Barbie isn’t the only icon celebrating a 50th birthday this year — it’s also 50 years since the first ever Mini hit the road.


Throughout 2009 MINI fans all over the world will be toasting this unique tiny, democratic car, both the original and the new, chunky BMW version. They’ll also be able to get their hands on the new MINI convertible.


When the first ‘new’ MINI convertible came out, I took it on an epic voyage from the launch in Seville back to London. En route it acquired admirers, whether it pulled up outside hip music festivals, nightclubs, luxury hotels, motorway service stations or crowded beaches in Spain and France. It was perfect road trip companion: comfortable, powerful, and with just enough trunk space to fit in the party dresses and shoes of two Sex and the City-style holidaymakers.


Does the new MINI cabrio still have the capacity to thrill? For starters, the car only comes in sporty Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works editions.


The new car doesn’t mess much with the winning formula of the original, even if it is longer but smaller and lighter. Rear visibility is slightly improved thanks to the hidden roll-bar, and trunk space is still a doll-sized 125 litres, but otherwise it’s a delight to drive, feisty and responsive.

It’s more powerful than the old model, but it’s also is more economical and ecological, with auto stop start that cuts the engine when it’s idling. The roof closes in 15 seconds at speeds of up to 32 km/h for when you travel through car-jacking territory, and great gimmicks include the air-conditioned glovebox, and the ‘MINI Always open timer’ measures how many hours you’ve driven top-down, although unfortunately not what SPF you need to apply before you fry.

It might be more expensive than many of its rival cabrios but then it’s also of superior quality — it will certainly feel more substantial than the Fiat 500 convertible that will snap at its heels when it launches this year. However, given that MINI is one of the rare car companies that increased sales last year, don’t expect popularity to be a problem for this new cabrio.