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Aston Martin partners with LeEco to develop electric RapidE

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Home Range of electric models will follow before the end of the decadeAston Martin RapidE

Aston Martin has announced a partnership with technology company LeEco to develop a new electric RapidE model.

The two companies have already worked together, in particular on the new Rapide S model, incorporating the Letv (former name of LeEco) Internet of the Vehicle (IOV) system, but have now signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to develop a production version of the Aston Martin RapidE electric vehicle concept, with a range of new electric vehicles to follow before the end of the decade.

LeEco founder Jia Yueting also owns Faraday Future, which showcased a concept car of its own at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show  in Las Vegas.

Its concept, the battery-powered 1,000bhp FFZero1, is a fully electric concept model with a single seat and no doors. It is said to have a top speed of 200mph and be capable of completing the 0-60mph sprint in less than 3sec. The model features ‘aero tunnels’, which channel air through the car, reducing drag and cooling the battery. Reports state that the company is on course to deliver its first production vehicle in two years’ time.

The partnership indicates the potential to add a range of next-generation connected electric vehicles on behalf of Aston Martin, LeEco and Faraday Future.

A concept version of the model was actually revealed back in October when Aston Martin revealed plans to partner with ChinaEquity on taking the model to production. The RapidE concept was developed in collaboration with Williams Advanced Engineering, in Grove, Oxfordshire.

Since the creation of this concept, Aston Martin and Letv have been advancing the work on production feasibility including the identification of technology solutions for battery systems and powertrain.

Both companies are now focused on bringing the RapidE to market in 2018 utilising the best technologies from the companies’ portfolios.

Danni Bagnall

Aston Martin Rapide

The fundamental proportions are breathtakingly elegant

The Aston Martin Rapide is beautifully styled and brilliantly accomplished

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2016 Maserati Levante SUV shown in official images

The exterior design of the new Maserati Levante SUV has been revealed in official images released by the Italian manufacturer ahead of the car’s official debut at the Geneva motor show next month.

Maserati issued the pictures in reaction to leaked versions of the images which were originally published on a Dutch news website and later circulated online.

The manufacturer confirmed a few snippets of technical information about the new model, stating that its “chassis is designed to combine the outstanding on-road performance typical of every Maserati with unrivalled handling even on very low-grip surfaces and an excellent off-road performance and ride”.

All versions of the Levante will feature sophisticated electronic suspension with controlled damping and adjustable air springs, Maserati’s ‘Q4’ all-wheel drive system and an eight-speed automatic transmission calibrated specifically for the SUV.

Maserati has confirmed that the Levante – which has recently been spied testing – will be offered with a choice of petrol or diesel powerplants. However, the unofficial leaked information goes into more detail, suggesting that at least two petrol and one diesel version of the Levante will be available at launch.

It reports that both the Levante 350 and the Levante 430 will use the same 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine that already features in the Ghibli and Quattroporte. The Levante 350 is claimed to be capable of covering 0-62mph in 6.3sec with a top speed of 151mph, while the Levante 430 can manage the 0-62mph sprint in 5.2sec and goes on to a top speed of 164mph.

The diesel engine is also a 3.0-litre V6, and can cover 0-62mph in 6.9sec before hitting its top speed of 143mph.

As well as these powertrains, the Levante is likely to borrow the Quattroporte’s V8 engine in a range-topping performance version. A plug-in hybrid version of the Levante is also planned.

The images reveal that the new Levante features a dramatically sculpured bonnet with a bold interpretation of Maserti’s front grille, a new design of tapered headlights split into two elements and large front air intakes. Maserati’s trademark three air vents feature on the front wings, while there are frameless door windows, a trapezoidal C-pillar featuring the Saetta logo seen on the Ghibli and other Maseratis, a spoiler mounted at the top of the boot and four exhaust exits.

There are also stylistic nods to 2011’s Kubang concept car, which first signalled Maserati’s intent to enter the SUV market.

