By John Matras
MINI Sales Hit
The Max by TCC Team (9/6/2004)
But can it keep the momentum going?
CEO sees plenty of opportunities, also rues quality problems.
Can you spell SPF? MINI USA is requiring new purchasers of the convertible MINI introduced here to sign a Convertible Contract (the car is a convertible, the contract is not) that has a “90-10” clause by which the new owner promises to keep the convertible top lowered at least 90 percent of the time. There are certain exceptions, including while washing it, driving in the rain at less than 25 miles per hour, after hair plug surgery or when the temperature is lower than 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise, the top goes down. So you’re going to need that sunscreen.
Seriously (more or less), MINI is keeping its promise to keep its lineup fresh by adding new variants, such as the 200-horsepower John Cooper Works modification of the Cooper S. The 2005 MINI Cooper Convertible and Cooper S Convertible are the next step. (What’s next? MINI won’t say).
The convertible loses none of the functionality of the sedan and even adds some. You couldn’t carry a surfboard, Beach Blanket Bingo style, stuffed in the back seat of a sedan. You can in the convertible.
2005 MINI Cooper Convertible
And it remains just as much a four-passenger vehicle as the sedan, which means the back seat is more than snug with the front seats back where the driver and front passenger would likely have them. What, you want legroom? On the other hand, with the top down, rear headroom is unlimited, and shouldn’t be a problem for anyone whose legs will fit in as well.
Raise the roof – then lower it
The roof itself doesn’t alter the MINI Cooper profile all too much, though it does have a slight drop in the rearward bows that makes the MINI top slightly reminiscent of the Morris Minor convertible of the Fifties, the kind of British car the original MINI made instantly obsolete.
No manual top is available. It’s all electro-hydraulically operated and fully automatic, taking just one finger to press a button on the windshield header. It takes just over 15 seconds from closed to open, which means—if you time it right—while stopped at a traffic light.
The top, thanks to a hard-shell front section, can be opened halfway (15 ¾ inches, actually), like a giant sunroof, with the front seats more or less open to the elements as the chauffeur of, say, a sedan-coupé bodied 1934 Rolls-Royce 20/25. The half-top can be opened even when the car is in motion up to 75 mph.
A clever Z-shaped folding system allows the unlined top to fold compactly over the rear of the car, taking no room from the passenger compartment. With the hard section of the roof on top of the stack, no tonneau is needed. No tonneau cluttering the trunk when the top is up or fussing with it to make it fit when the top is down. To make it even easier for MINI Convertible owners to abide by their contract, the top can be lowered and raised from outside the car by using the key fob.
2005 MINI Cooper Convertible
The MINI convertible also has a heated glass rear window but the fabric roof wraps far around the sides (where the C-pillars would otherwise be) to allow rear windows small enough to be able to retract fully in to the rear quarter panels. Naturally, that eats into rear quarter vision.
The trunk has a tailgate that lowers to horizontal, ideal for a cooler when tailgating. MINI owners should make sure, however, that it’s not used as a seat. It’s good for only 175 pounds. That’s noted on the tailgate but better if owners affix a large “keep off” sticker or be prepared for bodywork repairs.
With the top up, it’s possible to raise the MINI’s “rear deck” by 35 degrees, allowing larger items to fit in the trunk. Because the MINI’s body is so rigid, there’s no need for internal reinforcements, and that means the rear seatback can fold to increase total cargo capacity to 21.3 cubic feet. Even with the top down and the seatback up, the MINI Convertible has 4.2 cubic feet cargo capacity. Leave the tux at home.
That body rigidity means there’s no need for a “basket-handle” reinforcing hoop, though there are two roll hoops behind the rear seats for rollover protection. Although you’d need a sedan alongside the coupe to see it, the convertible has different headlights, bumper and grille. The new lights provide better illumination and self-leveling xenon headlamps are optional. There are new taillamps as well.
2005 MINI Cooper Convertible
The convertible also has two exclusive colors, Cool Blue and Hot Orange, along with three top fabrics: black, green and blue. Syracuse and University of Illinois alums can combine the latter of each for that old school spirit. Alloy wheels are standard, starting at 15 inches with 175/65R15 tires, going up to 17-inchers with 205/45R17 inch rubber, optional on the S. All-season or sport tires are a no-cost option. They’re all run-flat because there’s just no room for a spare.
That MINI dash with the large central speedometer and column-mounted tachometer can now be replaced with a “Chrono Gauge Package” that combines fuel, coolant temperature, oil pressure, and oil temperature in the center circle with the speedo and tach both mounted side-by-side on the steering column. It’s nowhere as funky as the standard setup, and the red LED info panels on their faces are so small that, especially in the sun, they’re all but impossible to read.
Chrome trim is available inside and out but it’s all plastic. Stick with the integrity of the standard fittings.
The base MINI engine continues with a choice of a five-speed manual or CVT automatic and standard, a surprisingly frisky 115-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. The S boosts that, literally, with a supercharger that for 2005 has an output of 168 horsepower, up eight from before. MINI claims a 0-60 mph run of 7.0 seconds and a top speed of 138 mph. A six-speed manual is the only gearbox available for the S.
2005 MINI Cooper Convertible
The S feels even stronger than its numbers, thanks in part to overall lower and more closely spaced gear ratios, and also to the relatively low curb weight, a mere 2844 pounds. It also produces more aural horsepower than the base engine, and with the top down sounds otherwise reserved for onlookers can be heard by those on board. Drop the hammer and run to its 6000-rpm power peak. The supercharger whines and the exhaust rips. Ooh, the chills.
Bang off shifts—the Getrag six-speed clicks off the changes with a short shifter throw and great tactiles—and the exhaust barks. There’s no time wasted in the gearbox and the take-up on the clutch make smooth gearchanges easy as licking pudding off a spoon. Lift the throttle and the exhaust burbles, crackles and snaps like the Green Giant’s breakfast cereal. Ooh, more chills.
Disc brakes are 10.9 inches front and 10.2 at the rear and stop the MINI like a Velcro ball thrown at a Velcro wall. The steering is quick and even MINI claims a go-kart like feel, but the MINI Cooper, including the Convertible, is as stable at speed as an anvil on the basement floor.
Cruise with the top up and conversation is easy even at 75 mph, unlike the ungodly wind din of a Miata. However, slide the sunroof open and you can’t hear what you say to yourself, much less to your passenger. It’s even quieter with the top down. An optional wind blocker covers the rear seats but reduces buffeting. It’s also low enough to see over through the rear view mirror, as is the convertible top stack.
So go ahead and sign MINI’s Convertible contract. You’ll keep the top down at least ninety percent of the time. After all, even Minnie Mouse goes topless. So can MINI Cooper.
2005 MINI Cooper S Convertible
Base price: $21,500 (Cooper); $24,950 (Cooper S)
Engine: Supercharged 1.6-liter in-line four, 168 hp
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel-drive
Length x width x height: 143.9 x 57.5 x 56.2 in
Wheelbase: 97.1 in
Curb Weight: 2678 lb
EPA fuel economy (city/hwy): 24/33 mpg
Safety equipment: Driver and front-passenger airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags, four-wheel-disc brakes, side-impact door beams, all-season traction control, dynamic stability control, tire pressure warning system
Major standard features: Automatic air conditioning, power windows and locks, six-speaker AM/FM cassette player, electric rear defrost, remote keyless entry, power convertible top
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles
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