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Mini Cooper S convertible
The Mini's boxy, bulldog style and sporty performance make it one of the most fun-to-drive cars ever sold. And the convertible version just makes it more so, albeit at a $4,500 premium over an equivalent hardtop. However, that top is power operated and has a sunroof that partially opens. Premium and subcompact may seem contradictory terms, but not here. Not only do you get Mini's trademark style, which has been subtly freshened this year, but parent company BMW has made nearly all the advanced electronic systems offered in its own cars standard or available in Minis. Rain-sensor wipers, park distance control, a trip computer, a DVD-based navigation system, Sirius satellite radio, and a Harman Kardon DSP stereo can all be had. Other options include iPod compatibility, which unfortunately rules out a CD changer, and a 1/8-inch auxiliary jack, which lets you hook any MP3 player to the stereo system.
The main attraction of the Mini is its performance and handling, and the supercharged and intercooled S models get more power in this model year, to 168 horsepower, as well as revised gear ratios for quicker acceleration. At a base price of $24,900, plus a $550 destination charge and $1,950 worth of options for a total of $27,400, our Mini Cooper S convertible was far from the priciest Mini that could be specified--but hardly inexpensive. However, other small hatchbacks don't begin to compare to a Mini, nor do other small convertibles.
Convert and go
The Mini's interior pays homage to its ancestor in style, with more room than expected and a huge speedometer mounted in the center of the dash. The center mount looks good, but it's out of the driver's line of sight. Mini makes up for this with a small digital speedometer at the bottom of the steering column-mounted tach, directly in front of the driver. The seats are a cut above what's expected, even at the Mini convertible's premium price point, and although access to the rear seat is a little tricky, there is enough room for two medium-size adults to be comfortable.
Toggle switches at the bottom of the center stack have a retro, technical rack-mount look, although the plastic switches and loops in the face plate don't have a very solid feel. A cup holder hangs off the center stack, completely ruining the style of the dashboard. The optional Cockpit Chrono Pack, which we didn't have in our test car, places smaller tach and speedometer gauges on the steering column and exchanges the standard speedometer for a chronometer-style multifunction gauge. If the navigation system is specified, an LCD screen replaces the standard speedometer.