MINI

Has our MINI begun to self-harm? It certainly seems so

  • roof, great looks, involving handling, camping it up
  • Poor load-carrying capacity, expensive options, limited rear visibility

It's just typical. Nothing for almost a year, then a month before our MINI Cooper S Convertible has to go back, a number of mysterious scratches and dents suddenly appear on its (until now) pristine bodywork. Had the car begun to self-harm, distressed at the pending separation?

Or was the law of averages finally catching up with it? I suppose you can't expect to park on a busy roadside in London for 12 months and come away completely unscathed.

And that's why, when I decided to take the MINI on a camping holiday, I invested in a larger tent than necessary. As well as protecting me from all the elements, it could also double as a makeshift garage for RF05 KBZ - to shield it from any clumsy campers and their gear.

While this got me some strange looks at my chosen Devon campsite, it highlighted one of the key things that I'll miss about the Cooper S Convertible - its compact size. Really, for life in a busy city, there's no better car. The dinky dimensions and standard reversing sensors enable you to park in the smallest gaps, while the responsive handling and impressive supercharged pace mean it's ideal for scything through busy traffic.

Some purists may think the drop-top MINI is sacrilege. Of course, chopping the roof off does reduce the chassis stiffness, and, yes, cabriolets are as camp as Graham Norton.

But if you are a convertible nut like me, you're willing to make a few sacrifices for wind-in-the-hair thrills. And when it comes to alfresco motoring, the Convertible, especially in Cooper S guise, is king... or should that be queen?! While the current trend is for clever folding metal roofs, there are plenty of advantages to the MINI's fabric hood. The compact mechanism means four people can be squeezed in, and the neat sunroof function is ideal if you don't want the top all the way down.

What's more, the build quality is excellent, too, providing a feeling of solidity that you would only expect from a much larger model. And although roofless MINIs may not be cheap to buy, strong residuals mean they will work out cheaper to own than many rivals.

Sure, boot space is limited and, with the hood up, the cabin is dark with a massive rear blind-spot. But the little car has such a huge personality you can forgive these few minor annoyances. I've really enjoyed the last year with the motor, and am not surprised the diminutive convertible is the UK's best-selling drop-top.

Second opinion I've really wanted to like the MINI Convertible, as the tin-top is one of my favourite cars. However, poor rear visibility has left me nearly wiping out cyclists and motorbike couriers. And with the roof down, it looks about as attractive as the home-made Mini Metro cabrios I remember seeing on the roads in the Eighties. Thankfully, once you're behind the wheel, on an open road, a smile returns to your face immediately!Gary Lord, production editor

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