Review: 2009 Mini Cooper S Convertible

Klagenfurt, Austria
The principal appeal of convertibles has always been the prospect of swanning along the seaside with the top down to catch the sun - and the eye of bystanders. No vehicle available today performs that function as well as the new Mini Cooper convertible, but to demonstrate the polyvalence of the car, the world press launch was organized in the dead of winter in the snowbound Austrian Alps. True to the brand's contrarian, fun-and-funky marketing spirit, the motto for the car and the launch was "Always Open." Journalists were exhorted to drive with the top down, and all of the test cars were fitted with a new standard feature, the Openmeter, which serves as a life-of-the-car recorder of hours spent driving with the top fully retracted.

That unique device is only one of more than 200 options and accessories, enough to assure that tens of thousands of one-off cars can be made on the Oxford, England, Mini production line. The Munich-based Mini design team, forty-some strong, has done excellent work on the convertible project, particularly with respect to color and trim. There are at least a dozen standard interior/exterior color combinations ranging from the conservative and traditional (British racing green exterior, tan leather inside) to the expressive, intended solely for the convertible (interchange yellow with yellow-stitched carbon black cosmos cloth). To go along with the usual black, there are two new colors for the folding top: hot chocolate (a warm dark brown) and denim blue (see Levi Strauss & Co. for a reliable reference, even including the orange stitching). There are more than a dozen interior trim choices; two seat designs, standard and sport; and even the choice of two- or three-spoke steering wheels.

Flexibility is a key word for the Mini Cooper S convertible. The engine is extremely (and agreeably) flexible, with its infinitely variable valve timing and twin-scroll turbocharger. Unfortunately, the body structure is flexible, too, although to so slight a degree that there can be no question that the engineers who created the car were guided by the German, not British, automotive engineering tradition. The dreaded cowl shake present in several generations of small British roadsters is gone - only a constantly vibrating center rearview mirror and an occasional clank from the side windows on severe bumps give away the game. And the ride comfort level is far beyond anything ever experienced in MGs, Triumphs, or Singers of old, despite the Mini's firmer than necessary suspension settings, which make for a bit of a wild ride on lumpy, bumpy, snow-covered Austrian byways.

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