Also among the leaked images, but not included in the official ones issued by Maserati, is a look at the new car’s interior, which includes steering-wheel mounted paddles for the automatic transmission and a large central infotainment screen.

The launch of the Levante is a crucial moment for Maserati, as the firm looks to capitalise on the profitable and growing luxury SUV market. The Levante will compete with the likes of the Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE and Audi Q5. The Levante could quickly become Maserati’s biggest seller, as the firm looks to grow sales to 70,000 units by 2018.

Speaking to Autocar, Maserati boss Harald Wester confirmed that the Levante would be priced to sit in between the £53,580 and the £81,660 Quattroporte. A starting price of around £65,000 is likely.

The first examples of the Maserati Levante have already rolled off of the Mirafiori production line in Turin, Italy.

Read more Geneva motor show news

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Skoda VisionS concept revealed ahead of Geneva show debut

The Skoda VisionS concept has been revealed ahead of its official debut at the Geneva motor show next month.

Offering a close preview of Skoda’s upcoming SUV, the concept will come with three rows of seats offering space for six passengers and their luggage. The VisionS is 4700mm long by 1910mm wide, with a height of 1680mm, making it longer, wider and lower than the Kia Sorento. In production form, Skoda’s SUV will be pitched as an upmarket rival to the Sorento and its sister model, Hyundai’s Santa Fe.

Powering the concept is a hybrid powertrain which mixes a 154bhp/184lb ft 1.4-litre petrol engine with a 54bhp/162lb ft electric motor mounted within the six-speed DSG gearbox housing. A second 114bhp electric motor is located on the rear axle, giving a combined system output of 222bhp and lending the VisionS a so-called ‘smart’ four-wheel drive system which requires no mechanical coupling. 

Skoda claims the VisionS can reach 62mph in 7.4 sec with a top speed of 124mph. CO2 emissions are rated at 45g/km. The VisionS is capable of travelling up to 31 miles on electric power alone, with a combined range of 621 miles.

As with most electric and hybrid vehicles, drivers can choose to operate the VisionS purely on electric power, or activate the petrol engine to aid progress and recharge the battery. 

Skoda says the interior of the concept will feature large digital displays designed for “digital networking” and infotainment. Users can “connect to the network in several ways from each seat in the vehicle.”

The VisionS’s styling is in line with 2014’s VisionC concept, which ushered in a new design language for the brand.

Although nothing is official at this stage, Skoda’s SUV, which is expected to take the Kodiaq name for production, should cost from around £24,000 when it goes on sale in the UK early next year. That price neatly undercuts its rivals from Kia and Hyundai, which start at £28,795 and £31,845 respectively.

The new SUV will be based on the VW Group’s MQB platform, and will share most of its underpinnings with Volkswagen’s own CrossBlue, which is due to be launched later this year.

Power for the production car will come from four-cylinder engines already offered in the new Superb, with a 1.6-litre turbodiesel forming the base engine. A diesel-electric hybrid version will also be offered, and four-wheel drive will be optional on most models.

Beyond the launch of its first SUV, Skoda is already planning a more rakish five-door coupé to join the range soon after the full-size version goes on sale. That car will be followed by a sportier model with tweaked styling, and the SUV family will be completed by the new Yeti, which is due to go on sale in 2018.

Skoda said: “Over recent years Skoda has completely renewed its model range and the next phase will involve broadening the range of models in the SUV segment.”

Read more Geneva motor show news

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Vauxhall GT Concept interior revealed ahead of Geneva show debut

The interior of the Vauxhall GT concept has been revealed ahead of the car’s global debut at the Geneva motor show next month.

agen judi online The two-seat coupé concept is described as “a template for future sports car,” and is broadly similar in size and mechanical layout to a Mazda MX-5 but has ultra-modern, flowing lines and a fixed roof. It is so pared down and “unashamedly avant-garde” that it doesn’t even need door handles or exterior mirrors. It does, however, employ the classical long-bonnet, short-boot proportions used by ‘emotional’ rear-wheel-drive sports cars through the ages, although its mechanical components are distinctly modern.

