This is the new Mini Roadster, and it’s the penultimate Mini model (the Countryman-based Paceman arrives in 2013) before a whole new range of baby Brits start to appear in 2014. The Roadster is a mix of what we already know, combining the more rakish windscreen of 2011’s controversial Coupe with the drop-top body of the Convertible. Is it any good? Read on for CAR’s first drive review of the new Mini Roadster to find out.
So is the Mini Roadster just a convertible version of the Mini Coupe?
Not quite. Both feature a more steeply raked windscreen than the standard Mini hatch and Convertible, but the Roadster is actually based around the Convertible’s body-in-white, which is then stiffened around the rear axle. And efforts have been made to differentiate the new Roadster from the Mini Convertible: it’s only got two seats instead of four; the soft-top is 20mm lower and much more rakish at the rear than the Convertible’s boxy back end; and rather than retracting (electrically) like a sunroof, then (electrically) folding back, the Roadster’s hood is a full DIY item.
You unclip the latch on the header rail, then heft it back over you head – it folds flush with the flat rear deck, rather than concertinaing like a pram’s hood on the Convertible. To put the roof back in place, a button between the rollover bars releases the locking mechanism, before you manually heave it back into place. Either operation requires a bit of muscle (and getting out of the car unless you bend in some amazing ways), and although much is made of the manual operation, it’s no surprise to learn that automatic operation is an option – and standard fitment in the UK. All you have to do is latch or un-latch the roof.
Like the Coupe, the Roadster sports a bigger boot than its more sensible sibling (now 240 litres; was 125) but like the Coupe the boot floor isn’t flat. It’s also got the same pop-up rear spoiler as the Coupe, and an optional wind deflector clips between the roll hoops, and together they combine to create pretty poor rear visibility. As on the Convertible, the Always Open Timer keeps a count of just how many minutes you drive around with the roof down – for what purpose we don’t know. As on the Convertible, over-the-shoulder visibility is poor too.
I presume it’s the same engines as the rest of the Mini range?
Right again. There are three petrol 1.6s, with either 121bhp, 181bhp (Cooper S) or 208bhp (John Cooper Works), or the Cooper SD model with a 141bhp 2.0-litre diesel. Mini expect the Cooper S to account for the majority of sales, and as that was the only model brought to the launch, it’s the one tested here.
A twin-scroll turbo boosts the Cooper S and JCW models, and here there’s 177lb ft available from just 1600rpm so you never need to rev the Roadster all the way out to its red line. Of course the four-pot engine doesn’t sing, but it rasps merrily enough and occasionally pops on a downshift.
The Sport button (standard on the JCW, optional on the other modes) adds weight to the steering and sharpens the throttle response, and it’s a must if you want to start chucking the Roadster around. Forget to engage it and the wheel’s weighting is too light on initial turn-in, the engine feels a bit flat, and you can’t nail a good heel ‘n’ toe shift with the well-placed pedals. That’s only if you’re pressing on mind, otherwise it’s fine around town and on the motorway.
There’s a little chassis flex over badly rutted Portuguese back roads, but it feels stiffer and more driver-focused than the Convertible thanks to the additional rear bracing. The ride is typically firm, but it’s not crashy (all the test cars were fitted with 16in wheels on 195/55 rubber) and the payoff is sharp turn-in and good body control.
Occupants of Porsche’s limited edition 911 Speedster, with its lower windscreen and correspondingly lower side windows, suffer more buffeting than the regular 911 Cabriolet, and it’s the same story in the Mini Convertible. But chief amongst the problems is that the small rear windows have been junked so if you’re anywhere over six feet tall your ears will be back behind the rear of the glass and subject to lots of roar.
The inside of the roof isn’t exactly pretty when it’s raised either, with no lining to cover the metal supporting beams, and the point where the trailing edge of the windows seals with the roof suffers from excessive wind whistle too.
As for the interior, I’m hardly spoiling the surprise if I reveal the dashboard is identical to every other Mini bar the Countryman. What once was a paragon of quality is now feeling its age with the arrival of Audi’s A1, and although the materials used are better than, say a Mazda MX-5, everything is quite dark and hard.
The sharpest handling Minis still have fixed roofs, but the Roadster is good fun to drive. However, it’s compromised like the Convertible, and like the Convertible it’s much more a fashionista’s choice. Whether you’d pick it over its more conventional drop-top sibling comes down to whether you value a bigger boot and the latest looks of spring/summer 2012 catalogue over four seats and more refinement. The difference is £505 in the Convertible’s favour, but all things considered we’d lean towards the Roadster if you’re in the market for either.