I went to the media introduction of the first-generation Mini Cooper convertible back in May 2004, and I had three lasting impressions: 1) it's a cute car, probably too cute for some, but perfect for any part of the world near a shoreline; 2) it drives very well, with excellent roadholding, steering, and a decent powertrain; 3) the exposed hinges on the rear hatch were unacceptably tacky looking.
Five years later, we have the next-generation Mini Cooper convertible, and it appears that the biggest advance is that the exposed hinges are, thank God, gone. They were really out of place on a modern car, even if Mini designers five years ago insisted that they harkened back to the original Mini. Whatever, I thought.
Anyway, if you like the Mini formula in hardtop form, and I do, you'll like the convertible, also. As convertibles go, it's quite versatile. Push one button at the windshield header, and the fabric roof rolls back about 15 inches, creating what is, in effect, a sunroof. Keep pushing on the button, and the roof rails detach themselves from the windshield header, the fabric keeps rolling backward, and the whole mechanism lifts itself into the sky and then plunks down onto the back of the vehicle. There is some whirring and humming and dinging of chimes, and a little digital graphic of the car with top down appears on the central display behind the steering wheel. Hold down the button long enough, and all four windows also retract. You then look in the rearview and think, hmmm, I did something wrong here, because the folded roof is blocking my view to the rear; surely it will fold down farther, right? So you play with the rocker switch a bit more and end up raising the roof rather than lowering it even farther. You get out, walk to the back of the car, and realize, nope, this is as far as the roof retracts. So, that's a fundamental design flaw that will be a deal breaker for some.
If you decide you can live with that, though, your reward for having the roof piled on top of the trunk is that the trunk is spacious and is still accessible through the bottom-hinged hatch. Plus the rear seats fold down. This enables you to, say, take a boogie board to the beach with the top down and the board sticking through the trunk and across the folded rear seat. Everything's a compromise when it comes to convertibles: you get something here, you give something there.
In general, though, the Mini Cooper convertible gives a lot to its owner, I'd say, especially in Cooper S trim like our test car, which with its 172-hp, turbocharged four is significantly more spritely than the old Cooper S convertible, which had a supercharged four. I did note that the six-speed manual transmission is prone to ending up in reverse gear when you're aiming for first, though, just like the one in our Four Seasons Mini Cooper S hardtop was.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor