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2009 Mini Cooper Convertible: Plenty of goofy, base-trim fun

Posted by Bill Griffith  April 23, 2009 10:59 AM

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2009 Mini Cooper Convertible(Bill Griffith/Globe Photo)

What's an "Openometer" gauge?

Answer: About the most useless item on a Mini Cooper convertible.

It's a gauge right in front of the driver that gives a truly useless bit of automotive driving feedback: The time you've been driving with the convertible top down. Sorry, we're not making this up.

We learned to love a convertible the old-fashioned way. If the sun's too hot, put the top up and turn on the A/C. (Hmmm. My '54 Ford Sunliner didn't have A/C, either). If it's too cold, put the top up and turn on the heat. If you're too windblown for your evening out, put up the top and use the visor mirror to brush your hair.

An Openometer? C'mon.

The German car industry hasn't quite figured out how to have executives with marketing and ergonomic common sense rein in their always creative engineering departments. Thus you get the "Openometer," not to mention the goofy oversized center-mounted speedometer that would be great for backseat drivers to view – if the rear seats were big enough for anyone to sit in. Instead, the rear seats are just padded cargo counters and the huge "eye" in the middle of the dash is basically out of the driver's sightline.

Control layout and general dashboard chintziness aside, the Mini – any Mini – is near the top of my "Fun-to-Drive" list. Even then, there are different levels of fun, and the Mini we spent time with – a base engine with an automatic transmission – was the least fun of all to drive.

The drivetrain was OK for buzzing around town. If you're doing any longer drives you want the manual transmission option or to step up to an S version. Leave the John Cooper Works Edition for the true performance aficionados.

We averaged 31.5 miles per gallon on a 300-plus mile trek that included being caught on the periphery of The Great Mass Pike Easter Night Traffic Jam.

It took some searching, but we found an auxiliary plug set back and below the bottom row of switches on the center console. It was right above a storage tray so the layout was right to have some music from the iPod during the delays.

If I'm bashing the engineers about the gauge and control layout, it's time to give them five stars for the convertible top. It retracts easily at the touch of a button, but its best feature is that the front section slides back in a sunroof function.

Any Mini driver – especially a taller one – can tell you that being first in line at an overhead traffic light requires ducking and craning one's neck to the overhead signals. After an hour-and-a-half on the highway, you yearn for a seat with more thigh support; however, for such a small vehicle, front-seat passengers have ample legroom and headroom. There's a trunk that, because it's squared off, holds a surprising amount of gear with the aforementioned rear seats available for the spillover.

The '09 convertible has a double rear rollbar that moves up and into place under heavy braking or situations when the car's stability system senses possible danger. The advantage is that when the rollbar is retracted, there is more visibility out the rear window than in prior Mini convertibles. The side mirrors are on the small side so spending time to get them adjusted properly is a must before driving in traffic.

Base price of a Mini convertible is $23,900. With a premium package, automatic, and A/C, ours had a sticker of $27,550. You could have plenty of fun in just the bare base version.

All photos by the author.






This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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41 comments so far...
  1. I read a lot of auto magazines and since this model Mini came out with the openometer all I hear is how useless it is. Don't these critics get sunburn?

    I have a convertible roadster for the summer and even on overcast cloudy days I end up with a sunburn if I'm driving around for a couple hours.

    I actually would buy an aftermarket guage if I could. Sure I could watch the clock but what's the interest in that? I heard 15 minutes is the rule of thumb when exposed in the sunlight.

    So I'm a fan. I think its a smart solution. And it's holds just enough quirkyness that matches well with the new Minis.

    Posted by Andy April 23, 09 12:21 PM
  1. Bill Griffith is wrong.

    In defense of engineers everywhere (and I'm not an engineer), the OPENOMETER was much more likely to have been conceptualized by the marketing group, and then forced upon the engineers. Engineers are way too practical to have come up with an obviously useless gimmick. However I'm sure the Mini Cooper marketing group is patting themselves on the back for coming up with their version of a VW Bug flower holder.

    Posted by Tim April 23, 09 12:35 PM
  1. Lame, put on sunblock.

    Posted by Paleguy April 23, 09 12:40 PM
  1. Any Mini driver – especially a taller one – can tell you that being first in line at an overhead traffic light requires ducking and craning one's neck to the overhead signals.
    We love our Mini Cooper S -- but had the same trouble seeing overhead traffic lights -- until we purchased a "light in sight" lens that adheres to the top of the windshield. Terrific solution for less than $20.

    Posted by Eileen April 23, 09 12:43 PM
  1. I wouldn't buy one because it doesn't have a closometer, rainometer, ultravioletometer, windometer, or smogometer.

    Posted by wiseoldfart April 23, 09 12:55 PM
  1. Guess the OPENOMETER did its job. It got you talking about it and its quirky enough that it will reside in your short term memory longer than usual.

    Posted by HPuck35 April 23, 09 01:06 PM

    Posted by ANGERED READER April 23, 09 01:18 PM
  1. Now if this feature included information so that you know exactly how long the roof was open, and at what latitude (on the fly calculation as you were driving north/south), and only when someone was seated in the car (seat sensors) and used all this information to generate a conversion factor for total UV exposure based on your approx distance from the equator then I would be impressed.

