Apparently the Mini Roadster has a radio, but I didn’t bother using it. Instead, I lowered the roof and enjoyed the burbles, pops, and crackles emitted by the exhaust when the car is in Sport mode. Yes, this car sounds fantastic. Lift off the throttle and you’ll hear a barrage of snaps and rumbles; rev the engine at a stop and you can create backfires that sound like a branch snapping. The Mini Roadster also is unbelievably fun to drive because it is light, nimble, and responsive.
The fabric top lowers quite easily, and I like that it clicks into place when lowered, but I found my arms weren’t long enough to fully raise or retract the roof without stepping outside the car. Equally impressive is the amount of trunk space, which is far better than in a roadster like the Mazda MX-5. I must note, however, that blind-spot visibility is horrible with the top in place.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
If you were considering buying a Mini Coupe, stop. Walk across the Mini showroom and buy this one instead.
The Coupe might excel at being an irreverently styled little car, but it has lousy outward visibility and a harsh ride. It’s still a hoot to drive but it’s a bear to own.
Cut the top off the Coupe, and everything gets better. Although visibility (with the top up) is not any better in the Roadster, and the ride is still firm, the combination of UV rays and the scintillating sounds from the four-cylinder engine is still an unbeatable salve for the Coupe’s issues.
I drove the Roadster on a sunny afternoon through downtown Ann Arbor, and the car’s twee styling drew plenty of smiles and chuckles. Its turbocharged engine and manual transmission drew plenty of smiles and chuckles from inside the car, too. Considering that Minis should be capsules of happiness for driver, passenger, and audience, the Roadster serves its purpose nearly perfectly.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor
To me, the MINI Cooper Coupe is pretty pointless — a styling-driven exercise that’s neither very practical nor very attractive to my eye. However, I think the Cooper Roadster, which shares many of its alterations with the Coupe, is quite cool. Comparably equipped, the two-seat Roadster is a hair more expensive than a four-seat Mini Cooper Convertible, but I think the Roadster’s more likable styling and its opening roof make it much less pointless than the Coupe.
The Roadster’s manual top is very nice, too, although it’s not nearly as easy to raise or lower as a Mazda Miata‘s. What I don’t get about this Roadster is the fact that it has keyless ignition and entry but no delayed-wiper function. That’s just dumb. Intermittent wipers should be standard on every car on the market today. The Roadster’s wipers will do intermittent duty, but apparently only when you’re stopped (at a traffic light, for instance).
Fortunately it didn’t rain the entire time I tested the Roadster, so I got to enjoy some brisk top-down motoring, partially on I-94. There, I learned two important things: the top-down Roadster is quite pleasant at triple-digit speeds, and a souped-up Ford F-250 on knobby tires can do about 110 mph.
I think the Mini Roadster will sell fairly well. As the former owner of a Little British Car (an MGB), I know that many folks in that tribe love their two-seat convertibles — and almost as many love their new Minis and Miatas. In that group, this Roadster should definitely steal some sales from the stale, non-British Mazda Miata.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
There’s nothing like an automatically deploying rear wing to make you think you’re in a seriously sporting automobile. My first drive in a MINI Cooper Roadster supports my notion from last summer, when I first drove the MINI Cooper Coupe, that the Roadster was going to be the winner of the pair. If you’re going to have a small, tossable car that’s ultimately not very useful, why not have a removable roof? You know, like the Mazda Miata. The Roadster’s body is extremely rigid; there’s hardly any evidence that you’re in a droptop when you’re driving over railroad tracks or other rough pavement. I was particularly happy to have the Roadster when I did because it was one of those days where I had to dash repeatedly from one side of Ann Arbor to another on a variety of errands, and I was running late the whole time. What a great car for making time on crowded urban streets.
The Roadter’s top is a little heavy to put down while you’re seated in the car, but I did manage to pull it up while sitting in the driver’s seat. There’s a fair bit of space behind the seats, perfect to stow your messenger bag or what-have-you, and there’s a good amount of trunk space, even with the top down, making this a perfectly reasonable car for two people to take on a weekend trip. The Mini Roadster provides all the usual Mini dynamics, which is good, but there’s still no discernible detent in the manual gearshifter’s movement, which makes it too easy to slide into reverse gear unintentionally.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
Just my luck. It seems that every time I’m scheduled for a turn behind the wheel of a convertible, the weather gods conspire and nasty weather materializes for the entire time that I have the car. Such was the case — again — when I drove the Mini Roadster. So I never put down the top, which really is the whole reason to drive this car in the first place. With the top up, the Roadster’s frenetic nature is even more apparent. It requires lots of steering corrections as it instantly follows any imperfections in the road, and the short wheelbase and low-profile tires make for a pretty harsh ride. Still, the excellent powertrain found in other Cooper S Minis provides an entertaining rush of power when you put your foot down. I have always found the comically huge speedometer in the center of the dash distracting, but I find it even more so now, as the satellite radio and navigation controls are now displayed in the center of the giant sun-dial-like center-mounted disc.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Before I got behind the wheel of the new Coupe last fall and, now the Roadster, I questioning the need for a slightly mini-er Mini. But after driving them both, I can confidently say that, although they may not present a totally unique driving experience, they are different enough from what you get in the standard Cooper to make them worthy new models.
