2012 Mini Roadster Cooper S – Review
The baseball cap is gone, but the fun ain’t
By Shahzad Sheikh
Nearly two months ago we first reviewed the new MINI Coupe Cooper S here in the UAE – read that review here. And now we’ve been to Portugal to drive the drop-top version of the same car: the Roadster Cooper S.
Like the Coupe, this is also, and more obviously, based on the regular Convertible with a new bulkhead built into the structure of the car just behind the seats where the rear pews would have been.
The seatbelts and rollover hoops are bolted onto the load-bearing bulkhead which also adds extra rigidity to the car. It’s got a flap though, to allow longer objects to be transported in the boot (skis?) and enabling the passengers to reach back into a hidden compartment in the boot.
In both cars the windscreen is more angled – leading to problems if you’re taller as the top falls close to your line of sight – and the doors are longer. The car is also 20mm lower than the Convertible but otherwise shares the same foot print.
The Convertible obviously has two extra seats and a clever powered canvas top that initially just slides back to give a massive moonroof effect, before folding away. The Roadster’s roof is available powered, but still has to be unlatched like the manual roof, and then flipped back (in non-powered guise) to sit flush with the boxy rear end in its own little space above the luggage compartment.
Got just enough go
Under the bonnet is the familiar 1.6-litre 184bhp four-cylinder engine with the twin-scroll turbocharger, with is good enough for 0-100kph in 7.0seconds and a 227kph top speed. On the Lisbon launch, all the cars were equipped with six-speed manual gearboxes, although virtually all the cars that will be sold here from next month, will probably have the six-speed auto.
Sport mode gives the steering more heft and feel, and increases throttle response which has the side effect of turning the raspy exhaust note into something more rally-car like with a few pops and bangs on downshifts and lift-off for the heck of it.
Go-kart handling? Check
It’s non-active suspension, so that remains unaffected, but then it’s already very firm and fidgety over the bumpy and rutted Portuguese roads, though body control remains good, and whilst there’s some body roll, there is no flex or chassis twist.
Thanks to the lower centre of gravity, it feels sharp and nimble, though remaining neutral at most speeds into corners, with decent grip and road holding, without any hint of oversteer.
Slam down a gear or two (an absolute delight with the precise and faithful manual gearchange) and floor it off an apex and you will find understeer as the 16-inch front wheels desperately try to find purchase. This they do though, so keep your foot in and stay confident in the progressiveness of the traction system.
Apart from the lower windscreen surround and lack of rear seats, and a sense of claustrophobia with the roof up, plus poor visibility out the rear, especially when the spoiler goes up at around 80kph – same story as in the Coupe, but worst here with less glass area.
Those of you who are both techno-geeks and iPhone fans will be pleased to know there’s an App you can download, and then stick your iPhone into the cradle in the central armrest. On the central screen you can then display stuff like power and torque curves and g-force metres.
In Portugal, blasting along the tight and twisty hilly roads with the roof down (despite the chilly 11 degrees centigrade), working that gearbox hard and the engine even harder, there are few cars that could have matched the fun we had. It boasted just the right amount of performance, agility and ability for the conditions – BMW chose this launch location wisely.
But how does that translate to our region? Not so well. It’s either too hot or too dusty to put the roof down here, and there are few of the type of roads that this car thrives on when you’re punting it hard. Around town though, as long as you can live with the reduced visibility (put the roof down – you paid more for it!) it’s a far better proposition, a keen companion with which to dart through traffic, and park in the smallest spots, all whilst looking rather chic.
However then the regular Convertible does all of that and gives you two extra seats – tiny though they are – plus it might be worth suggesting that for the extra you’ll pay for the Roadster, you might as well order an even more zesty and exciting John Cooper Works (JCW) edition of the Convertible.
You can of course order the Roadster in JCW guise too, and if it’s all about posing and looking cool, then go for the latter. I’ve got to admit it looks rather sensational.
So how much is it? Well we don’t know. Local prices haven’t been revealed. However, going by existing Mini prices, we’d estimate AED170,000 ($46,200). That’s a big stumbling block in a market where we like big hairy-chested cars – it’s possible to get convertible versions of the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro for this money, and that alone is enough to make you stop and think.
And if you think those are too big and barmy, and not quite the tidy little wind-in-the-hair driver’s car you were after, may I point you in the direction of the Mazda MX-5 – it may be fractionally down on power, but it weighs about the same and, most importantly, is rear-wheel-drive. Plus the punchline – it’s cheaper.
Price: AED170,000 ($46,200) ESTIMATED
Engine: 1598cc Turbo, 184bhp @ 5500rpm, 177lb ft @ 1600-5000rpm
Performance: 7.0secs 0-100kph, 227kph, 6.0L/100
Transmission: six-speed manual or auto, front-wheel drive
Shahzad’s verdict: Massive grin-inducer, but can’t help thinking the MX-5 would deliver more laughs for less if you’re after a compact Roadster