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Top-down Teasers

Text by Nigel Yong, sgCarMart.
Photo by Low Fai Ming, sgCarMart.

There are two main types of car buyers. On one end of the spectrum we have those who buy using their heads for practical reasons including space, fuel economy or comfort; simply to get them sensibly from one place to another.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are car buyers who pick cars for very special characteristics based on a certain lifestyle or simply for the drive. This is the group that wants to be rewarded by smiles per hour.

If you, like us, belong to the latter group, cars like the MINI Cooper Convertible and the Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet will be right up your alley. They are cars that go against the grain, against all practical arguments and are made as happy pills for good days and bad.

The most difficult decision to make is which one makes us happier. We spent a couple of days finding out.


No bad vibes

While the soft-top Cooper and Beetle are made for pretty similar experiences, they are in fact, quite different. The MINI is a lot more compact and squarish than the Beetle, but in its case, it's perfectly hip to be square.

The Beetle is slightly longer, wider and higher, and has a very classic rotund sheet metal design.

When you take their tops down, the Cooper loses some of its shape and style, but the Beetle retains its curvacious body, distinctive fenders, and unique hood that draw the eye of the standard coupe model.

It's certainly one of the most stylish and distinctive cars around town.

That's not to imply that the Cooper is in anyway less pretty, though. In fact, some may beg to differ that it's the cuter car. With its instantly recognisable frontal fascia, trendy dimensions and iconic moniker that will make the girl next door go wow, you can be sure of good visual vibes.

Both cars have automated fabric soft-tops but while the Cooper's will take 18 seconds to open or close, the Beetle's is quicker, doing the deed in 9.5 seconds and 11 seconds respectively.

Their cabins are distinctively different. MINI fans and owners will easily take to the Cooper's stylishly appointed interior layout, with the usual jet fighter-like switches and a circular 6.5-inch infotainment display taking centre stage. Plus, materials used do feel more expensive than the Beetle's.

Still, the Beetle's cabin build is of quality, with a trio of performance gauges and body-coloured dash panels adding a touch of sportiness and nostalgia. A slim, flat-bottomed steering wheel is in place for similar reasons.

If you're a first-time user in these two cars, the Beetle's 6.33-inch touchscreen display is a friendlier option, although getting used to the Cooper's system will take only a day or two. Audiophiles will also appreciate the standard Fender audio system available from Volkswagen.

When it's time to take some friends for a ride, the Beetle, too, allows more space for both front and rear passengers, as well as more boot space of 225 litres.

It's a little more cramp in the Cooper, although negligible for a convertible. Boot space stands at 160 litres and is expandable to 215 litres.

You spin me right round, baby

The biggest and most noticeable difference between the two cars is how they behave on the road. For fun driving, sharper dynamics and superior cornering, the Cooper is the car to have.

In true MINI fashion, the Cooper darts around like a Jack Russell puppy. Steering is weighted and precise, contributing to the agility afforded by a tight chassis and stiff suspension.

The Beetle is quite the opposite, with a lighter-weighted steering and softer suspension setup. But for something that looks like a massive bug, it handles surprisingly well, almost as well as the Volkswagen Golf, in fact.

It's the more laid-back car of the two, taking on bumps and ruts more agreeably than the Cooper. With the roof up, it's also the much quieter one. Soundproofing is a notch poorer in the Cooper, but not bad enough to repel prospective ownership.

In terms of outright speed, the 1.5-litre 134bhp Cooper is the more eager car, taking 8.7 seconds from 0 to 100km/h. The less powerful 1.2-litre 103bhp Beetle does this in 11.7 seconds. However, off-paper, it doesn't feel as slow as official figures suggest.

If decision-making is science, judgement is art

Ultimately, deciding between a Cooper Convertible or Beetle Cabriolet will boil down to pure personal preferences and lifestyles.

Like we mentioned earlier, the compact, nippy Cooper is much like a Jack Russell. It's happy to play and excited to do things. As a matter of fact, the Cooper is exactly sort of car that's suited for a place with nice mountainous roads and party-loving, fast-paced towns just like Bali. On the other hand, the Beetle feels more suited for more relaxed activities, like a drive down Australia's Great Ocean Road followed by a barbecue and campfire after.

There's no right or wrong, good or bad between the two, but a great time either way.

This article was first published on sgCarMart.

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