    Posted by kiwithirty April 23, 09 01:22 PM
  1. Its just another gauge for nerds to one up the other.........

    Posted by steve April 23, 09 01:31 PM
  1. This car is sweet - the problem with the US auto industry recently (what the heck IS an 'American' car, anymore, anyway?) is a lack of creativity (the Ford Flex being one notable exception) - and when this author sees some, all he can do is dis it... tsk tsk...

    Posted by MikeInWilton April 23, 09 01:39 PM
  1. Hmm...Sounds like a nice idea. But then again, I would rather prefer a FEEDODOMETER in case I forget to eat.

    Posted by Too Wise for my own good. April 23, 09 01:40 PM
  1. Andy - seriously? Come on. Stick with your commonsense. After 15 mins as you note, hit the sunblock. What a waste of dash space. And I had to LAUGH when I saw the speedometer. Griffin isn't exaggerating. That thing is HUGE. Still, I love the Mini. Doesn't make sense as a 1 vehicle household. But then again, my unofficial view is that it's driven by urban chic or suburban well-to-dos. Would love one if I had the bank and could still keep a pickup for general work stuff. Funny write up.

    Posted by Ryan April 23, 09 01:57 PM
  1. This review reads like a senior citizen's first try with an iPod. Lighten up, Bill - you aren't the target demographic for this product.

    Posted by Mike April 23, 09 02:07 PM
  1. mini cooper = ghey

    Posted by Man April 23, 09 02:25 PM
  1. I'm pretty sure the writter here is mistaking the Openometer for a serious gauge. Its clearly a lighthearted touch to a car that few, if any, people will own as their only car. Its quirky and fun, and something you'd never find on some souless Toyota or GM.

    Posted by Mark D. April 23, 09 02:42 PM
  1. My MINI has an Openometer, and while it's of almost no real use, I love it for its whimsy. Since day one of the launch of the new MINI, the marketing has been spot-on. Rich visuals, subtle wry humor, fun little touches like the Openometer. The MINI isn't for everyone, for numerous reasons, but I bet the vast majority of owners smile just thinking about this particular gauge.

    As for the huge center-mounted speedo, I call it the "Dadyouredrivingtoofastonometer," as it is useless to me as the driver while eliciting gleeful cries from whichever offspring of mine has been ingloriously resigned to the small rear seat.

    Posted by Jeff April 23, 09 03:01 PM

    Why don't you read the article ONCE, but at a normal pace. You'll find the definition in the THIRD SENTENCE.

    Posted by Jeff April 23, 09 04:38 PM
    Try the third sentence/paragraph.

    You're welcome.

    Posted by Johnny Whistle April 23, 09 04:44 PM
  1. Not having a convertible myself, I can't speak towards the utility of this type of gauge.

    However, doesn't this hint of the standard gauge to identify which door is still open, or wasn't properly or fully closed? Isn't the operable rooftop essentially parallel to all operable doors and hatches, and isn't there concrete peace of mind to be found in knowing when all are fully secured?

    Posted by Bill April 23, 09 04:47 PM
  1. I think the people that understand the humor and useless-ness of the guage are also the same people that Mini markets too. The mini is not a serious car, it never claimed to be. Have you ever seen any of their marketing efforts? If you are that up in arms about it, you're probably better suited in a Camry.

    Posted by boss8120 April 23, 09 04:51 PM
  1. Ooops, forgot to mention I do wear sunscreen everytime. SPF-85, yeah they make it. Still maybe I should take the stuff with me cause I swear it wears off.

    Here's a thought. What 'device' could the developers of this vehicle have created alternatively to the openometer that would be of more use in a convetible specifically?

    I find the openometer the result of a stream of consciousness brainstorming session about what it means to be in a convetible and the identity of the MINI brand. A success in creativity with a bit of practicallity.

    Posted by Andy April 23, 09 05:28 PM
  1. I wish the globe had a retardometer for each article ... it's getting worser everyday around here... pretty soon I'll just read the Herald.

    Posted by dr fuzz April 23, 09 05:43 PM
  1. As a proud owner of a 2003 Mini Cooper S, appreciative of it's power & handling after watching Mini Coopers from the 1960s race around a track, this ridiculous meter just goes along with their whole marketing ploy to attract people who have no idea what a real Mini Cooper can do; to some people it's just a cute car. Ugh, so sad. Instead of a meter like that I would have preferred 1. useful cup holders or 2. more than 3 windshield wiper speeds.

    Posted by proud of my Mini Cooper S April 23, 09 09:14 PM
  1. Openometer? Very, very German.

    Posted by patcat April 24, 09 09:22 AM
  1. Should have put a lap timer/chronograph there instead. Or some useful engine data. The large tach is nice in some ways but that speedo is really stupid, looks like something from a yaris or a pre-opel saturn. Sad to see them take a fun competent car and "fisher-price" it to this extreme. Reference the latest Audi TT for a "grown-ups" car.

