Revamped MINI convertible retains fun factor

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 September, 2009, 12:00am


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What is it that makes convertibles so attractive? Whether a lifestyle choice, fashion statement or a cure for a midlife crisis, they are not the most practical option for the average motorist. But practicality seems to take a back seat for the convertible convert.

In Europe, one would think that the highest ownership of convertibles would be in the southern Mediterranean, where year-round sunshine is taken for granted. However, according to HPI Valuations, a leading motor industry consultancy, there are more convertibles per head in Britain than any other European country, despite its generally wet and cold climate.

It's a similar surprise to see so many convertibles on the streets of Hong Kong. For a large part of the year, we either swelter in the heat and humidity or shiver in the cold. But autumn provides almost perfect weather for driving with wind in the hair and sun on the brow. Advances in folding-roof technology mean that noise levels and protection from the elements are far better than they used to be. However, there are still some negatives to consider.

First, while driving in town, the roadside air pollution index becomes all too real.

A convertible's ride and road holding are usually inferior because it lacks the rigidity that a fixed roof provides (think of how a biscuit tin flexes with the lid off).

Lastly, with the top down, boot and rear passenger space are compromised, sometimes severely.

Given the negatives, one wonders why anyone would buy a convertible. But, for some (this author included), the positives of top-down motoring outweigh all the negatives.

Everything about the driving experience is heightened - sight, smell, hearing. It's not quite the same visceral feeling as riding a motorcycle, but it's the closest one can get to it on four wheels.

Long a popular choice for Hong Kong convertible enthusiasts, the MINI Cooper Cabrio was recently updated by BMW.

The redesigned and re-engineered MINI continues with the same retro look and pram-style roof as its predecessor. Its powered canvas hood folds in 15 seconds and there are 125 litres of space in the boot, rising to 170 litres with the top up.

With 118bhp on tap, performance through its six-speed automatic gearbox is modest, with a 0-100km/h time of 9.8 seconds, but its excellent handling and road holding keep the fun factor high.

Fuel economy has improved significantly from the previous model, thanks to BMW's efficient dynamics technology - combined fuel consumption of 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres (almost 50mpg) is claimed - while CO{-2} emissions are just 137g/km.

Brake energy regeneration, standard on the Cabrio, uses energy generated when the car is freewheeling or stopping to recharge the battery, making for more efficient fuel economy and lower emissions.

New safety features include an active rollover bar, a crash sensor, dynamic stability control, electronic brake force distribution and corner braking control. At HK$299,800, the new MINI Cooper Cabrio offers an exhilarating open-air driving experience at a price that won't break the bank.

While invariably more expensive than their fixed-roof equivalents, convertibles hold their value much better in the second-hand market. A higher residual price means slower depreciation and, if you follow this process through to, say, a 10-year-old convertible car, its value is almost entirely dependent on its condition and mileage - annual depreciation has virtually ceased.

And it gets even better for the used-car buyer. Many convertibles are bought as second cars and are not driven every day. This means that low-mileage examples are not hard to find and their condition is often better than might be expected for the year. But, as with any used car, the importance of a complete service record cannot be overemphasised, so check the mileage and service stamps carefully before parting with your cash.