See and be seen, that’s the mantra on Hollywood boulevard in the heart of Los Angeles. It’s all gorgeous palm trees, bright sunshine, Hollywood hopefuls re-enacting scenes from Entourage, and topless cars. A perfect setting then for the press drives of the new Mini Cooper convertible, and one of the key markets going by the number of last-generation rag-top Minis that we cruise past. If we can get a second glance under the California sun, well, it’s job done.
Off with the top
The convertible is based on the third-gen three-door hatchback which runs on the new UKL platform. This one is front-wheel drive too, but what makes UKL so interesting is that BMW is also using it for their own models – the new X1 being among the first front-wheel drive BMWs. Compared to the earlier Mini Cooper Convertible, this new one has grown in every direction. The wheelbase is longer by 28mm, overall length is up by 98mm, it is 44mm wider and the tracks are also wider. It all leads to a more spacious cabin. The back seat is still tight but you could put a passenger in there for short journeys without them sticking a knife in your kidneys. And up front there’s more elbow room and a welcome sense of space. And there is additional bracing and stiffening to improve the rigidity of the chassis, which increases weight by 115kg.
The soft top is unique in that it integrates a sunroof. You can slide the front portion back while the rear remains in place for a 16-inch wide opening. The operation is fully electric and the entire roof slides into the boot in 18 seconds. Well, not completely into the boot, part of the soft top remains stacked above the boot but it doesn’t look as ungainly as before and you don’t have to manually cover it up with another tarpaulin cover. There’s a wind deflector that you slide in to place manually behind the front seats and does a really good job when we suddenly find ourselves on the interstate highway. And what is really cool about the soft top is the Union Jack motif woven into the roof.
Fun in the sun
Our route takes us up into the hills above Los Angeles, where we are immersed in a history lesson on the entertainment capital of the world. Our first stop is the Mulholland overlook with the vast Universal Studios spread out in front of us. There’s the black Disney channel building, the Disney studio, the Warner Brothers studio, the Universal amphitheatre, the Los Angeles river meandering through it and what looks like a bush fire in the Santa Susana mountains in the distance. Mulholland drive itself is a lovely twisty road that rolls through Hollywood hills, past enormous gates that house even bigger villas belonging to, what I must assume, are Hollywood royalty. Somebody saw Michelle Pfeiffer walking her dogs. I saw that villain dude in the Spiderman movie who wreaks havoc with those massive arms stuck on his back. I’m not here to spot the stars but there are enough and more patrol cars making a test of the Mini Cooper’s high-speed cornering an invitation to sample the fare in an American lock-up.
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