2012 Mini Cooper S Roadster Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

You've got to hand it to Mini: 10 years after hitting the market with its reboot of the iconic two-door Mini, the company shows no sign of slowing down or running out of new ideas. So now we have the original two-door Mini, the Mini Convertible, the Mini Clubman, the Mini Clubvan, the Mini Countryman and, joining the stable for the 2012 model year, the two-seater Mini Coupe and Mini Roadster.

Given the minimal nature of the back seat in a regular Mini, you might well ask whether it was strictly necessary for the company to introduce a pair of dedicated two-seaters. But such a question would clearly identify you as someone who doesn't yet fully grasp the Mini credo, which favours a rather playful and individual approach to vehicle ownership. After all, if Mini is going to offer eight variations of its original model, and an almost endless selection of customization options on top of that, why stop there?

The Mini Roadster, like the Mini Coupe that hit the market a few months earlier, is based on the Mini Convertible, sharing that car's wheelbase, width, overall length and mechanicals, and looking pretty much the same too, at least below the beltline. Where the differences come into play are at the windshield, which is more steeply raked, and the distinctive roofline, which is 30mm lower than the Mini Convertible and swoops down to a rear deck with an integrated pop-up spoiler (yup, just like a Porsche 911 Carrera!). While the Roadster and Coupe share somewhat similar overall profiles, the Roadster is to my eye the better-looking of the pair, with the drop-top looking less contrived than the Coupe's "backwards ball cap" hardtop. Still, to each his own I guess, which is the whole idea behind these cars anyway.

In person, the Mini Roadster is a delightfully sportive car with a planted, "ready-to-pounce" stance. Despite its sleeker profile it weighs pretty much the same as the four-seat Mini Convertible on which it's based (1,195 kg for the base Roadster versus 1,225 kg for the base convertible), so it doesn't offer any significant performance benefits over the original car, but what you do get in exchange for the back seats (in addition to the Roadster's unique looks, that is) is a reasonably large trunk: 240 litres of trunk to be exact, which is nearly twice the space available in a Mazda Miata, and which in practice turned out to be big enough to accommodate all the food and gear needed for a weekend sailing regatta (and that's a lot of luggage!). Making the trunk even more useful is a decent-sized lockable pass-through from the passenger's compartment. My only gripe here is that it would be nice if the pass-through locked automatically with the doors, as otherwise it's too easy to accidentally leave it unsecured. At the very least, Mini should provide the Roadster with a switchblade type key, as having to pull the key out of the electronic fob each time I wanted to lock or unlock the pass-through was a time-consuming pain.

Opening and closing the convertible top, on the other hand, hardly takes any time, though it requires a certain degree of strength and dexterity if you insist on doing so from a seated position as I did (it took a firm hand to get the hold-down catch engaged when stowing the roof). Like the Mini Convertible, the Mini Roadster has a "sunshine meter" that records how many motoring hours you rack up with the top open. I was mildly disappointed, however, that the icon on the gauge face shows a four-seat Mini Convertible, not a Roadster! Still, I managed to pretty much max out the sunshine meter, as I hardly had the top up at all - just on one evening when it rained, allowing me to note that rearward visibility is quite limited by the top's sides, which create a tunnel-vision rearward view.

Like the original Mini, the Roadster is available in three trim levels - Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works (JCW) - each with slightly different mechanicals (unlike the original Mini there's not yet a Roadster Classic or any special edition trims, but give it some time…). The base Cooper Roadster carries a suggested price of $30,895 (including the substantial $1,995 destination fee) and is powered by a 1.6-litre inline four engine that produces 121 horsepower and 118 lb-ft of torque, propelling the little two-seater from 0-100 km/h in 9.6 seconds. The Cooper S Roadster goes for $34,895 (destination in) and uses a twin-scroll turbocharger to boost engine output to 181 horsepower and 177 lb-ft, letting you see 100 km/h in 7.1 seconds. The John Cooper Works model ($41,985 including destination) increases the turbo boost for a total output of 208 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque - enough power to launch the car to 100 km/h in 6.6 seconds. A slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission is standard, and a 6-speed automatic adds $1,200 plus $100 for paddle shifters (paddle shifters are included in the Cooper S and JCW, making the automatic a $1,300 option in those trim levels). Fuel economy ranges from 7.4 / 5.7 L/100km (city/hwy) for the manual-equipped Cooper Roadster to 8.2 / 6.0 for the JCW trim.

What all these numbers fail to convey is just how delightful the engine sounds, at least in my test car's turbocharged Cooper S trim. It really is one of the best exhaust notes of any 4-cylinder car I've ever driven - pure music! Press the sport button and it changes tune to become a little Group C Le Mans car, barking at each shift and snapping and crackling during deceleration. It doesn't actually spit balls of fire like a Le Mans racer, but you still might want to limit use of the sport button in your neighbourhood after dark lest you disturb the neighbours.

The sport button also adjusts the shift points (in automatic-equipped cars), sharpens the throttle response and tightens up the steering, although the latter adjustment affects the feel of the car more than its basic character - the Mini Roadster is a sharp-handling car whatever mode you select. I found my test car's optional sport suspension to be quite firm (somewhere between "nicely firm" and "a bit too firm"), but combined with the Roadster's quick turn-in it made for razor-sharp reflexes and the ability to skitter around corners with alacrity.

Inside, the Mini Roadster is nicely detailed with plenty of playfully retro touches. In the middle of the dash there's Mini's characteristic centrally-mounted, dinner-plate sized speedometer, and there are twin banks of toggle switches nestled up by the mirror and at the base of the centre stack, with little guard bars to prevent accidental operation. I found that the controls could take a little getting used to (the radio controls are packed into the bottom of the speedometer, so they are small and slightly unconventional, and finding the correct toggle switch amongst the two banks can be like playing "Where's Waldo"). But in a sense that's part of the car's charm, and there can be no denying that the cockpit looks fantastic.

Adding to the charm in my test car were optional extras including the sport suspension with 17-inch black star bullet alloy wheels ($990, with four different wheel choices), punch leather upholstery ($1,500) and a fairly comprehensive premium package that includes a 10-speaker harman/kardon sound system, heated front seats, centre armrest, auto-dimming mirror, park distance control, automatic headlights, rain sensing wipers, plus front and rear fog lamps ($2,100).

It all adds up to a car with abundant personality, plenty of zip, and a frisky, fun-to-drive nature that's rare in today's automotive marketplace.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Roadster, Mini, 2012, Cooper S Roadster, $30,000 - $39,999, Subcompact,

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page