Vauxhall says the car’s infotainment system is operated purely by voice control, but a touchpad controller is included as a backup. The voice-controlled system is described as being able to learn a driver’s habits or adapt to their needs, and can even respond vocally to commands. Vauxhall says its Human-Machine Interface can even select appropriate music for passengers.

The instrument clusters can display 3D content in a variety of colours, a development of the system first shown on 2013’s Monza concept. The system displays different content depending on the situation. If the driver is driving at speed, for example, the system displays g-force values. The system can also issue spoken warnings on upcoming obstacles. As on many concept cars, the GT eschews traditional door mirrors in favour of cameras.

A 144bhp turbocharged version of Vauxhall’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine drives the rear wheels through a six-speed sequential gearbox, which is also controllable by column-mounted shift paddles.

Vauxhall-Opel design chief Mark Adams, who led the project, said the GT Concept unashamedly pays homage to two influential European concepts of the mid-1960s – the Vauxhall XVR and the Opel Experimental GT – both of which had a big influence on the design of the production cars that followed.

In particular, the Vauxhall XVR – a long-nosed coupé produced under legendary British design boss Wayne Cherry – used and refined design influences from the US-built Mako Shark II concept of 1963, which six years later went into wide circulation in the Chevrolet Corvette C3. Then came the Vauxhall Equus, another promising Cherry design, plausibly based on the Chevette city car.

As well as echoes from the past, this latest GT Concept also carries influences from Vauxhall-Opel’s Monza sporting estate, a 2+2 plug-in hybrid concept shown at the Frankfurt motor show in 2013. Company officials admitted at the time that the car might eventually be the precursor of a new-generation Manta in production.

“It’s difficult to reinvent iconic concepts like these,” said Adams of the Vauxhall XVR and Opel GT, “but just as each of them was avant-garde back then, so is this GT Concept today. It’s pure and minimalistic, yet bold and uncompromising.”

Adams believes the car “impressively demonstrates the continuous development of our design philosophy”.

The GT Concept’s rakish looks are backed by a very contemporary mechanical package. The 1.0-litre, all-aluminium 144bhp engine (used in various guises in the Adam, Corsa and Astra) also packs an impressive 151lb ft of torque in the GT’s turbocharged form. Ready for the road, the GT is tipped to weigh less than 1000kg.

A 0-62mph time of  less than eight seconds and a 134mph top speed are promised. 

Perhaps the GT Concept’s most striking design features are the large doors, whose side windows integrate seamlessly into the body surface without the need for conventional sills. They are opened via roof-mounted touchpads in the red signature line, which flows on either side from the GT’s eye-grabbing red front tyres, along the tops of the front wings and over the roof onto the rear, enclosing a see-through roof.

Another unique feature is the GT’s use of integrated headlight/indicator units that develop the technology used for the new Astra’s glare-reducing IntelliLux matrix lighting to its next level.

The large doors have space-saving hinges ingeniously mounted in the front wheel arches that allow the door to open wide even in tight parking spaces.

Although most observers will see the GT Concept’s use of eye-grabbing red front tyres, mounted on ‘rollerskate’ wheels, as an avant-garde feature, they are also a subtle reference to an iconic Opel motorcycle from the 1920s called the Motoclub 500, which had red tyres front and rear.

Vauxhall-Opel bosses are saying very little about the GT Concept’s prospects for production. Spokesmen say they have “heard of no plan” to build it, but they also say they will “judge reaction” to the car before deciding whether it has any production future.

