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Mini Cooper 2009 Review

Blank switch covers on the dashboard of a new car say something about the owner. It says: You are a cheapskate. You couldn't afford to buy the extras that come with the switches to fill these holes. So for the life of your car, they stare blankly back at every occupant and silently scream ‘cheapskate’.

Thankfully, there are ways to fill ugly and embarrassing blanks in a new car's dashboard. Mini has found the ideal fitment to its Cabrio S Chilli, a model that frustratingly spent some time in my hands getting wet in a few days of winter rain.

It is the ‘absolutely unique Always-Open Timer’. In plain English, it tells you how long the roof has been open and so important is this device that it sits big and proud alongside the tachometer. Why? Because, Mini says, ‘this unprecedented instrument shows the driver and passengers the time they have spent driving with the roof down, motivating the driver to really enjoy the thrill of open-air motoring as frequently as possible’.

There are SO many things I want to say about this, but I'm going to be kind and just suggest that blank switch covers would actually be better looking, cheaper and serve a greater function.

Drivetrain

On a kinder note, the Mini Cabrio S is a gem. It's all to do with the bright, lively and even fuel-miserly 1.6-litre 4-cylinder, turbocharged engine that constantly lures the driver to revel in its prodigious torque and sweet nigh-revving exhaust note. The transmission is a six-speed manual — though an auto is available — which is equally as delightful and a joy to stir.

The engine, also used by Peugeot in its 207 model, has already been voted as one of the world's best and for very good reason. If it has a fault it lies in the noise generated by the driver's active right foot.

Body and space

Don't think that the Mini is a small car. It's a scale model of the original 1960s creation but has been super-sized so it has proportions close to the Golf or Corolla hatch. That indicates room for four but in effect is a 2+2 with the children allocated in the diminutive, yet beautifully crafted, rear seats.

The Cabrio gets a fabric roof with electric drive and includes a clever ‘targa-style’ setting that opens just the section above the front occupants' heads. Better is that this function can be opened and closed at speeds up to 30km/h. If the weather is inclement — as it was for the majority of this test — then Mini this year provides climate airconditioning as standard.

For protection in a roll-over, there is a single-piece rollbar behind the rear seats that arises automatically in 150 milliseconds. I doubt if you'd need this. The Mini Cabrio — tested in its S Chilli version which adds more features plus the turbocharged engine — hangs on like a limit through the bends.

Driving

This is really one of the best fun cars — along with the Mazda MX-5 which incidentally is its biggest rival — on the market.

The short wheelbase, wide track and sharp steering ratio make it go-kart accurate and with the ability to change its line through the corner. But the ride on the run-flat tyres is firm and sometimes harsh and usually noisy. It works well, however, on smooth bitumen. The Mini Cabrio S Chilli is a great package — at least from a drivetrain point of view.

But the Mini demands sympathetic and well-heeled buyers. These are people who can live with its small cabin, hodge-podge switch and gauge placement and the unconventional placement of the windscreen somewhere near the headlights.

It would never win any aesthetic prize. Like the original Mini, the speedo is a huge dinner plate disc in the centre of the dash. It is within easy view of any occupant and can become an issue if you pick a pedantic passenger. Toggle switches are placed — predominantly — in the centre of the dash and can be awkward to quickly locate.

Then there's the stupid ignition key that has to slide into position one-way up and then a starter button has to be pressed. Too fussy! But I'm probably being too fussy myself. This is a style car and the function may be less important to its buyers.

Pricing

It's not cheap. Prices for the Cabrios start at a reasonable $39,800 but you have to fill in the blank dashboard panels so the option list can get a healthy work out. As tested, the car was $51,600. That includes the Always-Open Timer that told me the brief time spent with my head in the fresh air cost $2345.45 a minute. And that's a figure any owner would not want to gauge.


Mini Cooper S Cabrio Chilli
Price: $51,600
Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder, turbocharged
Power: 128kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 240Nm @ 1600-5000rpm
Performance: 0-100km/h: 7.1 seconds
Fuel economy (official): 7.2 litres/100km, (tested): 8.4 litres/100km
Emissions: 171g/km (Corolla: 175g/km)
Transmission: 6-speed manual; front-drive
Verdict: 85/100
Rivals:
Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.6 ($43,900) — 87/100
Mazda MX-5 ($43,850) — 92/100
Lotus Elise 1.8S ($69,990) — 91/100
BMW 120i Convertible ($52,900) — 88/100

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
Neil Dowling
Contributing Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$10,890

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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