2009 MINI Cooper Convertible Review

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Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
June 3, 2009

The 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible melds athleticism, quality, comfort, joy, and efficiency in a way matched by few vehicles produced today.

TheCarConnection.com consulted what the most authoritative auto critics have written about the new MINI Cooper Convertible to produce this conclusive review of the new MINI Cooper. TheCarConnection.com editors also drove the Cooper Convertible to interweave our expert opinion and help you make the right decision on a new car.

The 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible is based on the new-for-'08 Cooper hatchback bones (the 2008 convertible was based on the first-gen platform). We lauded the new generation last year for its even more delightful ride/handling mix, greater interior room, baked-in BMW solidity, sprightlier pair of engines, and (finally) the banishment of the CVT automatic that was at odds with the Cooper's sporting nature. Given the changes, the MINI Cooper Convertible offers even fewer compromises and merits serious consideration for buyers looking for a tenacious runabout that provides surprising interior room (at least up front), pure driving joy nearly unmatched in the automotive realm, and a brilliant balance between sport and day-to-day livability. But in Convertible format, the MINI Cooper is really a two-person vehicle; we stick to our assertion that the backseat is a place for occasional riders in a good mood.

The 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible gets all the subtle styling upgrades made to the hatchback last year. The interior strikes a great balance between cute and functional, though the massive central speedometer is one form-over-function touch that sent our eyes to the digital speed readout in the tach every time. Stereo controls are well-integrated into the center stack, but a visual oddity is the lonely volume knob below the rest of the audio buttons.

Engines are perfectly suited to the MINI's mission, providing lively response throughout the operating range and a sweet demeanor with perfectly tuned aural cues from intake to exhaust. Both engines displace 1.6 liters and feature the performance and fuel-efficiency benefits of direct injection. Even the base 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible, at 120 horsepower and managing a 0-60 time of 8.5 seconds with the six-speed manual, is a blast to drive and feels quicker than its acceleration numbers suggest. Move up to the turbocharged, 172-hp engine standard in the MINI Cooper Convertible S models and revel in 177 pound-feet of torque that's delivered in a relentless wave from 1,600 to 5,000 rpm (0-60 in about 7 seconds). A turbo six-speed manual requires absolutely no downshifting to pass at highway speeds; hit the throttle, wait a millisecond, and the turbo will waft you swiftly past traffic with ease. That all of this performance is achieved with EPA numbers of 28 mpg city, 37 highway (base) and 26/34 mpg (S) proves the intelligence of BMW engineering acumen and the indisputable advantages of a lightweight vehicle. If you're at all prone to manual transmission, get the six-speed; slick and sweet, it makes you look like a skilled driver every time.

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Everything about the MINI's driving experience forces a grin. The joy is perhaps most noticed in its chassis, which combines MacPherson struts up front with a sophisticated central-arm rear axle to strike 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 its dizzying levels of grip will provide copious rewards for aggressive drivers. The biggest drawback in the Cooper S Convertible is the electrically boosted power steering, which has a rather digital, numb feel that's out of character with the rest of this vehicle; while an extremely accurate implement, it's a bit of a letdown, especially compared to BMW's typically brilliant feel. One other gripe: The S-mode, which heightens throttle response, alters steering effort, and raises shift points in the automatic, should really be the default setting for a car of the MINI's intent and demeanor. Without the S-mode button depressed, the electronic throttle feels a little sluggish and non-linear.

For the front cockpit anyway, MINI has maximized comfort and ergonomics in the Cooper Convertible. Even those surpassing six feet tall will find ample room and a hospitable driving environment, courtesy of three seat levers that allow both front seats to conform to a rider's physique. Along with the tilt/telescoping steering wheel, this tidy car is uncanny in its ability to suit drivers large or small. One ergonomic letdown is marginal rearward visibility due to prominent rear seat headrests. A premium 10-speaker stereo is optional, as are a nav system ($2,000) and a USB iPod interface ($250) that augments the standard aux-input jack.

Amplifying the brand's eccentric joie de vivre in the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible are touches like the seemingly silly Openometer, a prominent analog gauge to the left of the tach that tracks hours spent with the top down. But even 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. A surprising touch is a convertible top that features a built-in sunroof for fresh air without the full alfresco experience; if you want to go all the way, the automatic top scissors back and down in only about 15 seconds with the touch of a button. Radio and conversations can still be heard well with the top down at freeway speeds as long as the windows are up. Another nice touch is the convertible's tailgate that renders the rather tight luggage space accessible and convenient.