    Posted by carguy April 24, 09 11:05 AM
  1. "If the sun's too hot, put the top up and turn on the A/C."

    If you drive your convertible in the summer with the top up, you're doing it wrong. The top should only go up if (a) it is raining, or (b) the temperature is below 40 degrees. Otherwise, if the top is up, you wasted the $4000 extra you paid for a convertible.

    Posted by Chris April 24, 09 11:56 AM
  1. I might one when they ever have a BUTTOMETER, which tells you how long you've been sitting. Much more useful than a "CLOCKOMETER."

    Posted by AguaCaliente April 24, 09 11:57 AM
  1. Ohhhh, "dr fuzz" ... you're so ironic.

    Posted by Ed S April 24, 09 12:28 PM
  1. No wonder so many car makers are in trouble. They focus on designing useless, trivial features like this that serve no purpose and appeal only to air-headed (pun intended) idiots who probably shouldn't be behind the wheel of any motorized vehicle in the first place.

    Posted by Joe April 24, 09 01:14 PM
  1. Ok $27,000 for an undersized, underpowered, vehicle that seats two. Our 2008 Ford Escape seats 5, came loaded, and it has plenty of cargo space. We average 27 miles to the gallon, and paid $22,000 for it. For $5,000 I'll sacrifice the slightly lower mileage, for comfort and a much more useful vehicle.

    Posted by Kevin April 24, 09 02:10 PM
  1. As a 2009 Mini Cooper S owner, I can tell you, Joe, the reason I didn't buy most of the cars out there, especially American, is because they're boring. At least Mini is trying something different.

    Posted by Lissa April 24, 09 02:40 PM
  1. MINI should put a UV measuring device on top of the Openometer.

    Proud/carguy, lots of people enjoy their cars without being a purist. I skipped the S to save a bunch of dough, ditto for the TT (+$10k). No worries, there's room on the road for all of us.

    Joe, I read somewhere that MINI is one of just a couple of brands NOT seeing their volume go down. Oh, and while the Openometer appeals to me, I hadn't heard of it until I took delivery of the car. It's a fun extra, I guess you have to have a sense of humor to appreciate it. That "idiot" insult was pretty clever. Maybe you just need a nap ...

    Posted by Jeff April 24, 09 03:05 PM
  1. Kevin, the Mini - vs. an Escape - is more for people who actually LIKE to drive...

    Posted by supermike April 24, 09 05:08 PM
  1. I never realized the Germans could be so funny.
    I want to know how to say openometer in German?

    Posted by Anonymous April 24, 09 06:00 PM
  1. I wish they had used the GERMAN spelling for the openmeter............ FARFAKNUGIN I think

    Posted by Mr wonderfull April 25, 09 08:13 AM
  1. they should have a mechanic that comes with every purchase.I have an 05' and have more problems than i can be here till tomorrow.
    Has anyone ever had their hatchback door fall off????Please tell me im not the only one....

    Posted by jjjjjjjj April 25, 09 04:08 PM
  1. Mini, I drive one not the 'S' kind.
    Now that you mentioned purpose, I'd rather choose my Mini against all those behemoth SUVs driven by just one occupant. Everybody is measuring their fuel in miles per gallon and conservation while these behemoths are measuring gallons per mile.
    These are the real vehicles with no useful purpose. Do you really tow your yatch daily? Do you really have 6 kids? What did you drive prior to SUVs?

    Posted by elvira madigan April 26, 09 06:28 PM
  1. Trying to figure out what kind of person couldn't figure out what an "openometer" means in the context of a perky little convertible. A Camry driver I suppose. Perhaps He and Joe (who drives an Accord I bet) can get together for a luke warm cup of watered down chock-full-of-nuts coffee with imitation creamer.

    Posted by mini mind April 27, 09 09:57 AM
  1. elvira madigan...
    Before SUVs people drove station wagons where kids could sit in the back, unbelted. Now all occupants have to be belted, and no kid under 48 inches can sit in the front passenger seat due to the airbag. So you only have enough room for three kids in the back seat of a standard sedan. If you are lucky, you can get away with this. If not, it means all of the associated equipment will not fit into the trunk at the same time or the kids car seats or booster seats to not fit side by side in the back seat anymore.
    The only option left is a minivan or SUV. and last I checked, minivans do not get great mileage either.

    Posted by peter gibbons April 27, 09 11:03 AM
  1. mini mind
    "Trying to figure out what kind of person couldn't figure out what an "openometer" means in the context of a perky little convertible. A Camry driver I suppose."

    Exactly. Well put.

    Posted by Andy April 28, 09 10:02 AM
  1. I wonder if they considered swapping the gauges a bit, by making the openometer the huge gauge in the middle, then move the tachometer to where the openometer is currently, and the speedometer where the tach is, right where it ought to be in easy line of sight...

    Posted by scott May 2, 09 02:39 PM

About Boston Overdrive reports the latest trends, auto shows and wrings out the newest cars in our city's hellish maze — and across the great roads of New England.
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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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