At present, the company lacks a suitable front-engined, rear-drive platform on which to base a production GT. But Vauxhall-Opel has a history of putting rule-breaking sports cars into production. It turned the Opel GT from concept to production car in the late 1960s. It also built a Vectra-engined Lotus Elise in the 1990s and called it the Vauxhall VX220/Opel Speedster. Most recently, it turned the US Pontiac Solstice roadster into a second-generation Opel GT.

Comment – is Vauxhall serious about sports cars?

It’s too easy to conclude that Vauxhall-Opel will never build a front-engined, rear-drive sports car, such as the latest GT Concept,  just because the company doesn’t currently have a suitable platform with a front-mounted engine that drives the rear wheels.

Look through Vauxhall-Opel’s past products and you’ll find several that made production even though there didn’t seem to be the right supporting infrastructure. The company has displayed a continuing penchant for sports cars and has been extremely resourceful about finding ways to get them built.

The most unlikely of recent times was the transverse mid-engined Vauxhall VX220/Opel Speedster, which was an expensive – and expansive – reworking of the Lotus Elise produced by Lotus at Hethel. The company decided its image for humdrum car design needed improvement and the VX lasted five years.

Even more recent was Opel’s second-generation GT, a badge-engineered, US-made Pontiac Solstice (itself a last-ditch attempt by Bob Lutz to spice up the Pontiac brand). It was a decent enough car, although Germany’s discerning buyers never really took to it.

Still, my point is that today’s car makers – Vauxhall-Opel high among them – can make unusual cars happen if they’re determined enough; witness Fiat’s deal to produce a 124 Spider that is actually a Mazda MX-5 underneath.

Vauxhall-Opel bosses say they will be “gauging reaction” to the GT at Geneva. Strikes me that unless they had the glimmer of a plan for production, they wouldn’t bother.

Q&A with Mark Adams, Vauxhall-Opel design director

Why did you decide to build a sports car?

“The project’s origins go back to the 50th anniversary event we held at the Rüsselsheim design department. We had an Opel GT on display and we were all struck by how small and simple cars were 50 years ago. We decided to see if we could strike the same kind of simplicity and compactness again while meeting modern needs.”

You say you’ll be judging reaction to it at Geneva. Given you don’t have a front-engined, rear-drive platform, why would you bother?

“Even if we don’t build this car exactly as it stands, there’s plenty in it we might use in other applications. There are lots of emotional forms and connections in this car, and we’ll be interested to see which ones people like.”

Is there a sense that now SUVs are commonplace, emotional cars can make a comeback?

“There’s definitely some of that. SUVs continue to be extremely important, but there’s also a growing tendency in modern life for consumers to want to get back to a greater level of simplicity. Today’s cars are very complex, but we wanted this one to take simplicity and light weight to the next level.

Why the special door design?

“It’s an extension of our simplicity theme. I was keen to find a layout that meant we’d only have one cut-line for the door. We came up with a system where the door is quite large, but the hinge becomes a fulcrum, so part of the door goes inside the wheel arch as it opens. It works really well. The doors open wide in confined spaces, and they allow very good ingress/egress.”

Does the simplicity theme continue inside the car?

“It does. We’ve used exactly the same principles and made a big effort to free the car from clutter. It’s small, but it delivers a great feeling of openness and space.”

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Volvo to offer virtual keys from 2017

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Home Volvo confirms that it will be the first manufacturer to offer cars with digital key technologyVolvo keyless

Volvo plans to introduce virtual-key technology to its car range in 2017, using mobile phone technology to replace the traditional car key.

The car key will be replaced with a Bluetooth-enabled digital virtual key that can be downloaded into a smartphone app. The app will be available on iOS, Android and Windows devices and replicates typical key functions such as locking, unlocking and boot release. It also allows drivers to start the car’s engine remotely.

Volvo will use its current security systems in which both the car and the key hold part of an encrypted key combination to protect the car from potential hackers. If the car’s battery goes flat and cannot recognise the key, drivers must call for roadside assistance.

