2008 MINI Cooper Convertible Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 29, 2008

The 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible brings top-down fun to the already entertaining MINI hatchback.

TheCarConnection.com’s editors researched a wide range of road tests of the 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible to write this definitive review. TheCarConnection.com’s resident experts also drove the Mazda Tribute to help you decide which reviews to trust where opinions differ, and to add more impressions and details and provide you with the best information.

The 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible does the unimaginable: It takes the effortless fun of the MINI Cooper hatchback and one-ups it with a roof that lowers or opens like a sunroof. The basic MINI silhouette is left mostly undisturbed--a good thing--but the convertible roof does slope a little at the rear, adding to the retro style. Inside, the classic new MINI dash with its large central speedometer and column-mounted tachometer are as funky as ever.

(Note: The 2008 MINI Cooper hatchback is an entirely new vehicle and is covered separately, while the Convertible continues on the older chassis.)
The base engine in the 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible continues to be a surprisingly frisky 115-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. It's mated to a choice of a five-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission, the latter of which sucks all the zest out of the Cooper. There's also a supercharged MINI Cooper S Convertible, which puts out 168 hp. MINI claims a 0-60-mph run of 7.0 seconds and a top speed of 138 mph for this version. A six-speed manual is the only gearbox available for the S, which also produces more aural horsepower than the base engine. The Getrag six-speed clicks off the changes with a short shifter throw and great tactile feel, and the exhaust barks. Fuel economy is 19/29 mpg for the Cooper S Convertible. The MINI's ride can be harsh, particularly with the large wheels on the S Convertible, but steering is wonderfully direct, and the brakes are strong.

No manual top is available on the 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible. It's all electro-hydraulically operated and fully automatic, requiring just one finger to press a button on the windshield header. It takes just over 15 seconds to go from closed to open. The top, thanks to a hard-shell front section, can be opened halfway, like a giant sunroof. It also has a glass rear window and can be lowered with a touch on the key fob.

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The Convertible's interior space is almost as plentiful as the 2008 MINI Cooper, which means the backseat is more than snug with the front seats positioned where the driver and front passenger would likely have them. Headroom is, of course, no problem. The convertible loses none of the functionality of the sedan and even adds some since the trunk has a small tailgate. A navigation system, a Harman Kardon premium stereo, and run-flat tires are optional.

Anti-lock brakes and side airbags are standard, while stability control is available.

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2008 MINI Cooper Convertible

Styling

The 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible has unmatched style, inside and out.

TheCarConnection.com's editors award top honors to the 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible for its styling and design.

The Convertible version of the Cooper MINI falls into a special category of car, Car and Driver says: “They attract attention mostly for their snappy styling." The MINI has always been "replete with British charm," as Edmunds says in their review, and the Convertible is no exception. It does the unimaginable: It takes the effortless fun of the hatchback and one-ups it with a roof that lowers or opens like a sunroof. The basic MINI silhouette is left mostly undisturbed--a good thing--but the convertible roof does slope a little at the rear, adding to the retro style. And as Motor Trend notes, “the colorful MINI is irresistible.”

Not only is the outside of the car appealing, but the interior of the 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible continues the retro funk that very few cars achieve. Edmunds raves, "the modernistic interior is a design student's dream," reminding one of this car's appeal for younger generations, while still maintaining its old fan base as well. Cars.com reports that “the interior shares the same whimsical design as the hardtop, characterized by a large speedometer in the middle of the dashboard rather than in front of the steering wheel — which seems to drive some people into a rage.”

There are two fixes for the unorthodox instrument placement, Edmunds reports of the Cooper. MINI offers an expensive Premium Package with a changeable digital readout--or you can choose a “Cockpit Chrono Pack that puts the speedo in front of the steering wheel (next to the tach) and fills the big circular void left in the dash's center with four gauges, including a pair for oil pressure and oil temperature. Optional chrome detailing inside and out added a final chic touch.”

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2008 MINI Cooper Convertible

Performance

The 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible handles with flair, and S versions scoot with the best—but the ride’s harsh on occasion.

The 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible has perky acceleration with its optional supercharged engine, but great handling is universal to all versions of the new ragtop.

Reviews from across the Web noted the “fun to drive” qualities of the 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible. It doesn’t necessarily start with the base 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, which provides 115 hp and 111 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, while a continuously variable transmission is optional. Motor Trend writes that MINI “publishes a 0-to-62-mph time of 'a mere 9.8 seconds,' redefining ‘mere.’ It struggles most at the lower and upper ends, with some progress in the midrange.” Other sources noted the CVT drains even more energy from the four-cylinder; most recommend the five-speed manual.

The 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible also comes in an “S” version that makes 168 hp and 162 pound-feet of torque. In the Convertible Cooper, MINI offers a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. Order this version, Edmund says, and you'll be “rewarded with substantially improved gusto. A 7.7-second 0-60 time and a 15.69-second quarter mean this Mini has no problem scurrying away from SUVs and minivans that threaten to trap it in traffic.” Power improves as the engine speed rises, they add.

Fuel economy is an impressive 23/32 mpg on the base 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible, and 21/29 mpg in the S version.

The 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible is a “kick in the pants to drive,” says Cars.com, and one of the best-handling cars in its class, according to the reviews researched by TheCarConnection.com. The suspension is engineered more like one from “rear-drive performance cars,” Edmunds says, and that makes it “responsive, predictable and stable while driving aggressively.”

