The 2009 MINI Cooper S Convertible we had for a few joyous days in California was a grin-inducing machine. Everyone who saw it couldn't help but crack a smile, even the most tattooed and grizzled of Harley riders. But perhaps they're just responding in kind to the driver's cheshire cat impression; not since the Honda CRX of the early 90s has a front-wheel drive vehicle been so responsive, playful, and light on its feet.
2010 MINI Cooper ConvertibleEnlarge Photo
The chassis manages a sublime balance between razor-sharp reflexes in town and all day driving comfort even at 80 mph and above. The sport suspension, with its performance-oriented 17-inch wheel/tire combo, does suffer some impact harshness and nervousness over rough roads, but the dizzying levels of grip will provide copious rewards for aggressive drivers. The only chassis disappointment is the somewhat numb electrically boosted power steering that's not in keeping with this car's sporting mission. Oh, and we think that the "S" mode, which heightens throttle response and firms the power steering, should be the default mode.
The turbocharged, direct-injected, 172 hp four delivers 177 lb-ft torque in a relentless wave from 1,600 to 5,000 rpm, and 0-60 in about 7 seconds. The six-speed manual requires no downshifting to pass at on the highway; hit the throttle, wait a split second, and let the turbo waft you swiftly ahead. That all of this performance is achieved with EPA numbers of 26/34 proves the intelligence of BMW engineering acumen and the undisputable advantages of a lightweight vehicle. Covering hundreds of miles at high speed and with generous doses of throttle, we managed a surprising 33 mpg. Take our advice and get the six-speed manual; it’s slick, sweet, and makes you look like a highly skilled driver.
MINI's eccentric joie de vivre is amplified with touches like the seemingly silly Openometer, a prominent analog gauge to the left of the tach that tracks hours spent with the top down. Even just as a tool to make you take the world less seriously – as well as work on your tan and soak in some Vitamin D – the Openometer ends up playing perfectly into the Convertible’s grin-inducing kitsch.
But the 2009 MINI Cooper S Convertible is about far more than just style. A cleverly-placed central vent basks occupants with warm air for top-down motoring on chilly days, the convertible top has a cleverly-integrated sunroof function, and atomically warm heated seats encourage encourage lots of top-down time.