Preaching to the convertible: new MINI and BMW M2 mix fun and driving power
The Mini Convertible is a car for warmer climes, so where better to launch it than Los Angeles.
The Mini Convertible story started with a limited production of the original car in 1993, but this is the third generation convertible based on a BMW design.
It's larger than the outgoing model in every dimension and that extra space can be seen in the cabin. The boot is 25pc bigger too, but at 115kg more than the hatchback, it's no lightweight.
Engines comprise three and four cylinder petrols and diesels, starting with the Mini One (102bhp). A Cooper D (116bhp) and SD (170bhp) are likely to be of most interest in Ireland, but our test cars were Cooper S models (192bhp).
The fabric roof has been completely re-engineered and runs more smoothly. Opening or closing takes 18 seconds at speeds up to 30kmh. A sunroof facility is also incorporated.
Much of the extra weight has been used to brace the chassis; the result is a surprisingly sporty drive, with a balanced, direct chassis and a good deal of steering feel. We took a detour off the suggested route and found a great road winding up the hills. I'd be hard pressed to think of a car that would have been more fun.
Next day we were in the hills outside Monterey, at the famous Laguna Seca circuit, home of the fearsome corkscrew corner, to test BMW's new M2 on road and track. The M2 follows on from the 1-series M Coupé but it's a proper M car, powered by a 6cyl turbo 370bhp engine. Overboost to 500Nm is officially available for periods up to 30 seconds, but a BMW engineer let slip it's nerly always available.
The chassis is largely standard 2-series fare, although the aluminium suspension front and rear comes directly from the M3.
The bodywork has been modified to incorporate cooling channels in a new front bumper, a boot lid spoiler, rear diffuser and quad exhaust pipes, all hinting at performance potential.
Inside, leather bucket seats with adjustable side bolsters, a thick-rimmed M steering wheel, aluminium footrest and Alcantara trim ensure you know you're driving something special.
We tried the car first on the track, following professional driver Augosto Farfus. Timo Glock was on hand too. We only had four hot laps each, so I was determined to make each count.
Laguna Seca is a tricky circuit, nowhere more so than at the corkscrew, a series of S bends that descend the equivalent of three storeys in as many seconds. Although I had practised the corner on Playstation before I arrived, I still took a deep breath the first time.
Surprisingly, it wasn't as bad as feared. As long as you got the entry right, it was possible to nail the throttle all through and it was exhilarating.
Unfortunately, on our last hot lap, I got it spectacularly wrong, ending up broadside, with a rear wheel off the track. BMW were concerned, as I confirmed that I had selected Sport+ mode before setting off. This should allow a little bit of side slip, but not the full 90 degrees I'd experienced. The final diagnosis was that some fool had turned off the stability control before I got in the car.
We took the car on the road in the afternoon and while not as exciting as the track experience, it confirmed the M2 is a serious sports car with handling and performance to match the best. It goes on sale in Ireland in April from €78,370.