In the cabin
As mentioned above, this 2009 Mini Cooper Convertible lacked the iPod, Bluetooth, and navigation options, all of which we would like to see. These features will be similar to those found in BMWs, and use the radio display in the Cooper Convertible. Mini is fairly clever about using the compact space of the radio display, but it is still limited to two lines of text. The navigation screen would sit in the middle of the big speedometer.
Lacking the optional cabin tech, the Cooper Convertible is pretty boring as a tech car. All it really has going for it is the stereo, with music playing from a single-disc player, auxiliary input, or terrestrial radio. The disc player can at least read MP3 CDs, although browsing folders is hampered somewhat by the small radio display.
You can also get a premium audio system with 10 speakers for the Cooper Convertible, but ours was stuck with the standard six speaker system. The audio quality is pretty average, helped by distinct highs, but lacking definition in the mid range.
Under the hood
The lack of thrills while driving the 2009 Mini Cooper Convertible can be partly attributed to the 1.6-liter four cylinder engine, with its 120 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque. BMW squeezes what it can out of the engine using its variable valve timing technology. By comparison, the S version's turbocharger kicks it up to 175 horsepower. The Sport button, which remaps the throttle programming, is not something you find on cars in this segment.
Having used Mini's six-speed-manual transmission previously, we know that it would help the fun factor considerably, but the optional six-speed-automatic transmission tends to keep the engine speed low, sapping the power. In normal drive mode, the transmission takes its time downshifting, leading to slow starts.
But that limiting power train doesn't hurt the handling, which is as sprightly as ever. Our car came with the optional traction control, designed to assist in hard cornering as well as slippery conditions.
For fuel economy, the EPA gives the 2009 Mini Cooper Convertible 25 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. During our testing we stayed right around 30 mpg. The California Air Resources Board hasn't provided an emissions rating for the Cooper Convertible as of this review, but the previous year's model only earned a LEV II rating, the minimum required.
The 2009 Mini Cooper Convertible goes for a base price of $25,900. Our test model included the Cold Weather package, bringing in heated seats, for $500, and the Premium package, adding niceties such as a the multifunction steering wheel and automatic climate control, for $1,250. The automatic transmission cost another $1,250, and a special leather package, Leather Lounge Hot Chocolate, added $2,000. Sundry other options, plus the $650 destination charge, brought the total up to $32,050, a high price for a car with virtually no cabin tech.
Although our car didn't come with much cabin tech, Mini makes those features available, so we give it an above average rating in that area. We obviously weren't impressed with the performance, but its good fuel economy and fun handling save it. Plus the fact that you can get it with the six speed manual. But where it really stands out is design. There's no mistaking a Mini Cooper, as it represents an excellent new take on an old design.