The 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible includes Dynamic Stability Control and anti-lock brakes, even at the base Cooper level. Airbags are front, side-seat-mounted (thorax protective on the convertible), and side curtain units on Coupe and Clubman models. Dynamic Traction Control comes standard on Sport models. Notable safety options are xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps, Park Distance Control, and run-flat tires with certain wheel/tire combos (standard on S models). NHTSA testing for the Coupe results in a decent four-star performance in most measures of impact safety (small, light vehicles do have their limitations), though the MINI's low center of gravity allows for a perfect five stars for rollover resistance.

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2009 MINI Cooper Convertible

Styling

The 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible is different, to be sure, but despite some questionable interior ergonomic decisions, the whole package works to great effect.

MINI's 2009 convertible lineup is the first based on the second-generation MINI platform, but despite the styling differences, this 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible is still instantly recognizable as purely MINI.

For those unfamiliar with the brand, the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible is a two-door convertible that, despite recent size increases, is still one of the smallest vehicles available for sale in the United States. The MINI Cooper S Convertible and its naturally aspirated base model brother hide their diminutive size well, however, thanks to styling that ConsumerGuide says "[brims] with character." The 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible lineup is "available in mild, medium and caliente flavors, officially designated as the Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works edition" models, according to Autoblog reviewers. The styling across the lineup is virtually identical, however, and all three models boast a convertible top that Road & Track says "can be fully opened in just 15 sec. at speeds of up to 20 mph."

In keeping with the all-new theme for this 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible, a couple of exterior changes materialize. Autoblog points out that "the nose is a bit higher and rounder, but still utterly familiar and instantly recognizable as a MINI." Motor Trend also reports that the MINI Cooper S Convertible's "silhouette seems longer and sleeker, although no change to its length has been made." Rather, the roofline has been lowered and the side windows enlarged, which gives the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible the slightly more aerodynamic look. One feature that carries over from the previous generation of MINI Convertibles is the sunroof function of the convertible top. Autoblog reviewers find that if you "press the switch above the mirror...the portion of the roof above the front seats slides back," leaving the rear roof in place but opening up the cabin directly above the front occupants.

Interior styling on the MINI 2009 Convertible lineup can vary wildly according to personal preference, as Automobile Magazine reports "more than a dozen interior trim choices," including "two- or three-spoke steering wheels." Some reviewers surveyed by TheCarConnection.com continue to be turned off by MINI's never-ending quest for retro styling; for example, Motor Trend mentions the "questionable ergonomics" of the interior. The most dominant characteristics of the MINI Cooper S Convertible's interior, like that of the rest of the convertible lineup, is the "center-mounted speedometer" that Cars.com reviewers report is the same as the one found in the hardtop model (first-gen convertibles had their own unique speedometers).

New for 2009 is a gauge unique to the convertible that MINI has christened the Openometer, a device that Cars.com says will track "how much time you've driven with the top down." While the gauge doesn't serve any really useful purpose, it does fit right in with the rest of the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible's unorthodox styling.

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2009 MINI Cooper Convertible

Performance

Eager engines and zippy handling combine with excellent fuel economy to create one of the thriftiest and most entertaining performance cars of the year in the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible.

The entire MINI lineup is famed for its incredible handling and nimble, fun-to-drive character, and justifiably so. When it comes to grin-inducing performance, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible will be right at home with the rest of the pack in the MINI stable.

The trio of models that comprises the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible lineup includes the base model, the MINI Cooper S Convertible, and a new-for-2009 John Cooper Works (JCW) Convertible. All three feature different engines, with Car and Driver reporting that the base Convertible features a "118-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder spinning the front wheels." The MINI Cooper S Convertible, meanwhile, gets a "blown, direct-injected, 172-hp version of the same engine," according to Car and Driver, while Automobile Magazine states that the top-end JCW model uses the same 1.6-liter engine but "tuned to produce 211 hp and 191 lb-ft of torque." Acceleration numbers are acceptable; Autoblog finds the "entire MINI range is reasonably quick, with the normally aspirated Cooper...hitting 60 mph in 8.9 seconds, and the turbo'd S dropping that to seven seconds." For the JCW version of the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible, Automobile Magazine observes that "the added power lowers the 0-62 mph time (by 0.1 seconds) to approximately 6.9 seconds."

