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.
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.