Driving a convertible is one of life's greatest pleasures. With cool wind in your hair and the warm sun kissing your face, life's worries seem half a world away.
It is even better if you are behind the wheel of one that is fun to drive, such as the new Mini Cooper S Convertible.
There is something very cheerful and inviting about the latest Convertible.
The car has greater road presence than its predecessor. The latest model is 98mm longer and 44mm wider, and its wheelbase is extended by 28mm. Inside, rear occupants get 36mm more legroom.
The new Mini also offers more boot space, with 160 litres available when the roof is down, and 215 litres when it is up. Both are about 25 per cent more than before.
SPECS/MINI COOPER S CONVERTIBLE
Price: To be announced when car arrives in second quarter
Engine: 1,998cc 16-valve inline-4 turbocharged
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual select
Power: 192bhp at 5,000rpm
Torque: 280Nm at 1,250-4,600rpm
0-100kmh: 7.1 seconds
Top speed: 228kmh
Fuel consumption: 5.8 litres/100km
Agent: Eurokars Habitat
Far more interesting are the Cooper S Convertible's performance figures.
Its turbocharged 2-litre engine delivers 192bhp and 280Nm, allowing the car to clock a century sprint time of 7.1 seconds. That is half a second quicker than the older model.
During the first half of my drive, I opted to keep the top up - not because I was afraid of getting a tan, but I wanted to see if the new soft top really contributed to a quieter cabin. And I must say that it does.
The roof operates more silently too. Its electric motors are quieter than the electrohydraulic system in the older model. The canopy opens and closes in 18 seconds, and can be operated at speeds of up to 30kmh.
What really mattered was how the car felt more alive the more enthusiastically I drove it. The steep, narrow and winding roads along Mulholland Highway enabled the Cooper S Convertible to showcase its agility.
When a car loses its roof, its body loses stiffness. To remedy this, Mini engineers added torsion struts to the front and rear, a stiffening plate beneath the engine, and reinforcement in the A-pillars.
The lack of scuttle shake in the Cooper S Convertible is great, but it comes at the expense of ride comfort, especially when the car is driven over pockmarked roads. While the ride is not as jarring as its predecessor's, it is still not ideal for long drives.
At the wheel, it was easy to build a rhythm, despite my unfamiliarity with the test route. The car allowed me to enter corners quicker and get on the power earlier than I should. Complementing these abilities is the steering, which offers good precision and decent feedback.
The biggest downside to driving with the top up is the terrible rear visibility caused by rather thick C-pillars. Perhaps they are there to convince me to drive with the top down all the time. Unfortunately, doing so improves things only marginally, because the folded fabric roof still blocks the rear view.
Driving topless has other benefits, though, such as feeling exhilaration from a rorty exhaust note that is hardly audible when the roof is up. I would periodically lift off the throttle while accelerating hard, just to hear the terrific popping noises from the overrun.
It is a wonderful feeling, especially when you are on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, with the ocean in plain view, the sun in your face and the wind in your hair.
- The writer is with Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.