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Motoring: Going topless tons of fun for everyone

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | October 26th, 2009

Having just celebrated its 50th birthday, this is certainly a big year for BMW's Mini. In honour of this milestone, the Frankfurt Auto Show marked the launch of two new versions of this iconic car: the Mini Coupe and the Mini Roadster. For fans of this European designed small-scale automobile, you'll be happy to know that both of these models are headed to production, and will be on sale some time next year.

In celebration of its birthday, I too, personally held a bit of a Mini-mania of my own, which consisted of spending nearly a month with all three power trains of the new Mini convertible: the base Cooper, the turbo-charged Cooper S, and the truly bonkers-fast Cooper JCW. So, I'm sure you're wondering how did they fair, and which one I elected as my favourite?

First, let's talk styling. All three versions looked very similar with the only major divergences (between the turbo and non-turbo models) being reflected in the style of rims, and the different exhaust pipe positionings. However, this isn't a bad thing.

The same went for the interiors, in regards to their instrumentation. All models were/are available completely decked out with all the gadgets you'd want, including a navigation system which is integrated directly into the Minis' speedometer.

The main “party-trick” of the convertible Minis is, obviously, their roofs, but what makes these convertibles so special is the fact that their tops unfold in two stages. While the first stage is akin to opening a sunroof, stage two lowers the whole roof down, tucking it almost entirely out of view. An added advantage is that you can operate these roofs, even while moving (mind you, you need to keep your speed below 30 km/h). So you don't have to hold up everyone behind you if you're attempting to utilize this feature at a traffic light, and it turns green.

The convertible Minis also come equipped with Openometers, devices which record the amount of time you've spent driving with the roof down. I, personally, really enjoyed these contrivances, as I felt it was fun to see how much use I was getting out of my test-drive convertibles' tops.

During my test month, while spending a lot of time in these vehicles, I encountered all sorts of traffic and weather conditions. But, never once did I feel like being in something else as these cars are comfortable. However, they are even better when you're out to have some fun!

It's no secret that I have always been a fan of the Mini. In fact, I even named the Mini Clubman as one of my top five cars last year. Although chopping their roofs has affected their structural rigidity, the Mini convertibles are still well within my favour.

With this in mind, while the keen driver would likely prefer the tin-roofed Minis, if you can handle a bit of compromise, the convertibles are just fine. As far as convertibles are concerned, I can't think of any others that handle better or are similarly available for under $50,000 (at least, as far as front-wheel drive convertibles are concerned).

But that's not all, they go well too. While the base model might only have a normally-aspirated 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine, it's enough to propel this car to a top speed of 198 km/h, making it a pretty quick little thing. However, if you want even more speed, you can step up to the Cooper S, a turbo-charged version which produces 172 hp, and is capable of rocketing to 222 km/h. Although that is seriously quick, it's still not the fastest of the Minis out there. That title belongs to the John Cooper Works (JCW) edition, a seriously turbo-charged machine, which produces 208 hp, and is able to achieve a now very illegal 236 km/h.

However, let it be said that numbers are not the whole story when it comes to speed, it's the way these cars (especially the turbo variants) put their power to the ground. In sports mode, in particular, all three Minis are amazingly responsive.

With just the twitch of your toe, you can close off gaps in traffic, and the exhausts' “popcorn-popping-like” sound when you suddenly back off of the throttle, adds greatly to the theatrical quality of these cars.

The Mini, as an overall car model, also provides one of the best six-speed manual gearboxes in the business. With crisp shifts and amiable pedal positions, they are in a word, perfect.

So, the Mini convertibles look good, have comfortable interiors, and drive extremely well, but then there is the price. While you can get one for as little as $29,950, with a few added options, that price jumps up rather quickly. My JCW test vehicle, for example, was worth approx. $49,000, which, for an auto this size, is quite a lot.

With that in mind, were there any other drawbacks, you ask? Well, the Minis, in themselves, are not very practical: their trunks are tiny, and their passenger space is limited, but then again, cars like these typically aren't bought for their practicality.

While the base Cooper had the most comfortable ride thanks to its softer suspension dampers, its lack of power was annoying at times. The JCW version, on the other hand, had all the power you'd need, but its sports suspension made the ride very stiff highlighting the flaws of its otherwise competent chassis.

For me, the best of the three was the Cooper S model. With just the right ride quality, performance, and starting price of $36,350, not only is this Mini a fantastic and fun convertible, it fits my budget too.

So, if you're in the market for a pint-sized sports vehicle, go for a drive in one of these Minis, trust me, you'll be glad you did.
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