The most driver-focused car in the Mini lineup, now available in topless form.
This is our second go in the Mini Roadster and nothing has changed since last time. In Cooper S trim, you still get the same 1.6-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder chuffing out 181 horsepower. The cloth drop top you can lower from the drivers seat? Yup, it’s present and accounted for, and so is the square-jawed stance and the go kart-like handling that all Minis are famous for.
Like Dan Heyman, I’ve sampled the Mini Coupe in a previous Road Test and like him, I came away from the experience feeling similarly sore. OK, I concede that the ride didn’t inflict pain, but it certainly didn’t inflict pleasure, either. The entire experience was virtually dominated by it, and I don’t know what roads you drive on, but the ones I do aren’t nice to a car whose suspension compliance compares favorably to bedrock.
Also like Dan, I recently spent some time in the Roadster you see here. I’m glad I did, because it showed me that the Coupé/Roadster model range needn’t be so hard-edged in order to be fun to drive. He’s quite right when he asserts how remarkable it is when two very similar cars end up feeling completely different. Note to BMWengineers: please soften the suspension of the Coupé slightly to bring it in line with the Roadster’s.
So, here’s what’s good: handling. The steering is so quick that at first it feels nervous and darty. You start to feed in steering lock as a corner approaches and the Mini wants to surge towards the apex before you’ve even arrived there. The structure is pretty solid (save for the odd shimmy through the steering column), giving the suspension a good foundation on which to do its job. Yes, it is calibrated to be softer but not dulled–the willingness the Roadster shows in responding to inputs is instantaneous.
Once you get used to it, the Mini shows you the spunkiness baked into its DNA. It really is a highly rewarding car to drive.
The brakes have a similar feeling at first too. Brush the pedal and speed is shed quickly, maybe more quickly that you had anticipated. Learn to apply them precisely and you begin to appreciate how easily modulated they are. Aside from some turbo lag at lower revs, the throttle response is quick as well, especially in Sport mode. Let off the gas swiftly and you’ll be delighted to hear blissfully authentic snarls and pops from the exhaust. Check out the comments at the bottom of Dan’s story–a few posts accurately claim that it has perhaps the best engine note of any four-cylinder engine out there (complete with glorious overrun). With the top down, the soundtrack plays unfiltered right into your ears.
It is when the top is up where you begin to see a few problems. It feels like your wearing a large baseball cap, and your forward sightline appears to have bisected by the brim.
Outward visibility can be a challenge, as it is with any convertible body style that inevitably suffers when the top’s up. The top looks unfinished from the inside–you can see the metal support rods that span across it. Noise levels with it in place are thusly louder than expected. There’s a reason they’ve installed a gauge that tells you how long the top has been down for; you’ll want keep it down as much as possible. Top-up driving should be reserved for inclement weather only. Why else would you want it up anyway?
Most people probably won’t buy the Roadster as their primary mode of transportation. Instead, it will be an ideal choice for those looking for something fun to accompany their daily driver in the garage. In that context the Roadster will excel nicely. While out for a top down/early evening cruise just as the sun was setting, it kind of all came together for me: the encouraging engine note, the positive snick-snick of the gear lever moving between gates and all the sights and smells you’re treated to during al fresco motoring all blended together to form an intoxicating mixture. At that moment, I couldn’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t buy one.
2012 Mini Roadster Cooper S — Specifications
Price as tested: $38,420
Body Type: 2-door, 2-passenger roadster
Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower: 181 @ 5,500 r.p.m.
Torque (lb-ft): 177 @ 1,600-5,000 r.p.m.
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Curb weight: 1,245 kg (2,745 lbs)
City: 7.6L/100 km (31 mpg)
Highway: 5.6L/100 km (42 mpg)