Multiple virtual keys can be stored on a single device, allowing easier access to a number of Volvos. The new technology could be used for car rental and car-sharing schemes, where a key can be downloaded with your rental agreement. It’s a move that Volvo claims will offer more flexibility to its customers.

Trials will be carried out this spring with car-sharing firm Sunfleet, which is based in Sweden. Physical keys will still be offered to the customers who want them.

Matthew Griffiths


The new Volvo XC90 costs from £45,750

It has big boots to fill and talented rivals to face. Is it up to the task?

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Smart Fortwo Cabrio Brabus set for Geneva motor show debut

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Home Uprated version of the Smart Fortwo Cabrio confirmed for Geneva motor show next month

The Smart Fortwo Cabrio Brabus will make its official debut at the Geneva motor show, Mercedes-Benz has confirmed. 

The announcement, which was made briefly in Mercedes’ pre-Geneva motor show report, confirms the debut of the Brabus-tuned Fortwo Cabrio, although reveals no further details of the car. 

As with the previous Brabus-tuned Smart Fortwo, interior and exterior styling upgrades are inevitable, with the addition of larger, Brabus alloy wheels, upgraded bodywork, a central twin exhaust and a more luxurious interior expected.

The previous Smart Fortwo Brabus produced 101bhp and 103lb ft from its Brabus-tweaked, turbocharged 999cc three-cylinder engine, which benefited from a more free-flowing exhaust and increased boost pressure. It’s likely that the new Smart Fortwo Cabrio Brabus will feature a tweaked version of the current 89bhp turbocharged 0.9-litre three-cylinder engine as the more powerful engine among the Smart range, with suspension also expected to be upgraded, as on the previous Fortwo Brabus. 

Prices are likely to carry a premium over the top-spec Fortwo Proxy, which starts at £14,500 in manual guise. Mercedes, the parent company of Smart, remains tight-lipped on exactly what Brabus has done with the Fortwo, but full details of the Smart Fortwo Cabrio Brabus will be released at the car’s official Geneva motor show debut. 

The second generation Smart Fortwo

The first-generation Smart Fortwo was launched back in 1998

It’s bigger and bolder than before, but is this new city car any better?

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Riversimple Rasa hydrogen-powered car revealed

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Home Zero-emission vehicle uses four in-wheel electric motors and promises 250mpg and a 300-mile range

British carmaker Riversimple has revealed a new hydrogen-powered car that is set to go into production later this year.

The two-seat model produces nothing but water from its tailpipe and is capable of an estimated 250mpg and a 300-mile range from just 1.5kg of hydrogen.

The Rasa uses an 8.5kW fuel-cell (equivalent to about 11bhp), which combines hydrogen with oxygen to form water and electricity. The electricity powers four motors that drive each of the car’s wheels, with a combined output of about 443lb ft of torque.

Each of the car’s electric motors works as a generator when the brakes are applied, and can recover as much as 70% of kinetic energy during heavy braking. Under normal applications, around 50% is recovered.

The whole drivetrain has just 18 moving parts and is capable of accelerating the car to 60mph in a respectable 10sec. Top speed is limited to 60mph, but Riversimple says the car can comfortably cruise at this speed for long periods.

The Rasa weighs just 580kg thanks to its use of a carbon composite monocoque and aluminium subframes. Weight has been minimised in every avenue, with the monocoque weighing 39kg, the doors weighing 8kg and the fuel-cell itself weighing 19kg. Sustainably sourced carbon fibre reinforced plastic and glass fibre reinforced polymer body panels add minimal mass on top.

Riversimple founder, Hugo Spowers, says Colin Chapman and his philosophy for light weight Lotus sports cars served as an inspiration.

Spowers’ background involves racing – his previous ventures include founding and running a business that designed and built racing cars – but environmental concerns spurred a move into creating sustainable cars. The Rasa has, therefore, been built with minimal resource usage in mind.

