Strengths and weaknesses:
- manual transmission
- passenger space
- pricey options
Mini family welcomes a small addition
"Handling is very good, which should come as no surprise when you look at the low-slung profile"
RICHMOND HILL, ON - If there’s one word to describe the 2012 Mini Cooper Roadster, it’s “familiar.”
Mini has long offered a convertible version of its four-seat coupe, but the Roadster is just that - a two-seat version that comes standard with a manual cloth soft top.
I’ve long said the rear seats in the Mini Cooper are mostly pointless, so it would seem a dedicated roadster model is the logical evolution of the Mini brand. After driving the Roadster for several hours on a chilly day recently, though, it’s difficult to tell the two-seat and four-seat models apart.
Granted, for anyone who’s ever driven a Mini, that statement alone could be considered a compliment of the highest order. The vehicles in the BMW-owned automaker’s line-up are famous for their go-kart-like handling and general fun-to-drive characteristics. The Roadster is certainly no exception.
Like other models in the Mini line-up, the two-seat drop-top comes in three trim lines, with each one offering more power than the previous. Our test vehicles for the day are all middle-of-the-pack Cooper S models, which sit in between the base Cooper and top of the line John Cooper Works models.
All Mini Roadsters are equipped with 1.6-litre engines, though the Cooper S and JCW models add a turbocharger for a significant power boost. The engine in the JCW model also gets a host of enhancements to give it more of an edge over the Cooper S.
For a vehicle this light, the 181-horsepower and 177 lb.-ft. of torque in the front-wheel drive Cooper S is plenty to get it moving in a hurry. Using a smooth six-speed manual transmission, it’s rare for the vehicle to be left wanting for power. Even in sixth gear at highway speeds, giving the throttle a quick tap results in the vehicle eagerly leaping forward.
Steering doesn’t get much more responsive, especially at those highway speeds, which is where the Roadster really feels at home. Handling is very good, which should come as no surprise when you look at the low-slung profile, with wheels pushed to the corners.
Although occupants are reminded of the stiff suspension over every bump and rut in the road, the Roadster does seem slightly more aloof than its dedicated hardtop brethren when taken hard around a curve.
My first hour inside the Mini Roadster is spent doing something that’s oh-so-Canadian - driving with the top down while snowflakes bounce off the windshield. Yes, it’s a finger-numbing morning, but the three-level seat heaters and fans do their best to fight the chill outside.
Although folding the top down or latching it back up can’t be done while sitting in the Roadster - something you can do in Mazda’s MX-5 - either action is a relatively simple process. Folding consists of twisting a latch and giving the cloth top a quick downward push to set it in place, while moving it back up is as easy as pressing a button to loosen the top, unfolding it, and latching it in place.
With the top up, a whole lotta wind noise makes it into the cabin at speed, although everything feels tight and secure, and the Harman Kardon sound system is sure to overpower whatever Mother Nature throws your way on even the most blustery of days. I also like the generous head room, even for a tall guy like me.
Although the Roadster’s interior is undoubtedly unique compared to many competitors, it holds all the staples of other Minis - lots of circular touches including the giant speedometer, numerous chrome toggle switches and no shortage of Mini badges. It’s unique and takes some getting used to, but like the brand itself, it gives off a light-hearted atmosphere.
Unlike the Clubman or Countryman, the Roadster doesn’t shake up the Mini recipe all that much, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on who you ask. I would have liked to see this convertible show off its personality a bit more. As it stands - or as it drives - the Roadster still has plenty going for it.