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MINI Roadster review (2012 onwards)
What - MINI Cooper S Roadster
Where - The Cotswolds
Date - April 2012
Price - £20,905
Available - Now
Key rivals - Audi TT Roadster, Mazda MX-5, Lotus Elise
Summary - Sixth MINI derivative really hits the spot.
Read more MINI reviews
MSN Cars' best convertibles
We like - Gutsy performance, fun and agility on winding roads, comfort and practicality
We don't like - Fierce brakes, roof not fully automatic, complicated media interface
The Roadster is the sixth model in the über-successful MINI range. It's a convertible, of course, but different to the MINI Convertible in that it has only two seats.
That sets it up, MINI reckons, against sports cars like the Mazda MX-5 and also the Audi TT. There's no doubt though, that each occupies a subtly different niche in this open-air market.
Levels of interaction like never before
The MINI Roadster is most strongly related to the MINI Coupe launched late last year. As with that car, with the rear seats gone there's the chance to slope the windscreen back in a more racy style and also to stiffen the bodywork with additional panels behind the front seats.
This means the Roadster is a tauter, more driver focussed package than the MINI Convertible could ever be. It also gains levels of driver interaction like you've never seen before. Twitter and Facebook on the move? With your messages spoken to you? Believe it.
Starting price for the Roadster is just over £18k, which gets you into the Cooper. The Cooper S is £20,905, John Cooper Works £24,860 and the diesel Cooper SD £21,630. To that you're certain to add £4,000 or more in options. They are impossible to resist.
The engine in this Cooper S produces a very healthy 184hp, a long way from the 70hp of the original MINI Cooper S 50 years ago. Even though buyers' expectations have changed, this new Roadster does feel genuinely very fast.
Injudicous use of the power away from a road junction will cause the front wheels to scrabble, despite systems to prevent this getting out of hand. MINI needs to be congratulated for not engineering out all the fun in the name of safety.
On the move the engine willing revs well beyond 6,000rpm, although the thrust from the turbocharger means high engine speeds are rarely necessary. Simply plant your foot hard down and the Cooper S Roadster gathers up its skirts in an instant and heads for the horizon. In almost any gear.
Ultimately, of course, there are plenty of cars that are quicker than this. The 0-62mph time of seven seconds dead is hardly stunning. Yet it's the way this MINI delivers its power in such an involving way that makes it so appealing.
Ride and handling
The Roadster is only 20mm - less than an inch - lower than the four-seat Cabriolet, but it looks far more squat. In turn the seating position is suitably closer to the floor, though still someway off the true sports car driving position you get in the MX-5.
But the range of adjustable of seat and steering wheel is likely to suit more drivers. Visibility to the front and sides is also good, which makes hustling down country lanes a less frightening proposition.
And it drives like a MINI always has done, gripping the roadway beyond your expectations and sweeping around tight bends at seemingly impossible speeds.
The Roadster knocks these issues for six
The steering is electrically assisted and is fine in the standard mode. All Roadsters get a 'Sport' button that makes the steering heavier which the MINI people seem to think makes it sportier. It doesn't. It just becomes stodgy.
'Sport' also makes the throttle response sharper and gives the exhaust an extra rasp. We weren't taken with these aspects either. But it's a small moan for what is basically a very soundly engineered package.
Accelerate really hard and the front wheels start scrabbling for grip even when you are already rolling along at a decent pace. It's all controllable by a light lift on the throttle, but if for those searching for some excitement, it's there for the taking.
There are those that will argue that the MX-5 has more purity as a sports car. The Mazda is rear-wheel drive so steering precision will always be better than a front-wheel-drive car like the MINI.
It's a point that is hard to argue with, except that the fun element of the MINI Roadster knocks these issues for six. Even the firm ride is tolerable.
Every Roadster apart from the base Cooper gets sports front seats, and with the optional leather covering they offer great support and surprisingly sumptuous comfort.
MINI instruments have increasingly become an absurd caricature of the original, but it seems buyers love the gigantic dial in the centre of the dashboard. It's a good job there's a tiny digital readout for speed in front of the driver though, because it's nigh-on impossible to read on the actual speedometer.
Depending upon how you option up your Roadster, the inner portion of the large speedometer contains a sat nav screen that can be switched to several other displays.
The roof is a 10-second electric operation
The people at MINI are extremely excited about the new Twitter and Facebook interface, though we can't wait to see what the road safety lobby has to say about this.
The roof is an electric 10-second operation that can be carried out at up to 20mph. The folded top sits neatly behind the rear seats, though initial opening and final closing requires a tug and twist of the manual lock above the screen.
It's a pleasing arrangement, snug and quiet when closed, tucked well away when open. Buffeting with the roof down is MINImal, with a standard wind deflector between the jauntily angled chrome roll bars behind each seat.
An advantage of the two-seat arrangement is that the boot space is great improvement over the regular MINI Convertible and even the hatch. There's room for a couple of decent sized cases, plus through-load possibilities for skis and golf clubs.
Economy and safety
BMW has excelled in recent years at making economy a key goal, even though some would say this hasn't helped BMW hold its ground against Audi. The MINI Roadster gains from this expertise.
The combined economy figure for the Cooper S Roadster is 47.1mpg, with a CO2 of 139g/km. The Cooper is similar at 49.6/133, while the Cooper SD promises 62.8mpg and 118g/km.
There are no EuroNCAP crash test results for the Roadster yet, but MINI promises a strong windscreen frame and twin roll hoops to protect in case of a rollover, plus a full compliment of airbags, including head/thorax bags.
The MSN Cars verdict
We'll admit it's a bit contentious giving the MINI Cooper S Roadster five stars. From some angles it's an ugly duckling, and it's mighty expensive to buy a Roadster equipped to the level you are likely to want.
Yet it is such an entertaining car to drive, and it barely puts a foot wrong anywhere that matters. The MINI Roadster deserves to be a success.
First drive: MINI Coupe
Read more MINI reviews
MSN Cars' best convertibles
|Need to know||MINI Roadster|
|Engines, petrol||1.6, 1.6 Turbo|
|Engines, diesel||2.0 Turbo|
|Power, hp||122 - 211|
|Torque, lb ft||118 - 225|
|0-62 mph, secs||10.5 - 6.5|
|Top speed, mph||119 - 147|
|Mpg combined||62.8 - 38.7|
|CO2, tax||118/17% - 169/27%|
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