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The Car

10 Dec 2004

TRANSFORMING a brick-shaped object into a half-decent soft-top car would be an insurmountable challenge for some car-makers, but the just launched Mini Cabrio proves styling judgments should never be made in advance.

The convertible-roof Mini arrives here with style, and a certain amount of practicality, to supplement a successful marketing ploy that has seen the BMW-managed Mini brand emerge as a viable entity long after the Leyland original disappeared from view.

It also aims to extend market appeal beyond males, who currently account for the bulk of Mini purchases.

Like the hardtop versions, the rag-top will be available in 85kW Cooper and 125kW Cooper S form (but not in Chilli livery) in both manual or optional CVT transmission.

In a first for the brand, from March 2005 the option of an Aisin six-speed automatic transmission in the Cooper S version will also be available.

The soft-top Mini adds $6400 to the price of regular hardtop versions and is an interesting variant on the soft-top tradition.

For a start, it’s the only convertible on the market that comes with a sunroof that can be brought into play if the full roof-down configuration is not required, and it is definitely the first convertible doubling as an (almost) five-door hatchback.

This sort of practicality is something of a surprise in a car that has not been known – so far – as anything other than a two-door status symbol with a nodding acquaintance to rear-seat passengers.

The Cabrio offers nominal seating for four passengers along with a split-fold backrest and a maximum load capacity, with two people on board, of 605 litres.

The cabriolet roof is fully automatic and closes or opens in about 15 seconds.

It also has a glass rear window with demisting wires and folds without taking up excessive space and without the need for a tonneau cover.

The claim is that the Mini Cabrio offers the same levels of crash protection as the hardtop versions. It has been given a decent toughening-up in terms of body rigidity to compensate for the deletion of the roof and is equipped with two solid rollover bars behind the rear seat should the worst happen.

In deference to the fact that rear vision is not equal to the hardtop, rear park-distance monitors are standard on both Cooper and Cooper S.

The body gets extra reinforcement in the doorsills and cross members, as well as extra struts connecting the body to the rear axle and linking the front suspension and the engine mounts. Dual front airbags and head-thorax side airbags are also standard.

The bootlid is bottom-hinged, just like the original, and gives access to a small boot that can be expanded via a clever manipulation of the convertible roof to give similar loading ability to a hatchback.

The convertible roof adds around 100kg to the weight of the Mini, but management says acceleration is not unduly affected – particularly in the Cooper S version which, according to official figures, will reach 100km/h in 7.4 seconds, making it the fastest accelerating four-seat convertible under $100,000.

Suspension settings have been softened slightly to compensate for the inevitable flex in the body.

The Cooper gets a milder spring/shock absorber set-up, while the Cooper S Cabriolet, in lieu of the Sports-plus settings on the hardtop, gets a straight Sports set-up.

Wheels on the Cooper Cabriolet are 16-inch alloys, while the Cooper S gets 17-inch alloys.

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Did you know?

Standard equipment on Cooper versions includes anti-lock brakes, cornering brake control, park-distance sensors, air-conditioning and trip computer, while the Cooper S picks up automatic stability control, run-flat tyres, cruise control and a six-speed manual transmission in place of the Cooper’s five-speed gearbox

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