In total, the Rasa’s well-to-wheel CO2 output (how much CO2 has been produced from the model’s conception to the end of its useful life) equates to about 40g/km. But with rapidly improving drivetrains and refined production methods, Riversimple expects to cut that number in half in the coming years.

Autocar sampled the Rasa from the passenger seat. While our limited time in the car revealed little about its performance, the overall experience was akin to that of a small British sports car. With just two gears – forward and reverse – it’s surprisingly simple to operate, and it pulled and sounded like a typical electric car.

It rode like something suited to track work – that’s to say it was rather harsh over bumps and manhole covers – but Spowers confirmed that the car’s suspension settings were still under development. He said the finished product would be much more forgiving.

The cabin is a surprisingly pleasant place to be; although insulation from the outside world is thin, the low seats, alcantara wrapped steering wheel and clutter-free dash gives the interior a sports car feel – no doubt influenced by Spowers’ motorsport background.

As interesting as the Rasa is, however, it’s Rivesimple’s business plan that really sets it apart from other alternatively powered vehicles.

Riversimple will produce a run of 20 trial Rasas to be used by individuals later this year, in what it calls a beta trial. It believes opening the development phase to people outside the business will help it increase the rate of improvement.

Riversimple will also open source all its findings and development, so other companies can then work to develop the technology. Spowers’ thinking is that having thousands of eyes working on a piece of technology is far better than just a small team. He’s confident Riversimple’s place as development leader will ensure the company’s survival, even if its technology is used elsewhere.

After the beta trial, a full production run of 3500 vehicles is planned for 2018. These cars will be sold under a contract where buyers rent the right to use the vehicle. Although costs are unconfirmed, Riversimple says prices will be reasonable, and will include fuel, insurance and maintenance costs.

“Rather than trying to make money from our customers in the first few years of ownership, our business plan means we make more money by giving the customer the most affordable service we can,” explains Spowers. “If the car is cheap to build, efficient and reliable, we make more money, and the customer is happier. All parties are working towards a common goal.”

Spowers says this plan contrasts with that of many major car manufacturers, which want customers to buy more spare parts and to trade their cars in at regular intervals. Riversimple, on the other hand, wants its cars to last at least 15 years.

The first cars will be offered to individuals located in a few currently undisclosed UK cities, where hydrogen filling stations will be built. This plan ensures that a large enough amount of demand will be generated to justify the expense of building a station. It should then spur on the building of more infrastructure in other areas.

In the future, Riversimple wants to combine its rental scheme with car sharing, as it believes the concept will one day become a much more economically and environmentally sustainable source of private transport.

The firm, which is based in Llandrindod, Wales, has recently secured €2 million worth of funding from the EU. It was involved in Morgan’s hydrogen LIFEcar project of 2008, and features a team of industry experts with backgrounds in Formula 1, aerospace and multinational manufacturers.

UK drive of Toyota’s hydrogen-powered Mirai confirms its impressive characteristics but also the current limitation of our hydrogen infrastructure

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2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible review

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Home Mini did a superb job with its latest hatchback, but will removing the roof ruin things? We drive the latest Convertible on US roads to find out

The Cooper S version of the Convertible, pictured here, offers impressive performance

