- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 16, 2004

Mini USA, the company that brought one of the most exciting and fun-to-drive automobiles to North America, infuses even more excitement with the soft-top convertible model.

Not only does the Mini convertible have the identical performance and handling characteristics, it offers the ability to enjoy your motoring adventure with the wind blowing through your hair. Through a very inventive design, the convertible top has two modes to which enjoy that wind.

With just a flick of a power switch mounted on the top of the windshield, you can power the top back to its first stop, which opens up a 16-inch full width “sunroof.” Or, if you prefer, hold the switch down and the top folds completely down behind the rear seat headrests and roll bars. That’s right, roll bars. The Mini comes with two individual roll-over hoops installed behind the rear seat. These roll-over hoops are part of the safety system, which includes a heavily reinforced windshield frame. The top also can be operated via the remote key fob used for the door locks.

The top in its up position very closely follows the profile of the original coupe. Mini designers intended the convertible to follow the profile of the coupe, helping to retain the family resemblance. This car is every bit a Mini.

Driving the car is certainly the most fun, although there are many who feel just sitting back and admiring their Mini is as enjoyable. This car is just too much fun to drive to let it sit stationary. I had the pleasure of experiencing the first Mini Convertible driving the country roads just outside Miniapolis, Minisota. (My apologies to Minnesotans) Anyway, how can you go wrong with driving through the beautiful countryside provided by the land of 10,000 lakes?

As with the Mini coupe, the convertible comes in two models, the Cooper and the more powerful Cooper S. Both offer their own level of features and reading on the fun-o-meter.

The Cooper is well outfitted to meet most driver’s wants and needs. The design of the platform and drive train welcome adventurous driving. Yet the car can be civilized and quite comfortable for the daily commute to work. And after being on the roads and streets for years now, I am surprised the Mini in coupe form continues to garner smiles, waves and a whole lot of thumbs-up gestures from all sorts of folks. It seems to put a happy face on all who come in contact with the vehicle. But the biggest smile of all comes from the person lucky enough to be sitting behind the steering wheel. And, that person’s smile is easy to see when the top is down.

The Cooper is powered by a small but potent 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that gives the car a very spirited character. Producing an admirable 115 horsepower and 111 foot-pounds of torque, this little car will spirit you through the turns of your favorite back-country road like a sports car. Strap in the potent supercharger of the Cooper S model and that power jumps to 168 horsepower and 162 foot-pounds. of torque. With additional power comes a major increase in the fun. Able to negotiate turns with tremendous agility, the Cooper S jumps at the chance to accelerate out of those turns and down the straight bits, to the next and the next and the next. If you aren’t careful, this could get to be habit forming.

Helping to keep the fun level high are three available transmissions. A five-speed manual is standard fare for the Cooper, which also has a continuous variable automatic transmission (CVT) available.

The Cooper S gets a close-ratio six-speed manual gear box that elevates the driving fun even more.

The interior is designed much as the coupe is with the large trademark center dash-mounted speedometer and retro-looking toggle switches just below and the steering column-mounted tachometer. A sport gauge package is available that moves the speedometer next to the tach on the steering column and in its place are gauges that include oil pressure and ammeter.

The trunk, while not as big as a family sedan, is reasonably sized, but fold the rear seat down and you get a cargo space that holds 21 cubic feet of stuff.

In fact, the rear seat should probably remain a place for inanimate objects.

I adjusted the driver seat for my optimum position and there was virtually no legroom available behind my seat.

And though I discovered I could adjust the seat to allow a small person room behind me, I would not want to subject that person, or myself, to this inconvenience for much longer than a few miles.

Whether you choose the Cooper or the Cooper S makes little difference because both vehicles will inject a high level of enjoyment in your driving.

Put the top down, let the sun shine in and the wind flow through your hair and watch as the grin on your face grow ever larger in response to the miles ticking over on the odometer.

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