $22,600
As driven: $28,850
MPG rating: 23 city, 32 hwy.
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