2005 Mini Cooper Convertible
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Review and photos by Michael La Fave

Carve corners… alfresco!

I’ve always been impressed that the new Mini has been received as a true driver’s car and not just a “chick car”, like the VW Beetle. It’s still cute, to be sure, but it is also a serious performance machine. It must be that BMW understood the car’s provenance as a giant killer and set out from the beginning to imbue its famous talents into this 21st century reinterpretation.

The base car might not be overly quick with its 115 hp engine (and especially not with the CVT automatic) but the Cooper S sure is, with its 170 hp supercharged motor and six short forward gears. Even so, the Cooper can more than keep up with traffic, although passing manoeuvres require a bit of planning. Stir the short-throw five-speed transmission diligently, however, and you will be having a good time no matter what the speed. The engine is surprisingly smooth, considering it’s a Chrysler unit, and emits a jaunty snarl.

2005 Mini Cooper Convertible
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The convertible version is no different than the coupe in terms of driving pleasure. It’s heavier and the windshield wobbles over broken pavement, but it retains the Mini’s most endearing traits: its playful handling and near-limitless grip. Driven hard through the twisties, there are few cars that can out-corner the Mini.

The car can feel a bit twitchy when pushed near its limits, although it will never actually step out. To make it understeer significantly, you have to seriously overcook a corner. Even so, it quickly regains its line by reducing the throttle. Credit its small size, low weight and relatively meaty tires positioned at the extreme corners for its stability.

2005 Mini Cooper Convertible
Click image to enlarge

The Mini’s ride quality will also surprise you — as long as you stick with the 16-inch rims, that is. Opt for the 17s on the Cooper S and female passengers will complain of the need for a sports bra. Otherwise, the whole package exudes the kind of NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) polish of much more expensive German machinery. When the Mini is overhauled in the near future, it will get an engine designed in a joint venture between Peugeot and Citroen. Though it will no doubt produce more power, I can’t help but worry that it won’t be as much of a jewel.

The fit and finish of the body and exterior trim are all first-rate. But the funky interior, although interesting, seems at odds with the restrained exterior. I suppose it has to be considered a conversation starter. You do get to choose whether you want a painted dash, or imitation brushed-metal, machined-turned treatment. Two-tone leather seats are an option.

2005 Mini Cooper Convertible
Click image to enlarge

Last year, the centre cluster and steering wheel ancillary controls were redesigned for better visibility and ease of use. You can still get the speedo mounted in the centre of the dash, or have it moved atop the steering column, beside the tach. I might be one of the few that actually prefer the giant speedo in the centre of the dash and the tach on the column. If you are going to be weird, you might as well be really weird.

2005 Mini Cooper Convertible
Click image to enlarge

Of course the biggest departure from the coupe is the fact that you can drop the vert’s top. Truly a work of art, the roof can be either partially retracted, like a large sunroof, or dropped all the way. The former operation can be performed at speeds up to 120 km/h. The roof does stack fairly high at the back and when it’s down, there is precious little cargo room. The back seat isn’t terribly spacious for human beings anyway, and most drivers will increase the storage area by simply utilizing the rear seat. The rear roll bars, although appreciated for maintaining the shape of my head should the need arise, obstruct rearward visibility and mar the lines of the cute little car.

2005 Mini Cooper Convertible
Click image to enlarge

The front seat offers more travel than even my 6’5″ frame requires. With the roof up, there’s plenty of headroom and it’s remarkably quiet thanks to its multi-layer design. When stowed, the roof folds neatly enough and doesn’t require the use of the fussy tonneau cover.

I’ve had the chance to drive the Mini convertible in locals as diverse as Marseille, France and Los Angeles, California, and at every opportunity I came away with the same overall impression: this car is a joy. You might think that a Mercedes SL500 has more panache or that a 911 Cabriolet would be more fun on a winding road, but you’re wrong. A Mini is as fine a driver’s car as there is and a Mini convertible, well, that’s just fantastic.

Technical Data: 2005 Mini Cooper Convertible

Base price $31,500
Options $4,190 (Automatic climate control $520; compact spare tire $100; Dynamic Stability Control $690; fog lights $230; multi-function steering wheel $450; soft leather upholstery $2,200)
Freight $1,395
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $37,185
Type 2-door, 4-passenger compact convertible
Layout Front engine/front-wheel drive
Engine 1.6-litre inline 4, SOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 115 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 110 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
Tires P175/65R-15
Curb weight 1225 kg (2701 lbs.)
Wheelbase 2467 mm (97.1 in.)
Length 3635 mm (143.1 in.)
Width 1688 mm (66.5 in.)
Height 1408 mm (55.4 in.)
Cargo capacity 120 litres (4.2 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 8.6 L/100 km (33 mpg)
  Hwy: 6.1 L/100 km (46 mpg)
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km
Powertrain warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

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