Open Season: Cabrios On a Budget

Do not adjust your laptop - PistonHeads is reviewing a diesel Mini soft-top, and a somewhat effete two-seater from Renault with a name that rather puts one in mind of a certain bodily function. But before you switch off, thinking you've logged into What by accident, allow us to explain.

Because, while taking The Renault Wind and the Mini Cooper D Convertible for a critical spin might not seem the most PH-ey of activities, like (most) things we do, there is method in our madness.

You see, in our PH Open Season quest to discover as many aspects of top-down motoring as possible, we have to delve into the less hardcore corners and lower-budget echelons of soft-top motoring.

Trouble is, apart from the near-ubiquitous MX-5 (a well-loved option but perhaps too much of a 'known quantity' here on PH), there's not much in the way of sub-£20k soft-tops to get the average PHer's juices flowing. There's the MG TF, but to say that's long in the tooth would be to truly master the art of understatement. There's also the Fiat 500C Abarth, but we've already covered that.

Apart from that, all that's available is a gaggle of heavy, unappealing folding hard-tops a la Peugeot 207CC...and these two.

The Renault might look a little like a training shoe on wheels, especially in 'Nike' white (not the actual colour name, by the way), and it doesn't exactly ooze sporting intent, but it does have a trick up its sleeve: it sits on a chassis and drivetrain that is essentially identical to a Twingo Renaultsport's which is about as hilarious a small hatch hoot this side of a Mini Cooper...

...which is potentially troubling for the Wind in this context, because the Mini Cooper D Convertible, as you might expect has just that chassis, albeit combined with financially prurient diesel power. The big question (at least on PH) is: regardless of their appeal to the non-enthusiast, can either of these two cut it as enjoyable open-top fodder for the true petrolhead?

Renault Wind:

With 133bhp from its 1.6-litre engine, the Wind certainly feels sprightly enough, but with peak power not coming until 6750rpm and, crucially, the engine's relatively meagre peak torque not on song until 4400rpm, you'll need to work the motor to get the most from it - which is quite a noisy experience.

The five-speed gearbox also feels like a bit of a handicap - in the Twingo it's not really a problem, but it grates in the Wind, and we're not really sure why. We suppose one possible reason is that, at 1173kg, the Wind is 124kg heavier than its hatchback brother, so you have to work the engine that bit harder - there's the sense that, with an extra ratio, the motor would feel less strained. That extra lard does blunt performance a little, too - it'll take you half a second longer (9.2secs) to get to 62mph from rest.

If you're in the right mood the wind can be quite good fun - the 12-second hood operation means easy access to top-down driving, while various bits of bracing underneath the body, in the boot and in the sills do a fair job of maintaining structural rigidity. But there's still a fair bit of shimmy through the car over busy surfaces, meaning the suspension can't do its job properly, while the soulless electric power steering further separates the driver from fun.

A less significant flaw - but a disappointing one nonetheless - is the low-rent feel of the cabin. Apart from some unexpectedly lovely leather seats (a £970 option), our test car's cabin was a symphony of drab, mismatched, shiny and scratchy materials.

In a £13k Twingo, this would be fine. In a £17,770 Wind it's a bit more of an issue.

But forget the hit-and-miss interior finish; what really nobbles the Wind from an enthusiastic driver's perspective is that everything that makes it the Wind and not a Twingo Renaultsport makes it less fun to drive. And that just doesn't cut it on PH - even a fast roof can't save it.


Mini Cooper D Convertible:

Let's be clear about this from the start: The Mini Cooper D Convertible exceeds the expectations we had of it by a dramatic margin. Mind you, that's as much a measure of the prejudice of our preconceptions as it is of the abilities of the roofless Mini.

Thing is, when we hear the word 'diesel', combined 'Mini' and 'soft-top', mental images of about the most anti-PH car we could conceive of (this side of a Prius, at least) inevitably swim into Focus.

But the thing is, despite its hairdresser/estate agent (hairdressing estate agent?) image and wilfully sensible running costs (thanks to a CO2 output of 105g/km, the Mini attracts just £20 per year road tax), the pram-hood Mini also manages to be darn good fun.

For a car that has had so much bodywork chopped away it wobbles surprisingly rarely and, while the ride is even harsher than a regular Mini's, the handling suffers very little; this is still an eminently chuckable, fun-to-steer little car.

The chunky 199lb ft of torque, meanwhile, gives it enough oomph to feel reasonably quick, and the motor manages to avoid the typical diesel clatter, save for when it's at its coldest.

All too often driving enjoyment, manageable running costs and soft-top motoring are mutually exclusive, but the Mini Cooper D Convertible comes pretty much as close as any car we've driven to balancing that tricky equation.


Comments (39) Join the discussion on the forum

  • illmonkey 01 Feb 2011

    On a budget?!

    The missus picked up a 3litre Z3 for £6k!

    You don't need to spend much to be able to have the wind blowing through your hair and out do most cars at the lights too.

  • Riggers 01 Feb 2011

    illmonkey said:
    On a budget?!

    The missus picked up a 3litre Z3 for £6k!

    You don't need to spend much to be able to have the wind blowing through your hair and out do most cars at the lights too.
    You make a fair point - perhaps i'll change the line to 'brand-new' cabrios on a budget smile

  • MiniMadMike 01 Feb 2011

    I've got a Cooper D Convertible at the moment. I think its a great little car, good fun to drive and surprisingly pokey.

  • tomv1to 01 Feb 2011

    According to the Arnold Clark website they actually have a sale on at the moment where you can get the 133bhp wind for just £12,495 in their sale. They are quite nice looking cars and the boots in them are massive.

  • Dracoro 01 Feb 2011

    Wouldn't you poke your eye out on that thing?!!

    Look a the top of the windscreen and the headrest, there's a gap barely enough to get your head through biggrin

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