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Mini Cooper Convertible

Broadcast dates : 6th June 2004/10th June 2004

The international launch for the Mini Cooper Convertible was held in late May, and with a reported 300 sunny days guaranteed each year on the French glamour coast, good weather was assured.

The back streets of Marseilles provided the ideal setting for Mini's chic, cheeky, topless model, with the famous beaches of the Cote d Azur just an espresso or two away.

BMW gained control of the Mini brand through its rather ill-fated association with Rover a few years ago.

Rover has gone on to home-grown success under British management, but the new Mini, under BMW management, has capitalised on all the fun-filled essence that made the original from the 1960s such a family favourite.

The new Mini is an instantly recognisable brand, and it retains the short stubby configuration of the first-generation car, although it is in fact a much larger vehicle.

A couple of cult movies have also added to the legend. The original Italian Job movie, featuring Michael Cane, high-lighted the Miniís fantastic road-holding and performance.

This latest version has featured in a re-make of that thirty-year-old classic, starring the incomparible Charlize Theron.

There are those who say the new Mini came very close to up-staging the South African-born Oscar winner, and that takes some doing.

The unique heritage of the Mini sees it pull off a remarkable double act, cutting across a large generation gap. The modern Mini appeals to the young and the young at heart. Rebels with a cause, you might say.

The Mini is such a natural for a top-down configuration that the wonder of it all is why a convertible version has taken this long to make its appearance.

Nevertheless, now that it is here, the parent company, BMW, has made sure that it has been done in thorough fashion.

The top is made of fabric but, uniquely, it also contains a sliding sunroof. This sunroof can be opened separately to provide just a hint of fresh air motoring. But using the button on the console for the fully electric operation, the top folds away automatically and in ingenious fashion.

To lower the top completely, the sun roof section is first opened. Then the entire soft roof opens and folds towards the rear of the car. At the same time the roof pillars retract into the bodywork, and the rear windows also slide down completely into the body.

The roof is folded in a z configuration and settles firmly on the rear of the car behind the rear passenger section. It folds up so neatly that the designers felt it didn't need a tonneaue to cover the folded roof, and this makes the folding operation completely automatic. The whole process takes just 15 seconds.

The interior of the Mini Convertible matches the stunning exterior of this example, painted in a new colour known as "Hot Orange"

There is a nod to the retro look of the first-generation model with some gauges housed in the centre of the dashboard. The seats are dual-tone and have a racy bucket shape, and the steering wheel is in Monte Carlo Rally style, a nod to the Mini Cooperís rally victories in the 1960s.

The boot is not exactly massive, but it does feature a load-through facility to the rear seats. Legroom at the rear of a Mini is of the optional variety, and it is no better in the Convertible. So the rear seat will more likely be used as a luggage compartment.

People who have driven the thoroughly modern Mini in closed form will testify to its nippiness and extremely good, chuckable road holding.

This car is at home threading through the back alleys of Marseilles as it is winding up the mountain passes, and its wide track, fat tyres and small diameter racing-style steering wheel make it difficult to keep from grinning like a madman.

Standard wheels are 15-inch alloys, but both 16-inch and 17-inch alloys can be ordered as options.

The engine fitted to the Mini Cooper Convertible is the same unit used in the closed roof cars available in South Africa for the past two years.

The Cooper motor is a 1,6-litre four-cylinder engine, originally developed by Chrysler. But in its Mini application it is a feisty unit with a delightful, sporting exhaust note and it develops eighty-five kilowatts at a rather raucous six thousand rpm.

A five -speed manual gearbox is the only transmission offered in the Mini Convertible, drive being through the front wheels. However, an automatic gearbox is to be introduced towards the end of this year and this will probably be available in South Africa.

The right-hand-drive version will not be long in coming, as the Mini is built in the UK and right-hand-drive markets are very important to the Mini brand. So expect the Mini Convertible to be available here well in time for the South African summer holidays.

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