Mini Cooper S 2005 Review
Sometimes it's a smiling sunshine hoot, sometimes it's a screaming supercharger hoot and sometimes it's a grip-and-go cornering hoot. There are times when it's all three.
That's because the newest Mini is a convertible, a supercharged hot hatch and a baby luxury car. All for one and one for all.
It comes towards the end of the first built-by-BMW Mini's lifecycle, with development of a second-generation car at full speed in Europe.
To give the test car its full name, and please take a breath now to get through it in one go, it's the Mini Cooper S Cabrio with John Cooper Works Tuning Kit.
What that means is it's the combination of the new Mini Cabrio with the power-up kit developed by the same Cooper-family company that did the fast-car fix-up on the original Mini in the 1960s.
It means a $54,750 price and a list of special equipment that runs from the Cooper Works engine bits to rear-parking radar and a full leather cabin.
The S Works Cabrio is the all-for-one car that puts the best of everything into the one package.
The Works kit means 154kW from a supercharged engine that powers the car to 100km/h in less than seven seconds, and the Cabrio kit makes the Mini into a worthwhile four-seat convertible.
The car's roof is essentially an electric folding cloth top. But there is much more to it.
The conversion has been done without losing the benefit of rear rollover bars and a heated glass rear window.
It has a fully automatic control system that can even be operated with the remote keyfob.
It also doubles as a targa top with a sliding front sunroof panel.
The marketing team at BMW, which has a great grip on what's best in the trend business, also ensured the Cabrio comes in all the right colours, with three choices for the roof fabric, and a wide range of optional equipment.
Still, the basics are all you expect, including CD sound and leather trim, electric mirrors and air-con.
The roof is operated from two switches at the top of the windscreen support. One allows all four side windows to be tucked away for a clean look.
The John Cooper Works kit does the job in the engine bay with bigger fuel injectors and special engine calibration, modified valves, a stainless exhaust, uprated supercharger, modified cylinder head and a special air-filter housing.
There is a discreet badge below the grille to tell people what is closing from behind, and one on the back.
The Mini Cabrio goes up against all sorts of rivals, from the classic two-seat Mazda MX-5 featured in this week's middle pages to the metal-roof Renault Megane and Peugeot 307 coupe-convertibles.
The VW Beetle Cabrio is in there too, in a droptop class that is growing all the time and even includes a value-added new Saab 9-3 convertible in the $60,000 range.
ON THE ROAD
THE S Works Cabrio is a ripper of a car. It's not for everyone, with an engine that screams and howls and pops, but the people who like it will really like it.
It's also very hard to park, has a tiny boot, can be a bugger to contain and could be a long-term problem with so much mechanical and electrical complexity in the Cabrio system.
But who cares when the top is down and you are sprinting into the sunshine?
The driving enjoyment in the Cabrio Works is right up with the MX-5 and way beyond the thrills you get in a Megane or 307CC. The Beetle Cabrio barely moves the meter.
The Cabrio Works' price is pretty meaty even without dipping into the extras list, and beyond its obvious rivals, but this is a car with extra appeal.
It is nice just to fold the roof flat for a quiet sunset cruise, because the Mini is refined, comfortable and easy to use.
Back-seat space isn't huge, but you can happily take friends along.
The Cabrio is nicely quiet at all times, top up and top down, and the system works well. One button, no fuss.
Some people would prefer a folding metal roof, but the Mini system is a good design.
And we really like the sliding front panel, which gives you extra air and sunshine even if you don't want the full Cabrio experience.
The quality seems a little better than that of earlier Minis we drove, without the driver's seat squeak that was so annoying at first, and we're still taken with the funky dashboard.
The boot is a pain – even with the fold-flat rear seats – and we found it difficult to back the car with the roof up, and not much better with it down, because of the giant rollbars.
But the John Cooper Works kit more than compensates, even if the fitted price puts $9850 on a Mini.
It transforms the car into one capable of beating V8s away from the lights and really moving along a twisty road. But it's the way it does it, with excellent bottom-end pull and a surge all the way to the redline, that's so impressive.
The hi-tech engine upgrade is well matched to a car with great grip and brakes, even if the steering wheel does jerk around in your hands if you push on broken surfaces.
The six-speed manual works well, the steering has good feel, and the sporty suspension still copes with bumps.
THE BOTTOM LINE
THE S Works Cabrio is just the thing to have in Melbourne in GP week. It's great for a posing cruise but can still light up and go. It's a memorable car that should appeal to a lot of people who want something special that's more than a convertible.
Range and Specs
|Cooper||1.6L, PULP, CVT AUTO||$6,930 – 9,790||2005 Mini Cabrio 2005 Cooper Pricing and Specs|
|Cooper S||1.6L, PULP, CVT AUTO||$8,580 – 12,100||2005 Mini Cabrio 2005 Cooper S Pricing and Specs|
|Cooper S JCW||1.6L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$10,230 – 13,970||2005 Mini Cabrio 2005 Cooper S JCW Pricing and Specs|
Lowest price, based on third party pricing data