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MINI Cooper S Convertible

Reborn classic is a hit with the fashion conscious, especially as a drop-top

Few cars can equal the success of the MINI. The introduction of the Clubman and Countryman means the firm has the fashionable small car sector all sewn up.

That leaves the Convertible as something of an old-timer. The first drop-top arrived in 2005, and the latest is the best yet.

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With the roof up, the cabrio’s silhouette is very similar to that of the three-door hatch, but the extra fabric in the C-pillars makes it look even chunkier. Lower the top and the first thing that strikes you is the strong and seemingly completely flat waistline running from the base of the windscreen round to the rear of the car. The smooth body panels and flared wheelarches combine with the round headlights and neat detailing to leave you reminiscing about the model’s rich history.

Inside, the retro theme continues with the oversized central speedo and steering column-mounted rev counter. Yet although the seats have plenty of adjustment, locating their various controls can be tricky, while
their flat and hard surfaces prove uncomfortable on long journeys.

The toggle switches and rotary controls look and feel great to use, but delve deeper and some of the plastic quality begins to suffer – the backing of the centre console is particularly flimsy. Still, for the money there are few cars which can match the MINI’s individual and special feel – unless you sit in the back, which has constricted legroom and seems claustrophobic thanks to the thick C-pillars.

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At idle, the 1.6-litre turbo is smooth and quiet, but it finds its voice with a blip of the throttle. And it gets louder when you free up the exhaust by activating Sport mode. On the move the Cooper S feels very lively. The steering writhes around in your hands if you accelerate hard on uneven surfaces, while the crisp throttle provides impressive responses.

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The smooth-shifting six-speed box is a pleasure to use and all the controls are perfectly weighted. However, driven hard the MINI can become a little unruly, with the stiff, unforgiving suspension allowing the front wheels to spin the power away, especially in tight bends. Slow down and the experience improves, although that harsh suspension and heavy run-flat tyres are never far from your mind. The droning exhaust note can also become intrusive.

Multi-stage top operation means that at the touch of a button the front section of fabric can be slid back like a large sunroof, giving instant wind-in-the-hair motoring at any speed without having to pull over.

However, you must be stationary to fully operate the top: simply press the button again to fold it back and over the rear seats, and automatically drop the windows.

The hood action is quick – taking only 19.8 seconds to lower and 16.5 to close – but it’s not perfect. The biggest disappointment is the lack of a proper tonneau cover, which leaves the top clumsily folded out over the rear deck.

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WHY: The MINI is one of the most fashionable superminis around, and the cabrio version provides lively performance, a fabric hood and four seats.

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