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“Make mine a MINI Cooper S Cabrio in British Racing Green with a Hot Chocolate Soft top, Carbon Black Lounge Leather and brushed alloy interior highlights with Chilli to go”

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Remember the original 1969 box office hit “The Italian Job” with British actor Michael Caine, who had to settle for a supporting role alongside a beautiful Lamborghini Miura, two Jaguar E Types and an Aston Martin DB4.

The real stars of the movie were three Mk1 Austin Mini Cooper S’s in red, white and blue, for England of course.

But truth be told, the Mini as it was known then, had already achieved global fame with owners such as, The Beatles (they each owned one), Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks and even Enzo Ferrari, couldn’t resist the super cool image and go-kart like handling, which the Mini delivered in spades.

It was pretty much the same scenario with the 2003 remake of the film, when heavy hitting Hollywood stars, Mark Wahlbeg, Ed Norton and Charlize Theron, joined the set of the heist movie, only to be out gunned by wheelman, Jason Stratham and three seriously modified MINI Coopers, who drove away with the gold.

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Its been far too long since I’ve been behind the wheel of a MINI Cooper S, that was back in 2005 when I was lucky enough to get a steer in a ‘one off’ John Cooper Works Chilli edition, loaded with every possible JCW performance option they could squeeze into the car. I didn’t think it was possible to have that much fun on four wheels, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

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Former champion race driver Warwick Brown (he has a Formula One race to his credit) is not an easy guy to impress, but a quick spin in the passenger seat of this special MINI, and all he could say was “I want one now”.

But it’s not all about performance with this iconic brand; equally it’s about image and lifestyle, when we’re talking open-air motoring – by MINI.

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BMW, the saviours and custodians of the MINI brand, has just introduced the Australian motoring press to the new MINI Cabrio in two flavours, the MINI Cooper Cabrio for $39,800 (RRP) and the ‘tuned’ MINI Cooper S Cabrio, at $48,000 (RRP).

While we didn’t get a steer in the stock MINI Cooper Cabrio, with its 88kW and 160Nm, no one complained, as we were greeted with a line up of MINI Cooper S Cabrio’s in a variety of colour-coded combinations.

We went for the Interchange Yellow with a Black Soft top and matching Interchange Yellow interior highlights. Our car also had the ‘must have’ bonnet stripes in black, which along with the bonnet-mounted intake; make this car a worry in anyone’s rear vision mirror.

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MINI have gone for the classic soft top look, rather than the popular folding metal roof, which compliments the overall styling of the car, beautifully.

Not that its any less technical though, in fact, its quite a clever system, which takes all of fifteen seconds to open or close and can be done so while moving at up to 30km/h.

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We put this feature to the test in rural Victoria yesterday, as we approached a rest stop, it started to rain quite heavily, so I hit the roof switch and we were under cover in no time at all.

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With its integrated sliding action, the soft top also doubles as a sliding sunroof, but with little or no noise from the electro hydraulic components.

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You can even option what MINI call an Always Open Timer (standard on Chilli models), which as the term suggests, times precisely how long you have the top down during each trip you make in the car.

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Open-air motoring is about weathering the elements and enjoying that crisp cool air, so despite the lower than expected temperatures during the test drive, I strongly resisted the temptation to don my jacket, and with good reason.

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Our MINI Cooper S Cabrio test car was fitted with the optional heated seats, which could have made a Siberian drive in the dead of winter with the roof down a joy; such was effectiveness of this bottom warming luxury.

And for your hands and torso, this is one of the best HVAC units I have experienced in any car, which made the 250-kilometre trip in short sleeves, entirely comfortable.

The sports seats with the optional Lounge leather in Hot Chocolate are a treat, hugely supportive and anatomically comfortable, even after hours behind the wheel.

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You never feel cramped in the MINI Cooper Cabrio either, put that down to the relatively gentle rake of the windscreen, and the fact that is rises high above your hairline and far enough forward, so as never to intrude.

The instrumentation is a modern interpretation of the original Mk1 Mini Cooper, with the oversized centre mounted speedometer, which I found difficult to read at a glance, due to its lack of angle towards the driver, and relied more on the small digital speed read out within the RPM dial, in front of the steering wheel.