And by different, I mean the same underlying character, amped up to the max. If the Cooper is Gizmo, the cuddly furball given as a Christmas present in the 1980s movie Gremlins, the Coupe and Roadster are the high-strung, Mohawked progeny that emerge when Gizmo accidentally gets wet. The new small Minis can be fun but they aren’t particularly agreeable and require constant attention to keep in line.
It’s no surprise that the Roadster’s personality doesn’t lend itself to relaxed highway cruising. Unfortunately, that’s exactly where I spent the vast majority of my time in the Roadster over the Easter weekend. On the interstate, the hyper-quick steering and low-profile tires made for constant wheel corrections to keep the car aimed straight down the road. The super-firm suspension hates potholes and each impact felt as if it was trying to beat the broken road into submission. Even small divots caused violent tremors that threatened to shake me and the Roadster to pieces and to twist the wheel from my grip.
On the plus side, the Roadster S is fitted with the same energetic turbo four that we love in the Cooper S. It provides tons of thrust and the power band is so wide that I rarely needed to downshift, even to pass. The Roadster’s other ace in the hole is its convertible top. Unlike Rusty, I didn’t find it any more difficult to open than the Miata’s (I have to get out of the car to latch the top closed in the Miata too, so I didn’t find it off-putting that I needed to do so in the Roadster). And I actually prefer the Roadster’s closing mechanism. The full, rounded handle is easier to grip than the Miata’s clip-like one, and aligning the top with the mechanism to get it closed requires minimal effort.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
Even if the engine is powering the wrong set of wheels, the Mini Roadster has what it takes to rival the Mazda Miata for fun, open-sky motoring. Both cars possess a charming simplicity, a lively engine, and steering so connected that it speaks directly to you, but at the same time, they’re worlds apart in character. While the Miata has more finesse and poise, the Roadster is scrappier and punchier. The torque steer wrenches on your wrists, potholes resonate through your spine, and the price will scramble your brain, but the Mini Roadster is great when you’re bending through corners and blasting through the gears. The Cooper S Roadster’s turbocharged 1.6-liter is Hulk-like its personality: it can calmly return excellent fuel economy of up to 35 mpg on the highway or it can dish out an explosive 192 lb-ft of torque.
Mini’s six-vehicle lineup has an uncannily consistent driving character, so you can expect a rowdy, athletic feel no matter which model you choose. To my eyes, the Roadster aesthetic is far more fetching than the Mini Convertible’s picnic-basket, top-down look and it ranks as my second favorite Mini variant behind the classic hardtop hatchback. I also love minimalism of the manual top; it’s a bit difficult to raise from the driver’s seat but it’s cool to just toss the roof behind you when lowering the top. If you’re a shorter person who can’t raise the top from inside the car, Mini offers a power-operated roof for a reasonable $750.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
2012 MINI Cooper S Roadster
MSRP (with destination): $28,050
PRICE AS TESTED: $33,550
1.6-liter turbocharged DOHC I-4
Horsepower: 181 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 192 lb-ft @ 1730 rpm
WHEELS AND TIRES:
17-inch aluminum wheels
205/45VR17 Continental ContiSportContact tires
FUEL ECONOMY (city/highway/combined):
Cargo: 8.5 cu ft
Legroom: 41.7 in
Headroom: 39.6 in
Lighting Blue/Carbon Black
16-inch aluminum wheels
6-way adjustable sport seats
Auxiliary audio jack
SiriusXM satellite radio w/one-year subscription
Cargo-area pass through
Tilt-and-telescopic steering column
Sport button (quicker steering and throttle response)
Active rear spoiler
OPTIONS ON THIS VEHICLE:
Sport package- $1500
17-inch aluminum wheels
Dynamic traction control
White turn-signal lights
Lighting Blue paint- $500
Technology package- $2000
Rear parking distance control
Harman/Kardon sound system
Mini Connected w/navigation- $750
Keyless entry- $500
Wind deflector- $250
KEY OPTIONS NOT ON THIS VEHICLE:
Premium package- $1750
John Cooper Works package- $2000
This is an all-new model for 2012.