BY ANDY ENRIGHT
There's not too much that beats the cheeky feel-good factor of a soft top MINI and while the queues may have been long to join the waiting lists from new, used buyers can get instant access as long as they're willing to pay the price. Here's how to sift the wheat from the chaff.
Models Covered: Two door convertible - April 2004 to date: (1.6 90bhp, 1.6 116bhp, 1.6 170bhp [One, Cooper, Cooper S])
Three years after the introduction of the hardtop version of the MINI came the Convertible, a vehicle that once again rocketed the Cowley-built but Munich-bankrolled car onto the must-haves list. Two versions were on offer from the outset; the entry-level 90bhp MINI One Convertible and the sporty 116bhp Cooper Convertible. A few months later, MINI surprised everybody by launching the supercharged 170bhp Cooper S drop top. Demand was strong, although, as with any model that is a fashion item, demand can drop off as quickly as it ramps up and with newer rivals now rivalling the MINI Convertible in terms of high street chic, now could be a good time to pick up a cut price used bargain.
What You Get
The roof itself is a fully automatic fabric affair, MINI wisely choosing to reject the far more complex folding hard top fashion. Opting for this more complex engineering solution would not only have ruined the MINI's shape but also severely impinged on its luggage space. As it stands, the MINI retains a characteristic profile with the roof in place yet looks appealingly cheeky with the hood down. Press a button once and the roof slides back by 40cm, creating a sunroof effect. Press it again and the hood retracts fully, folding down behind the rear seats. It's not the neatest stowing arrangement but it only takes 15 seconds to get there and you'll retain a healthy 120 litres of storage space in the boot. The boot itself is worth taking a look at and it's not often I find myself saying that in a road test. It's redolent of the original Mini insofar as it has a drop down lid which can double as a loading platform. A pair of steel cables mounted on a sprung retractor act as boot hinges and can hold up to 80kg which, in old money, is nigh on 13 stone. With the roof in place - i.e. up - there's 165 litres of stowage space but those wishing to transport bulkier items are also accommodated. By flicking a pair of levers located in the boot, the rear fastening of the roof can be detached, allowing the entire rear section to be raised. This in turn creates a wider space through which bigger items can be loaded. Couple that with the folding rear seats and you'll be able to jemmy-in some surprisingly loads. MINI claim a total capacity of 605 litres.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Practically all MINI owners paid the extra £100 for the five-year 'TLC' servicing option, and as such your prospective purchase will probably have had some main dealer attention. The unfortunate fact that is beginning to emerge is that it may well have needed it. Apart from a recall to modify some car's fuel filler necks, many owners have seen somewhat more of their local BMW service bay than they would have expected. More than a few have reported that the ball races at the top pivot points of their front suspension struts were lacking caps and exposed to the elements. This seemed to be the cause of left hand pull on some models, rectified by fitting new struts. Rattling dashboards and badly fitting roof guttering were also repetitive complaints amongst owners. The hood mechanism has proved reasonably sturdy to date but check for rips of the hood material or staining caused by water trapped in a retracted hood.
A clutch assembly is around £130. Front brake pads are around £40, a full exhaust about £360, an alternator around £100 and a tyre around £40. A starter motor is about £120. A headlamp is about £165.
On the Road
One of the key aims when designing the Convertible was to offer the fun of top-down motoring without sacrificing too much in terms of space and driving dynamics. Imagine a shoe box with the lid on it. It's quite rigid but if you pop the lid off it suddenly becomes a rather wobbly thing. The same applies to convertible cars when their hard tops are removed and a lot of work goes into remedial reinforcement work to rectify this. If you've ever wondered why soft top cars are often heavier than their tin top equivalents, now you know. MINI claim their Convertible offers the same go-kart style handling as the hatch and this is testament to thorough bracing. Weight has crept up and as a result acceleration is a little blunted compared to the hard top sibling but the One will still hit 60mph in 11.6 seconds and the Cooper will stop the watch in a very reasonable 9.6 seconds. Get the Cooper S and we're talking 7.4s, that should be fast enough for most.
The MINI Convertible may not be especially practical nor is it the driver's tool that the hard top version is but it's nevertheless a fun piece of kit. The Cooper S seems a little OTT, and most buyers will be perfectly happy with the prettier Cooper model.