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The driving position across the MINI line up is brilliant, you sit deep in the car and low to the ground, so its not hard to understand how this car gets its go-kart like handling tag, but frankly, there’s a lot more to it than simply the ergonomics.

The steering for example, is deadly accurate and very quick to respond to the slightest input, making it an enthusiast’s dream on the twisty bits.

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The brakes too, offer brilliant stopping power without being overly sensitive to pedal pressure, a common complaint across several different prestige brands these days.

It doesn’t matter how quick you turn into a corner there is no sign of body roll, not even a hint – this car is lean free, and that’s with the roof down!

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Couple that, with what I am prepared to say, is the best performing 1.6 litre powertrain in use today and you have a car, which would put a smile on the face of an accountant from a shoe lace factory.

It doesn’t seem to matter what gear ratio you are in, punch the throttle and the MINI Cooper S Cabrio embarks on a high speed mission, utterly devoid of any turbo lag.

We can thank BMW know how for this silk smooth 1,598 cc all alloy power unit, boosted by a twin-scroll turbocharger and direct injection delivering 128kW at 5,500 and up to 260 Newton-metres between an incredible 1,600 and 5,000 rpm.

Even traveling across some winding and hilly countryside, you can sit back in fifth or sixth gear without the need to ever shift down, due in most part, to the MINI’s unusually wide torque curve.

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The MINI Cooper S Cabrio will top out at 222km/h and accelerate from 0-100km/h in a reasonably rapid 7.4 seconds, although it felt quicker than that from behind the wheel.

There’s a relatively modest dose of torque steer when you jump on the right pedal in first gear, but its no cause for alarm and entirely normal behaviour from a front wheel drive car, with this kind of performance.

While the Six Speed manual gearbox and the beautifully tactile shifter is another highlight of the MINI, you can choose the six-speed automatic with Steptronic and steering wheel paddles, but that will cost you a $2,350 premium over the manual box.

It might have go-kart like handling, but the ride quality on board the MINI Cooper S Cabrio has been perfectly calibrated to take full advantage of the brilliant chassis and offers a firm, but never harsh ride.

As small as the MINI might look, there is enough room in the boot with the rear seats in place for a couple of medium size soft bags. But fold the rear seats down and close the roof, and luggage space is optimised to a considerable 660 litres.

Safety for those on board the MINI Cooper Cabrio range is clearly a priority. There’s a single piece rollbar, which extends the width of the car behind the rear seats, but does not impede the driver’s rear view. There’s also a sophisticated rollover sensor, which will activate a host of safety features including frontal and side head/thorax airbags together with the rollbar, which can deploy in 150 milliseconds, when fired.

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The new MINI Cabrio also comes loaded with a full suite of active safety systems which include; ABS, EBD, CBC Cornering Brake Control, in addition to DSC Dynamic Stability Control and a great feature called Hill Start Assist, which prevents the car from rolling back when starting off in first gear, on an incline.

Weighing in at just 1230kg, I’m reasonably confident you can expect this high performance MINI Cabrio to achieve the published fuel consumption figure of 7.2l/100km (combined). After 250 kilometres of reasonably serious driving, we had used just one bar out of ten, on the fuel indicator.

Even better, if you choose the normally aspirated MINI Cabrio, using variable valve management based on BMW’s “Valvetronic” technology, which is said to use as little as 6.1 litres/100km.

But if the above fuel consumption numbers don’t measure up to your environmental standards, and you’re more leaf green than British Racing Green, then you might want to hold off for the new MINI Cooper D, which means you will be able to have the best of both worlds.

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On sale in Australia in May this year, the “D” will provide buyers with a capability to travel up to 1,025km from a single tank of diesel (40 litres).

Moreover, CO2 emissions will fall to just 104 g/km, while the 1.6-litre turbo diesel powerplant produces a staggering 260Nm during “Overboost”, and will be the fastest accelerating diesel in its capacity class in the country.

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“I seriously doubt whether there is any other car on the market priced below fifty thousand dollars, which offers more “cool” and “go” than the new MINI Cooper S Cabrio”.



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MINI COOPER BREAKDOWN

2009 MINI Cabrio First Steer Review
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