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Walkaround and Interior
The Mini Cooper lineup has multiplied since this second-generation version was launched as a 2007 model. Yet none of the subsequent models will be mistaken for anything other than a close sibling to the chic, irrepressible cute Hardtop, or for that matter any Mini model sold since the brand was re-introduced for 2000.
The Convertible closely resembles the standard Hardtop, and matches its dimensions. The soft-top maintains the same basic silhouette as the Hardtop, though the heated glass rear window is tilted farther forward. The rear side windows are about a third of the size of those on the Hardtop because the cloth top wraps farther around the sides of the car. When the Convertible top is down, it stacks at the back of the car. The look is fine, but it blocks the driver's lower line of sight to the rear.
The Convertible's insulated fabric roof opens at the touch of a button in just 15 seconds at speeds up to 18 mph, which is very convenient. There are no latches to unhook, simply press the button. A sliding roof function opens just the portion of the top that's over the front seats. It's like a big sunroof that can be opened at speeds up to 75 mph.
Mini Cooper S models are distinguishable from the standard versions, no matter the body style. Black mesh grilles replace the shiny bars, lower brake ducts with optional chrome frames guide cooling air toward the brake discs. Most noticeable is the chrome-ringed hood scoop on Cooper S models.
All Mini Cooper cabins are charming with excellent finish. The plastics have a quality look and feel. This also goes for the base leatherette, aka vinyl, upholstery. Multiple leather options are available, including a cloth and leather combination, a full leather option, and the glove soft Lounge Leather with contrasting piping, similar to classic British sedans. Ambient lighting is standard on most models, and it softly illuminates the door panels and footwells with subtle LEDs. The driver can change the color of the lighting across a spectrum from soft orange to crisp blue.
Despite diminutive exterior dimensions, Mini cabins are surprisingly spacious up front. Even a 6-foot, 5-inch driver can be comfortable in the front seat. The basic manual levers, controlling height, seatback rake, and front-rear travel, allow just about everyone to easily find a comfortable spot.
The Mini driving position is excellent. We found the seats comfortable for long-distance trips, and they're nicely bolstered to keep you in place when you inevitably hustle through the turns. The available sport seats are even better.
A round, plastic transmitter replaces a conventional ignition key. It slides into a slot next to the steering column, and the driver fires the engine by pressing the adjacent a start/stop button. The button is cute and inoffensive, but no more effective than a standard key. The optional proximity key allows the driver to leave the transmitter in purse or pocket and just press the start button. We'd prefer a traditional key, but that's not an option.
All models follow Mini's sporty tradition of a big, round speedometer in the center of the dash. The tachometer is mounted on the tilt/telescoping steering column, moving with the wheel as it's adjusted it up and down. The Convertible has a unique Openometer next to the tach, which tracks the number of hours you drive with the top down.
Heating and air conditioning controls sit below the speedometer, and they're straightforward in base models. The available automatic climate control system is cleverly configured in the shape of the winged Mini logo. The switch layout is generally effective, though sometimes it's a bit too clever.
The audio controls sacrifice ease of use for design symmetry. The tuning knob is centered with most other audio buttons at the bottom of the speedometer, while the volume control sits further down the center stack, closer to the HVAC controls. At first, you may find yourself changing the station when what you really want is to turn up the volume. The integrated design of the audio controls makes it nearly impossible to fit any aftermarket sound system, and the buttons are obviously plastic, with a matte-gray in finish, and detract from the otherwise high-quality interior appointments.
A retro touch, chrome toggle switches that look like something out of an airplane or racecar cockpit, are positioned at the base of the center stack to control the windows, auxiliary lights, and stability-control system. The toggles are duplicated above the rearview mirror to control interior lights, the optional sunroof and the Convertible top. The steering-column stalk switches for wipers and turn signals are pleasing to look and satisfying to use.
The navigation or Mini Connected systems add a rectangular 6.5-inch display in the central speedometer, with a digitally generated speed needle around its perimeter. Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port are now standard features on all models for 2013, a welcome addition.
Interior storage space is not abundant, but it's adequate. There are bins in the door panels, map pockets on the front seatbacks, a small center-console bin and an average-size glovebox. The glovebox can be cooled with the air conditioning, and it's enough to keep a bottled drink reasonably cool, or to keep chocolate bars from turning to mush. The optional Center Rail storage and fastening system replaces the standard center console with two aluminium rails running lengthwise through the middle of the interior. Various accessories, including cupholders, storage boxes, trays or armrests can be locked anywhere along the rails to the occupants' preference.
In the Mini Cooper Hardtop, the rear seat is barely habitable for adults, and only for very short rides. Access to it is anything but convenient. The Convertible has even less rear leg room, 28.1 inches compared to 29.9 inches, so adults or even children won't fit back there unless the front seats are moved far forward.
The Convertible has the least cargo space of the Mini models. Room in the trunk doesn't change when the top is lowered, which is good, but there is only 6.0 cubic feet of space to begin with, which is bad, and hard to use, which is also bad. The rear seats fold down, and Mini claims that opens up 23.3 cubic feet of space. But that space is hard to get to, and big items won't slide in behind the front seatbacks or through the short trunk opening. In short, the Mini Convertible is an impractical car.
The Hardtop, with its large rear hatch and separate folding rear seatbacks, does better as a cargo hauler. With the rear seats in place, there's a miniscule 5.7 cubic feet of storage, enough for an airline roll-aboard and a brief case. But with the rear seats folded down, cargo volume expands to a readily accessible 24 cubic feet. That's more than enough for two passengers on long trip.
Forward vision is excellent in all Minis, at least when the road ahead is clear. Given the Mini's diminutive size, larger cars can block the view in the same way big SUVs can block the view from the driver's seat of midsize sedan.
Rear sightlines are good in the Hardtop. The Convertible has a couple of issues, however. When the top is down, the lower portion of the driver's rearward line of sight is compromised. With the top up, its corners block vision in the rear quarters. Backing out of a parking spot can be a challenge, making the Park Distance Control warning system an important option.