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Mini Cooper S 2009 Review

Some would say it's a brave move to launch a new car which makes an extroverted statement about success and a carefree lifestyle as the world reels from the numbing chill of recession.

New car sales worldwide are plummeting but BMW's Mini moment in the sun has arrived.

It already had its second generation, oh-so-cool convertible locked into production well before the economic crisis loomed and now it seems there could be a ray of sunshine for Mini amongst the gloom and doom.

Its seemingly less than perfect timing could work in its favour with the new cabrio likely to appeal to buyers downsizing from more expensive or less efficient models.

An upbeat head of Mini's marketing communications Andreas Hofmann says the Mini's enviable appeal as a fun car and its reputation for fuel efficiency were strong selling points.

"Our timing (in launching the new Mini convertible) will work in our favour. Buyers are downsizing and that will be a bonus for us, especially in the United Sates and even in Australia,” Hofmann said at the launch of the Mini cabrio in Austria.

"Even in this climate if a product is right, it will sell," he said.

Australia gets the new soft top in Cooper and more potent Cooper S guise in April. It picks up all the styling and mechanical changes introduced in the hatch two years ago, including the 1.6-litre petrol four cylinder motor. In the Cooper S there's been a switch to a twin-scroll turbocharged engine instead of the old supercharged motor. Diesel, too, is under consideration and will probably come later in the year.

So it is largely a good news story for the new Mini: it's greener, more frugal, and the cabriolet addresses most of the styling negatives associated with the old version.

That puts Mini in a good position to take the fight for sales up to rivals like the Audi A3, Peugeot 207, VW Eos, Mazda MX5 and Holden's Astra. You can also add Fiat's 500 convertible which will be launched in Europe in May.

ON THE ROAD

Who said the Germans don't have a sense of humour?

Who else would launch a convertible in Austria as Europe struggles through one of its bleakest winters in living memory. While Australia struggled with heat waves, in the foothills of the Austrian Alps the temperature struggling to get to zero, snow sat a metre deep on the roadside and houses were half hidden under white blankets.

There were plenty of puzzled looks from the Austrians, swathed in layers of winter coats, pondering why these strange tourists were driving with the roof down. But Mini reckons there's no reason why you can't drive a cabrio in all seasons and they are right.

Certainly the provided thermal jackets, combined with the Mini's new automatic airconditioning system, did the job at keeping frostbite at bay.

You certainly don't buy a cabrio to be practical, but this one packs plenty of appeal and some gimmicks.

Mini, a brand which likes to be off centre, has blessed the motoring world with a new term, the Always Open Timer, which was quickly dubbed the openonameter.

This supposedly clever little dashboard display keeps track of how many hours you have driven topless. Why? Beats me, but it's a great conversation opener.

Mini says it "encourages open air motoring." I thought that's the very reason you buy a cabrio in the first place. So now you can have a dashboard display to make you feel good.

The neatly designed powered roof opens in 15 seconds flat. It's not the fastest in the business but it can be done at speeds up to 30km/h so you can impress your passengers or fellow road users with Mini's card folding trick on the run.

You can also slide the leading edge back to create a sunroof. The top folds down onto the boot lid. It looks neater than before but there's no room for it to disappear completely.

The pair of rollover hoops in the old model, which blocked the rear view, have been replaced with a single pop up bar which is far neater affair. The rear window doesn't have wiper so on wet days or in snow you have to rely on your door mirrors. This Mini suffers the same fate as most convertibles in that rear quarter visibility is still minimal thanks to the chunky design of the soft top.

The back seat looks purpose built for kids, not adults, but Mini has done a good job in maximising luggage space, albeit you can only get a couple of small suitcases in there, but you can access the rear seat which splits and folds.

Under the bonnet, the 1.6-litre four cylinder in the base Cooper model is good for 88kW and 160 Nm of torque. It's no rocket, but the Mini has impressive fuel consumption on its side.

The Cooper S is a delightfully different beast and you can pick it from a distance because of the power bulge on the bonnet. It offers added spice with 128kW and 240Nm but uses more fuel. Acceleration off the line takes a claimed 7.4 seconds to get to 100km/h; the base Cooper does it in a leisurely 9.8 seconds.

Fuel consumption is rated at 6.1l/100km in the Cooper and 7.2l/100km for the Cooper S but the best we could do was 9l.100km on icy roads.

We only drove the Cooper S version which showed little evidence that the extra 100kg the electric soft top adds hampered performance. It may be a different story in the non-turbo version. Nor did we see any evidence of scuttle shake which the previous model suffered from.

The Cooper S's ride remains firm to the point of being uncomfortable, especially on broken surfaces, thanks to its larger wheels, run-flat rubber and sporty suspension set up.

But it makes up for the hard ride with its reassuring grip and balanced handling, especially in tight twisty roads where there are constant changes of direction.

Our six-speed manual test car came equipped with Mini's new stop start system which switches the engine off automatically when stopped to save fuel. Depressing the clutch fires up the engine again. It's a feature we will soon see in Australia on the Mini diesel hatch, but Mini is expected to introduce it on the petrol cabrio next year.

Cabrio pricing is expected to rise between 3 and 5 per cent over the outgoing model, which would position the Cooper at just under $39,000 and the Cooper S at under $48,000. You do get some extra equipment like automatic air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity and USB port for MP3 players to offset the price rise.

The cabrio has all the traditional Mini DNA: sharp steering, poise and from the turbo, plenty of punch. Our drive in Austria proved this week, there's nothing chilling or numbing about the Mini's appeal.

Price: Not finalised but expect the Cooper to sell for just under $39,000 and the Cooper S for about $48,000.

 


Snapshot

BMW Mini convertible

On sale: April

Engines: Cooper: Four cylinder, 1.6 litre naturally aspirated, 88kW at 6000rpm; 160Nm at 4250. CO2: 145g/km; Cooper S 171g/km

Cooper S: 1.6-litre twin scroll turbocharged, 128kW at 5500rpm; 240Nm at 1600rpm (can be briefly boosted to 260Nm under full throttle).

Performance: Cooper, 0-100km/h 9.8 seconds (manual) 11.1s (auto). Cooper S 7.4s (manual) 7.7s (automatic)

Transmission: Six-speed manual or automatic optional

Economy: Cooper, 6.1/l100km; Cooper S, 7.2l/100km. As tested (Cooper S): 9l/100km to 11l/100km depending on road conditions.

Pricing Guides

$15,730
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$10,010
Highest Price
$21,450

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Cooper 1.6L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $10,010 – 13,640 2009 Mini Cabrio 2009 Cooper Pricing and Specs
Cooper Chilli 1.6L, PULP, CVT AUTO $11,770 – 15,730 2009 Mini Cabrio 2009 Cooper Chilli Pricing and Specs
Cooper S 1.6L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $12,760 – 16,940 2009 Mini Cabrio 2009 Cooper S Pricing and Specs
Cooper S Chilli 1.6L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $15,400 – 19,800 2009 Mini Cabrio 2009 Cooper S Chilli Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide

$10,010

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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