The Mini Convertible has lots of style but lacks ride comfort and refinement

Mini did a superb job with its latest hatchback, but will removing the roof ruin things? We drive the latest Convertible on US roads to find outShort on pace, but big on economy, fun and fashionThe two-door Mini Convertible is the latest model to join the British carmaker’s modern day line-up, following the third-generation three-door hatchback, more practical five-door hatchback and the recently introduced six-door Clubman – all three of which helped contribute to a record 338,466 Mini sales worldwide in 2015.Due to reach UK showrooms in April, the new open-top model is larger and offers significantly more interior space than its popular predecessor, which had been on sale since 2009. It also comes with a new range of three- and four-cylinder diesel and petrol engines that offer added performance and greater economy and, like the latest incarnations of its various siblings, is more comprehensively equipped than before, too.Mirroring the dimensions of the existing three-door hatchback, with which it shares its basic architecture, the new Mini Convertible has grown a considerable 98mm in length, 44mm in width and 7mm in height to a respective 3821mm, 1727mm and 1415mm.Based around parent company BMW’s versatile UKL platform, as used beneath all of Mini’s more recent models, the new Convertible also has a 28mm longer wheelbase, at 2429mm, along with tracks that are up by 42mm in length at the front and 34mm at the rear – all of which gives the car a much larger footprint than ever before.Project leader, Axel Braune, says the new platform provides a considerable improvement in rigidity and stiffness compared with that of the previous model. However, the addition of more substantial structural elements and other stiffening measures within the floorpan and bulkheads has led to a 115kg increase in weight over the three-door hatch; the Convertible Cooper S driven here weighs in at 1275kg. Despite its larger dimensions, though, it is only 25kg heavier than its direct predecessor, which tipped the scales at 1255kg in Cooper S guise.British buyers get a choice of three engines from the outset: a 134bhp 1.5-litre, three-cylinder petrol unit in the Convertible Cooper, an 189bhp 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine in the Convertible Cooper S and an 114bhp 1.5-litre, three-cylinder diesel in the Convertible Cooper D. Other powerplants, including a 101bhp 1.2-litre petrol three-cylinder in an upcoming Convertible One and a 168bhp 2.0-litre diesel in a Convertible Cooper SD, are set to be added to the line-up later.Despite a clear trend towards dual clutch gearboxes in its class, the gearbox choices continue as before, with a standard six-speed manual and an optional six-speed automatic, the latter featuring steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. An electronic differential lock along with Dynamic Stability Control and traction control are included on all launch models as standard.Imbued with the latest Mini styling cues, the third-generation of the modern day Convertible boasts an instantly familiar but arguably more mature appearance than the model it replaces. It’s a much more confident looking car with an improved stance, especially on the optional 205/45 R17 tyres worn by our test car. Key exterior design elements include a busy looking front end with a large single-frame grille, heavily structured front bumper and distinctive oval headlamps. The new model also sports added structure within the front wheel arches, a more heavily raked windscreen, characteristic unadorned flanks, significantly larger tail lights and a wider boot with tailgate hinges at the bottom to provide a handy bench seat when opened.Along with the more contemporary appearance, there’s also a newly developed fully-electric cloth hood, which opens in 18 seconds at speeds of up to 19mph. As before, the multi-layer structure folds and stows in an exposed position above the boot at the press of a button, heavily obscuring visibility to the rear when opened. With integral header rails, it also features a sliding function that allows you to semi-erect the roof when you don’t want the full alfresco experience.Among the safety enhancements that compensate for the lack of a fixed roof are a reinforced windscreen frame, roll bars that extend from behind the rear seats when sensors detect a possible rollover, more substantial strut braces across the suspension towers front and rear and stiffing within the sills.  