Perhaps the only criticism relating to the potent engines comes from Car and Driver, where reviewers feel the "torque steer from a stop or when powering out of a low-speed corner is bonkers." The reason that torque steer is such a problem on the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible has to do with the transmission and drivetrain setup—torque steer only affects front-wheel-drive vehicles, and Car and Driver aptly points out that the engines are always "spinning the front wheels," an occurrence that is especially likely on the MINI Cooper S Convertible and JCW model.

Aside from the standard front-wheel drive, Road and Track notes that drivers can choose to stick with the standard "6-speed manual transmissions" on the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible lineup or opt for the available "6-speed automatics; S models equipped with the automatic get paddle shifters on the steering wheel." Unlike the first-gen model, this automatic features a true gear system, whereas the older version boasts a performance-killing CVT. Car and Driver reviewers claim "the manual gearbox remains a pleasure to use" on the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible lineup, and while the automatic is more entertaining than before, it will still cost you overall performance.

MINI was one of the few brands to increase overall sales last year, and a key reason is the stellar fuel economy enjoyed by the entire lineup. The base MINI Cooper Convertible offers 25 mpg city and 34 mpg highway with the automatic transmission, and delivers an astounding 28 mpg city and 36 mpg highway with the manual. For the MINI Cooper S Convertible, the numbers are 26/34 mpg with the manual and 23/32 mpg with the automatic. The John Cooper Works edition, with its significantly more powerful engine, is available exclusively with a manual transmission and returns 26 mpg city and 34 mpg on the highway.

Unlike most cars, which boast about easy-to-market figures like acceleration times, the MINI 2009 lineup emphasizes handling over acceleration, and for good reason. Autoblog reviewers report that "the MINI's strong suit is its handling," and for MINI's 2009 models, "the clichéd 'go-kart' characteristics are present and accounted for." Car and Driver is very impressed with the MINI Cooper Convertible's handling, and they admit that they are "awfully close to saying that the base Cooper convertible is just as entertaining as the turbocharged Cooper S convertible," thanks to the base model's "deft suspension and the always-there brakes." Edmunds adds that the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible is "not exactly a Lotus Elise, but as four-seat convertibles go, it responds quickly to its driver" with an "electrically assisted power steering [that] is weighted as naturally as any of BMW's hydraulic setups." The only downside to all that handling prowess is a stiff ride, and Autoblog points out that "rough pavement finds its way into the passenger compartment with minimal damping." Automobile Magazine agrees, claiming that the MINI Cooper S Convertible has "firmer than necessary suspension settings," a trait shared by the JCW Convertible.

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2009 MINI Cooper Convertible

Comfort & Quality

Don't be fooled by the rear seatbelts—the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible is, for all intents and purposes, a two-person vehicle.

Anyone who steps inside a 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible for the first time will likely be surprised by just how large the cabin is. That said, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that MINI's 2009 model is comfortable only for two, as backseat comfort and space is more of an afterthought on the MINI Cooper S Convertible and its brethren.

The 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible is a two-door runabout with a maximum passenger capacity of four. Reviewers tend to love the seating arrangement up front, where Automobile Magazine finds that "the cockpit is really comfortable," but the back is a whole other story. Autoblog reports that the convertible "is a bit more snug" in the rear than the hatchback, which means that, "with the front passenger seat pulled forward, a small-framed passenger can fit, if only for short trips." If there's a full-sized pair of occupants up front, however, then you can forget about trying to squeeze anyone into the back. One of the only complaints about the front seating arrangement comes from ConsumerGuide, where reviewers feel that "the convertible's wide center console restricts knee space for taller drivers," although they approve of the fact that the "seats are firm and supportive."

The folding convertible top of the MINI 2009 drop-top lineup utilizes an unconventional arrangement: The top doesn't fold into the trunk but rather sits atop the rear of the car. The downside here is that rearward visibility is restricted whether the top is up or down, but on the positive side, the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible's trunk is always free to hold a suitcase or two. Edmunds reviewers note the fact that "you get 6 cubic feet of [cargo space] in the 2009 convertible whether the top's up or down," which is a major improvement over the previous-generation MINI convertible. Cars.com points out that the MINI Cooper S Convertible's versatility can be increased even further, since "the backseat can be folded to increase volume to 23.3 cubic feet," which is also a gain compared to last year's model.

