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car review

2008 Mini Cooper Convertible

In 2008, you could spend up to $40,000 for a new Mini Cooper Convertible. And that was before taxes and levies. Blimey.

But if you could come up with the scratch, you were getting a lively, fun-to-drive four-seater sports car with a huge cool factor.

Power was delivered via a 1.6-litre four-cylinder and, if you chose the S, it had a turbocharger. Horsepower output was 115 hp for the normally aspirated model and 168 for the S. This made the Cooper S Convertible, in particular, a fairly rapid little car, with a 0 to 100 km/h time of about seven seconds. Transmission choices were a five- and six-speed manual, six-speed automatic or CVT.

Whatever you picked, you got go-kart handling, outstanding acceleration, a high degree of tossability and a stiff but fairly civilized ride. Because of its small wheelbase and oversize brakes (with ABS), the Mini Cooper Convertible was, and is, a deceptively capable car, capable of keeping up with many "pure" sports cars when it comes to straightening out corners.

The top was activated by a console-mounted switch which automatically lowered the windows and tucked the top away behind the back seats. It featured a glass rear window and was up or down in 20 seconds. It also functioned as a power sun-roof. If you didn't want the full wind-in-your-hair experience, you could roll it back about 400 mm - just enough to let a little fresh air in. And, yes, there was also a small trunk, located beneath the rear seat.

Visibility when backing up was famously bad with the top up and not that great when it was down. Also somewhat contentious was the non-intuitive location of the power windows: on either side of the centre console, instead of on the doors, where they should be. Last but not least, rear leg-room was non-existent, although you could carry a small pet or a couple of pre-schoolers back there.

The Mini Cooper Convertible was also extensively reinforced, weighing 50 kilograms more than its hardtop counterpart. This affected its fuel economy and performance, which were inferior to that of the regular hardtop model, although not by a vast amount.

You could choose from a wide range of extras. For example, the Premium package came with heated front seats, upgraded stereo, universal remote control and a glitzier interior. If you wanted that extra bit of grip and performance, you could also order a limited slip differential and, of course, there was also a navigation system. Ironic, considering that the original Mini was meant to be affordable, above all else. Just for the sake of perspective, in 1977, for example - one of the last years for the original Mini in Canada - you could buy one, lock, stock, and barrel, for $1,795.

Transport Canada has but one safety recall for the 2008 Mini Cooper Convertible, and it's actually for the Cooper S models, which may have an exhaust extension that protrudes too far beyond the rear bumper. According to those who monitor these things, careless passers-by could burn themselves on the hot tail-pipe.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, meanwhile, has five technical service bulletins on file, none of which are earth-shattering. There have been issues with power windows not deploying properly and a few software glitches with the on-board diagnostic and electrical system.

Consumer Reports gives this vintage of the Mini Convertible an overall neutral used-car prediction. The transmission and engine, in particular, don't measure up, and the magazine rates the convertible as "worse than average" when it comes to reliability. Comments from owners apply to the hardtop model only, but praise for the car's handling and performance seems to be universal, while niggly problems with electrics and various components are equally pervasive. Overall, the Mini Convertible seems to be a car that has a high entertainment value but can nickel-and-dime you to death.

Market research company J.D. Power gives the '08 Mini Cooper - Convertible and hardtop - a below-average dependability rating. In fact, aside from the car's style and performance, it receives failing marks in every other department. Still, this organization bestows its "Most Appealing Compact Car" award on the 2008 Mini Cooper.

From its high original price tag, the Mini Cooper Convertible has dropped to about half of what it cost three years ago. Expect to pay anywhere from $21,000 for the base model to $25,000 for the S.

Tech specs

2008 Mini Cooper Convertible

Original Base Price: $31,600; Black Book: $22,000-$25,525; Red Book: $21,600-$23,650

Engine: 1.6-litre, normally aspirated or turbocharged, four-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque: 115 hp/114 lb-ft for normally aspirated; 168 hp/162 lb-ft for turbocharged

Transmission: Five- and six-speed manual, six-speed automatic, CVT

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 9.0 city/6.2 highway (non-turbo with manual five-speed); premium gas

Alternatives: Volkswagen Eos, Volkswagen Beetle convertible, Smart fortwo convertible, Saturn Sky, Pontiac Solstice, Mazda MX5, Mercedes SLK-Class