“Steering feel and feedback are top-notch,” Edmunds adds, while Motor Trend thinks that with the Convertible Cooper, MINI’s “ragtop is as much of a go-kart as the tintop, heading where you point it with lightning quick, precise steering.” Cars.com chimes in with its description of “heavy but precise and communicative steering. Because of the car's darty nature, peppy engine and small size, I find it difficult not to drive it like an ass.”

Ride quality, however, is a major concern in the 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible. “It's as firm as ever,” Car and Driver says, “with a stiff suspension and unforgiving run-flat tires.”

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2008 MINI Cooper Convertible

Comfort & Quality

Comfort and quality offered by the 2008 MINI Cooper convertible are only limited if you are sitting in the backseat.

The 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible offers much in the way of passenger room and an easily operated top, but reviewers from different sources noted some issues with build quality.

Interior space almost equals the Cooper's; MINI’s convertible has a backseat that’s more than snug with the front seats positioned where the driver and front passenger would likely have them. Headroom is, of course, no problem. The convertible loses none of the functionality of the sedan and even adds some since the trunk has a small tailgate.

TheCarConnection.com finds that the 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible provides quite a bit of space for the front passengers. Edmunds says, "even those taller than 6 feet will find a comfortable seating position" due to the available space for maneuvering seats to adjust legroom. In the backseat of the Cooper, MINI passengers will have plenty of headroom, but the knee space might be compromised, even if the front seats are barely moved back--and when they're "fully rearward," says ConsumerGuide, legroom "disappears."

Cars.com points out “sport bucket seats are standard on the S trim level and optional on the base convertible. But all versions of the front seats, driver and passenger, include manual seat-height adjustments.” They add, “the seats are supportive and comfortable in the European tradition. I could use a center armrest, and apparently others have asked for the same.”

Storage space is slightly limited in the 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible, although the rear seats fold down 50/50, allowing for more cargo room.

ConsumerGuide says the "interior decor is a distinctive, complex blend of colors, shapes, and textures, all with solid workmanship," and Edmunds says the 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible has “solid-as-a-block-of-steel rigidity.” However, Cars.com’s test machine had issues with quality construction. “It rattles,” they write. “And squeaks. A lot.”

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2008 MINI Cooper Convertible

Safety

The 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible has a fair amount of standard safety gear, and early crash tests have been positive.

In safety tests performed so far, the 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible has received good ratings.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has given the 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible a rating of four [says five above] stars for rollover protection.

Edmunds points out that all 2008 MINI Cooper Convertibles come with "anti-lock disc brakes and side airbags." The 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible S also comes with standard traction control. Stability control is an option on all versions, as are run-flat tires. The convertible Cooper MINI wears a fixed roll bar behind the rear seat.

Visibility is an issue when the Cooper MINI’s top is raised. “With the top up, the already limited rear view is further compromised by the headrests and roll bars, which create a U-shaped porthole view out back,” Car and Driver observes. “Top down, the view is much improved, but it can still be difficult to see over the folded roof.”

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2008 MINI Cooper Convertible

Features

The 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible offers a dizzying array of options, so choose or save wisely.

One of the advantages when buying a 2008 MINI Cooper Convertible is the ability to personalize it from the extensive list of additional features available from MINI.

First things first: The convertible Cooper MINI’s make-happy feature is its top. “The soft-top curls back like the canvas sunroof on an old Renault, with the push of a button, a nice touch for semi-open freeway driving,” Motor Trend says of the Convertible top’s sunroof mode. “Keep pressing, and the automatic top folds into a neat accordion in 15 seconds. Raising it doesn't take much longer.” TheCarConnection.com notes that it also has a glass rear window and can be lowered with a touch on the key fob.

In terms of other standard features, Kelley Blue Book mentions the following: "a five-speed manual transmission, manual air conditioning, keyless entry, power windows, locks and mirrors, 15-inch alloy wheels, climate-controlled glove box, AM/FM/CD sound, cloth or leatherette bucket seats and a power canvas top." With the 2008 MINI Cooper S Convertible, you get "a 168-horsepower supercharged engine, six-speed manual transmission, 16-inch run-flat tires, aluminum foot pedals, sport seats and a stiffer suspension."

For those wanting to personalize their Cooper, MINI offers "six different options packages" on the convertible, as noted by Autoblog, ranging "from the $6,000 John Cooper Works kit for the S to the Sport and Premium packages for $1,500 each." Kelley Blue Book especially likes the John Cooper Works kit: "It's not inexpensive, but it delivers 207 horsepower and includes dual exhausts, larger brakes and a limited-slip differential."

Some of the packages seem pretty self-explanatory, like the Cold Weather Package, for instance. However, Autoblog suggests that you "need a degree from MIT to fully understand the restrictions and caveats of the $4,000 Sidewalk package."

If your ideal convertible doesn't fit one of the package configurations available on the Cooper, MINI lets you pick and choose from what ConsumerGuide calls "a dizzying array of personalizing accessories." Autoblog specifies that it's actually "48 stand-alone options," and "quite a few of them come at no charge." They include everything from a white roof to painted wheels to decals to hood stripes and interior trim, all in the name of giving your MINI Cooper Convertible its own character.

Options are high-dollar and high-quality in the Cooper. MINI offers "an upgraded Harman/Kardon audio system, xenon headlights, heated mirrors, automatic climate control, [and] dynamic stability control" in the optional features list, Kelley Blue Book reports. Others include different wheel designs, leather upholstery, keyless entry, color schemes, cruise control, and satellite radio.

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Comfort & Quality 8.0
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