The lure of a MINI Convertible can act on the head as well as the heart thanks to the Cooper D diesel model. Steve Walker takes a look.
There's no doubt that the modern MINI is a powerfully persuasive car. Its phenomenal sales performance since reinvention at the hands of BMW is testament to that. Retro design sprinkled with leading-edge technology, youthful marketing and aspirational ad campaigns all contribute to the shinning appeal that the MINI holds for its target consumers. All of which is very nice, but just how strong is this MINI lure? Is it enticing enough, for example, to overcome one of history's biggest motoring turn-offs, that of the dreaded diesel convertible? The MINI Cooper D Convertible will provide that answer.
Ten Second Review
The core appeal of the MINI centres around its iconic retro design and its engaging handling. It's not the most practical car and that's compounded by the Convertible bodystyle. The Cooper D Convertible could, however, appeal to those who prefer to take their fun with a dash of commonsense. Outstanding economy and low emissions make give this some of the lowest running costs of any drop-top car.
To be fair, the stigma surrounding the diesel convertible is looking less and less relevant these days. In the past, the thought of driving a roofless car that put you within coughing distance of a smog-belching diesel engine that sounded like a toolbox tumbling down a mountainside was beyond the pale. Nowadays modern diesels have refinement and cleanliness to burn, so to speak, and many diesel convertibles are more than acceptable as a result. The MINI Cooper D Convertible still represents the first time diesel and a removable canopy have been combined in the achingly desirable MINI, so will it dent the baby BMW's charm?
The 1.6-litre diesel engine that's deemed worthy of fitment in the MINI Convertible is a common-rail injection unit with 112bhp. There's a less powerful 90bhp version offered elsewhere in the MINI family but only the engine's most powerful guise is fitted to the drop-top car. It's reasonably fast, with a 10.3s 0-60mph time, and muscular, with 270Nm maximum torque, but outright pace isn't the main attraction of this car. It's efficiency that makes this diesel stand out. One of the key aims when designing this MINI 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 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. On the move, a stronger body also reduces 'scuttle shake' over bumps.
Design and Build
The automatic canvas roof of this car can be fully retracted or closed using a roof-frame mounted toggle switch in just 15 seconds. In the event of a driver being caught unexpectedly by a sudden downpour, this function will fully operate with the car at speeds of up to 20mph. As an alternative to the complete top-down driving experience, the full-width of the electric roof can be retracted by approximately 40cm to create the effect of a sunroof. This function can be operated at speeds of up to 75 mph. What must be one of the silliest features available on any car is MINI's Openometer which gives a running report of the percentage of driving time that you've had the car's roof down for. The idea is to guilt-trip owners into using the convertible roof more regularly. Unlike its predecessor's fixed anti-roll bars, the MK2 model features a single-piece roll bar situated behind the rear seats, ensuring passenger safety in the event of a crash. The roll bar will extend in milliseconds at the point of impact to protect the car's occupants should the car overturn. Clever use of space means the luggage capacity of the current car is considerably improved, at 125 litres roof-up and 170 litres roof-shut there isn't a whole lot of space but a 660-litre capacity with rear seats folded gives some extra practicality. You might as well fold those rear seats too: there's not a lot of room for sitting in them.
Market and Model
It will be no surprise to anyone that the MINI comes at a premium over other supermini-based convertibles but the Cooper D models aren't overly pricey and equipment levels are high. All MINIs now have a CD stereo with DAB digital radio plus there's air-conditioning, heated mirrors and heated washer jets for those frosty mornings. All models get Dynamic Stability Control and Cornering Brake Control to aid stability, as well as an advanced anti-lock braking system. Rivals for this Cooper D will come from the small convertible sector but the pricing of the MINI Convertible also brings it into competition with some larger open-topped cars. The diminutive Fiat 500C is a lower budget option and can be ordered with a diesel engine. There's Peugeot's 207 CC which uses exactly the same powerplant as the Cooper D (Peugeot, Citroen and BMW have an agreement to share small engine technology) and Mazda's MX-5 roadster is priced at similar levels. Larger models like the Renault Megane CC and Peugeot 308 CC are more expensive but the gap isn't huge while Audi's A3 Cabriolet is another option that's more but not much more.
Cost of Ownership
The trump card of the Cooper D Convertible is its running costs. Few convertibles can touch its 70mpg economy and 105g/km emissions and MINI residual values remain amongst the strongest around. The low fuel consumption of the engine is enhanced by stop-start technology and brake energy regeneration along with optimised gear ratios and aerodynamics.
If you're still harbouring doubts about convertible cars with diesel engines, it really is time to reset your views. The diesel units of yesteryear can't hold a candle to today's installations with regards to cleanliness or refinement, while the economy advantages are bigger than ever. Even the painfully trendy MINI Convertible comes with diesel power these days, the Cooper D model offering decent performance and sparkling ownership costs. If you were struggling to justify the purchase of a MINI Convertible with its stingy rear seats and limited luggage space, the Cooper D could be just the thing. Adding sensible virtues like low fuel consumption and miniscule emissions into the mix, it helps the drop-top MINI appeal as powerfully to the head as it does to the heart.