Although the current 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible lineup is manufactured in MINI's ancestral home of England, the brand is owned by German automaker BMW. That might explain why the materials inside the MINI seem so high-end; ConsumerGuide reports that the interior features a "distinctive, complex blend of colors, shapes, and textures, all with solid workmanship," a phrase that could be used to describe any vehicle from the BMW stable. The MINI Cooper S Convertible is nearly identical to the base model in terms of interior materials, but moving up to the John Cooper Works trim brings a few extra goodies. Automobile Magazine notes that the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible JCW's interior is "top-of-the-line, and includes an alcantara steering wheel, sport seats, JCW floor mats, and a glossy piano black dashboard finish." Along with the top-notch materials, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com unanimously agree that MINI Cooper Convertibles are assembled with impeccable attention to detail and build quality.

Road noise is very well suppressed when riding within the comfortable confines of the MINI's cabin. Autoblog reviewers report that their MINI Cooper S Convertible "felt solid and showed no signs of rattles, squeaks or cowl shake." TheCarConnection.com's editors also find that conversations at freeway speed are very manageable with the windows up, as the aerodynamics of the MINI Cooper Convertible keep wind rush from entering the cabin.

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2009 MINI Cooper Convertible

Safety

The safety picture is still incomplete without crash-test data, but the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible has all the right electronics to keep you out of trouble.

The 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible was only unveiled to the public a few months ago, and as of this writing, neither NHTSA nor the IIHS have had the opportunity to crash-test this new MINI 2009 model. Fortunately, the hardtop version of the MINI Cooper gives editors at TheCarConnection.com some idea of the safety credentials that this 2009 Mini Cooper Convertible will boast once the crash-test results become available.

While you wait for the official crash-test results, allow us to introduce you to some of the safety features that come on the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible lineup. According to reviewers at Cars.com, "electronic stability control is now standard across the lineup," while other standard safety features include "side-impact head/torso airbags" and an "antilock braking system with electronic brake-force distribution." The MINI Cooper S Convertible and John Cooper Works versions both also get upgraded brakes compared to the base MINI Cooper Convertible.

The Convertible includes a new rear rollover hoop design. The new hoops, which remain almost hidden until a set of sensors detects a rollover, allow for greater visibility to the rear of the car. The result, according to Motor Trend, is that "the once-standard backup sensor is [now] optional." Motor Trend lists some of the other safety features as "an Alphabet Soup full of standard electronic aids including ABS, Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC and Hill Start-Off Assistance." In a nod toward the increasingly safety-conscious consumer market, MINI has included nearly all the available safety features as standard fare. In fact, Motor Trend states that "the only feature that's optional is Dynamic Traction Control," which features a "front wheel limited slip differential."

Car and Driver comments that "rear vision in the new [MINI Cooper S Convertibles] is still pretty lousy," especially with the top up. The main culprit with the top down is the roof, which doesn't retract fully inside the trunk but rather sits atop the rear of the car. While this design does increase usable trunk space, it also cuts significantly into the rearward sightlines.

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2009 MINI Cooper Convertible

Features

With so many options available, it's very easy to design a one-of-a-kind 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible.

Customization and personalization have been hallmarks of the MINI lineup since the brand was brought back from the dead several years ago, and for MINI 2009 is more of the same (in a very good way).

Automotive experts surveyed by TheCarConnection.com are invariably impressed by the sheer number of customization options available for the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible. While the list of available extras is extensive, the standard features on the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible lineup are exciting in their own right. Cars.com reports that the 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible comes with "standard power windows and locks, plus keyless entry," along with "standard air conditioning with a climate-controlled glove box." An aux-input jack for the stereo system comes standard as well, and ConsumerGuide declares that the MINI Cooper S Convertible just brims with "character." One character-enhancing standard feature on the MINI 2009 Convertible lineup is the Openometer, which Cars.com says "tracks how much time you've driven with the top down."

Aside from the standard features, options abound on the MINI Cooper S Convertible and the rest of MINI's drop tops. Motor Trend says "a plethora of accessories and packages are available" to MINI owners, all of which are "designed to let personalization run wild." One essential feature for cold-weather driving is the pair of seat heaters, which Edmunds considers "industrial-strength," and "when used with the car's conventional heater, we hear they're capable of transforming a winter day in Austria into a spring day on Spain's Costa del Sol."

Other options include "at least a dozen standard interior/exterior color combinations," according to Automobile Magazine, as well as a premium 10-speaker stereo, a navigation system, and a USB iPod interface. The only problem with the options is that they can quickly escalate the price of the already-expensive 2009 MINI Cooper S Convertible lineup.

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Styling 9.0
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