What is it?
The new drop-top Mini. It works really well from some angles, and not so well from others.
Remember the official attempt at guillotining the original Mini? It was rather cute until you folded down the roof and ended up with a stack of fabric at the back that looked like Himmler’s coat collar.
The current Beetle has the same problem. Not so the BMW Mini. Its roof folds away (in 15sec) to leave the smallest of ruffles.
What’s it like?
Tough. Alongside our test car at Marseille’s Marignane airport is a body-in-white convertible, with strengthened and additional chassis parts painted in yellow.
Not surprisingly, some fairly major work has gone into strengthening the structure. Both inner and outer sills are stamped from 3mm-thick steel, which is almost double the thickness of the standard Mini’s sills.
There’s an additional skin of steel – which robs 35mm of legroom – along the strengthening member under the rear seat, an extra bracing crossmember on the boot floor abd several areas of heavier-gauge metal around the now-absent B-pillars.
The windscreen pillars contain tubes to give roll-over protection, and in the back there are aluminium roll-over bars.
These additions, plus the fabric top and its mechanism, add 100kg to the Mini’s overall weight.
As we head onto the interesting roads around Nice, it becomes immediately apparent that the Mini engineers haven’t thrown the fun out with the roof.
Although you feel the extra weight – and the occasional shimmy as the body flexes slightly – all of the hard-top Mini’s abilities are intact.
But this Cooper’s star turn is its roof. Somehow BMW has managed to fit a £50,000 car’s roof to a sub-£15k car. It is a work of art.
The front part of the roof is backed by a solid section that butts up to the windscreen. At up to 75mph this can be slid back to create a sunroof-sized opening. At standstill you keep your finger on the switch and the roof slides all the way back, then fold into a Z-shape. It’s not only clever but beautifully made.