The larger dimensions bring added versatility to the interior. Climb in and you discover an overall increase in space up front. It remains snug, but there’s noticeably more shoulder room and larger footwells than before. It’s in the rear, though, that the more significant increase in accommodation has taken place, the width of the rear seat having increased by 34mm and, crucially, there is now an added 36mm of leg room.Luggage carrying capacity, never one of the Mini Convertible’s great strengths, has also increased by 35 litres to a larger-than-ever 215 litres with the roof in place and 160 litres with it lowered. As before, the rear seats receive standard split-folding backrests, but the inherent properties of the high-strength steel UKL platform, including a stiffer rear bulkhead, allow for an 8mm wider through-loading facility for easier stowage of longer items.Given how aggressively it is marketed at the lifestyle set, you would be forgiven for not taking the Mini Convertible that seriously, but it is also a highly engaging car to drive in the right conditions.The adoption of the larger turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder provides the Convertible Cooper S with an additional 9bhp and 20Nm, which hardly sounds like much until you drive it. Along with the subtle increase in overall power and torque, the new powerplant also provides a noticeable improvement in tractability and refinement over its predecessor, a smaller turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder unit.Whether tooling around town or charging along deserted country roads, you’re aware of the increase in performance. There is enhanced response and urgency at low revs along with stronger flexibility and vigour through the mid-range.This new engine is also significantly smoother and pulls to its 6300rpm ignition cut out with a great deal of verve on a loaded throttle, providing the new open top with a fittingly zesty on-road character. Additionally, it boasts a sweeter exhaust note with less induction blare and a more alluring timbre that builds in intensity as the revs rise but is never overbearing.The new Mini feels every bit as quick as its official 0-62mph time of 7.2 seconds suggests, offering up sharp off the line acceleration with significantly less torque steer than the old model.The standard six-speed manual gearbox uses less forceful springing and slightly shorter longitudinal travel than before, allowing you to confidently guide its rather long lever between the closely stacked gates with ease even at high engine loads. The blip function negates the need for heel and toe downshifts, allowing you to rush up to a corner before grabbing a lower gear – at which the electronics automatically provide a blip of the throttle to settle the car upon turn in.Dynamically, there’s a lot to like about the Convertible Cooper S. The chassis receives its own unique tuning with individual spring and damper settings. Our test car also featured the optional Mini driving modes, which provide the choice between Sport, Mid and Green modes for steering and throttle mapping, as well as sports suspension with dynamic damper control.  Around town it is nippy and highly manoeuvrable. Press on along more challenging roads and it proves highly capable with impressive grip and outstanding balance. Its breadth of abilities has clearly improved, making it a more rounded and desirable car than ever before.The electro-mechanical steering is light and quite responsive at lower speeds, and it weights up well and provides a nice direct feel off centre. There’s a hint of body roll in tighter corners, but it is nicely controlled and never builds to uncomfortable levels, making the new Mini a real joy to hustle along. There is some odd steering bump and torque steer to contend with when you’re really on it, although it is never short of charisma or involvement.Being fairly limited on suspension travel the ride sometimes becomes a little harsh and can lack small bump compliance when you’re running in Sport mode. But select Comfort and you experience greater absorbency and, thanks in part to the longer wheelbase, an altogether calmer feel to its progress.This all makes the new Convertible a much more convincing proposition and a lot less wearing to drive than its predecessor over longer distances. It’s not really a car for intercontinental journeys, but you can now jump in and drive it for hours on end without any concerns about its overall refinement.Happily, the effects of scuttle shake are rarely felt. A small degree of flex and the odd tremor through the body is evident over nasty transverse ruts. On the whole, though, the open top Mini feels taut and well braced by open top standards. Wind buffeting is also well controlled when running roof down and there is noticeably less suspension noise over pockmarked roads.Mini has done an excellent job in turning its third-generation three-door hatchback into a fast and engaging two-door convertible. Reservations about the quality of some of its interior fittings aside, it is a significant advance on its popular predecessor, sales of which reached 165,700 in the six years it was on sale. But with a price that is £3590 more than its hard-top sibling, its ability to go topless comes with a handsome premium.As well as providing smoother and more urgent performance qualities, the new open-top Mini also boasts enhanced handling and overall refinement. It may be pitched more at those more concerned with their particular lifestyle than outright driving qualities, but it manages to cater to both in equal measure.  

Mini Cooper S Convertible Sport Automatic

Location Los Angeles, USA; On sale March 2016; Price £25,485Engine 4cyls, 1998cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 189bhp at 5000-6000rpm; Torque 207lb ft at 1250-4600rpm; Gearbox 6-spd auto; Kerb weight 1295kg; 0-62mph 7.1sec; Top speed 142mph; Economy 50.4mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 131g/km, 21%

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