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Mini chose the unusual surroundings of Austria in the middle of winter to launch its new cabriolet, complete with fashionable black alloys.
Mini chose the unusual surroundings of Austria in the middle of winter to launch its new cabriolet, complete with fashionable black alloys.

Mini Cooper S Cabriolet

A clever redesign has improved an already well-built car.

There have been very few cars built over the years that have real character. Yes, I know motoring hacks often gas on about how this car has a bit of character and that ones lacks character, but for the most part you can count all the cars that actually had a real persona on one hand. What I'm talking about is an actual personality. That special little something that makes a car a living entity, endearing it into the family and making it almost impossible to sell. They are the Volkswagen Beetle, the Morris Minor, the Citroen DS and 2CV, perhaps the early Series 1 Land Rovers and of course, the Mini.

Now the Mini has one major plus point over the others in that it's still very much alive (in the personality stakes) while all the others have fallen by the wayside. I know the old Beetles can still be found in plentiful numbers in Mexico and South America, but they just recently went out of production, while the modern Beetle is a poor attempt at cashing in on the older cars cachet, so neither count.

What BMW have done with the Mini is to create the same Jack Russell temperament that the original car had. The first thing you discover when driving both the early car and the new modern Mini is that neither car knows how small it is. Both hustle with the big 4x4s and happily chase far hotter sports cars around twisty lanes. I'm pretty certain it's that little tough-guy personality that makes the Mini so loveable. It's the naughty kid at the end of the road that steals your bike, but the one you kind of like all the same.

The Mini is also classless, which in the brand-obsessed UAE can only count in its favour. Monty Python star Michael Palin wrote in one of his many books that, while the other members bought themselves Rolls-Royces and Aston Martins in the group's heyday in the 1970s, he bought himself an original Mini. And when he parked his little red car next to his fellow comedians' supercars outside the studio, it didn't look out of place at all.

What BMW brought to the mix was simply a bit of luxury. As well as a whole new body and engine, the car finally got all the luxuries the early cars desperately lacked, including such basics as a decent stereo and headrests. BMW also hacked the roof off for good measure and launched a Cabriolet for sun worshippers to enjoy. Despite there not being too much wrong with the old one, BMW wasn't about to rest on its laurels, so they recently set about improving all those little bits of a car that you don't really see but make it so much better when combined together. The result is the new Mini Cabriolet, which the company decided to launch in Austria - in mid-winter.

Now, at first, the idea of launching a soft top in the snow seems a little bizarre, but it actually makes a great deal of sense. First, Mini's new slogan is "always open", so there's no better way to demonstrate that than getting the world's motoring press to drive it with the roof down in a blizzard. Second, all soft tops are launched in the summer with the now rather clichéd beach backdrops. And finally, as long as they are clean, cars look fantastic against a snowy backdrop. When you consider all those points, a launch in a smattering of European snow seems like a masterstroke.

Despite the heavy blizzard, from the outside things look pretty much the same, although the new car gets some fashionable new black alloys (not my cup of tea but black seems to be the new grey when it comes to wheels at the moment). They've also managed to clear away the huge rear roll bar from the previous model by installing a far lower pop-up bar, which deploys in just 150 milliseconds. The move to a more hidden bar really clears up the back end of the car and drastically improves the looks.

But the main differences are underneath, with tweaks to both the engine and chassis to make the whole package just that little bit more taut and a little bit sweeter. One of the greatest things about a Mini is its ability to turn smartly and lift a wheel when cornering hard. It makes it so easy to point and gives the driver that go-kart feel. That's why the car has sold so well over the years and BMW has done well to keep the soul alive in the new car.

Keeping the cheeky face, but combining it with a dynamic driving experience, must have been a real engineering challenge, but they seem to have managed it rather well with both the hard top and soft top. Will the new roofless car go on to sell even more than the old convertible? I'd hazard a guess that, once the weather picks up in the spring, they'll fly out of showrooms. The world has a soft spot for Minis and the added funkiness of cutting the roof off only adds to the fun.

Personally, I'd buy the hard top for the better driving dynamics, but for most people who just want to cruise about and enjoy the sun the Cab is the way to go. The 50th anniversary of the original Mini is rapidly approaching later this year and, if the current blend of new technology and old school fun is anything to go by, we'll all be enjoying the little terrier for a fair while yet. The Mini Cabriolet will go on sale in the UAE at the start of April. motoring@thenational.ae

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