"All engines in the MINI Roadster are smooth, but the powerful 1.6-litre turbocharged engines in the Cooper S and JCW suit the car's playful character best."
If you’ve ever looked at the MINI Convertible and wondered why they didn’t just do away with the tiny backseats to create a bigger boot that you could actually use, well the MINI Roadster does just that. Two seats, a bigger boot with a ski hatch for long objects and distinctive MINI styling, it's designed to compete with the Audi TT Roadster and the Mazda MX-5. The fabric roof folds away in only 10 seconds at speeds of up to 20mph, and that boot gives you 240 litres of storage space, with the roof up or down. The car has a stiffer chassis – normal for a convertible cars that lack a roof – so it handles better than many of its rivals. There's certainly a focus on performance and is only available as Cooper models, including the diesel Cooper SD and above, cutting out the usual One base model. All versions come with either a six-speed manual or an optional six-speed automatic gearbox. What's more, if you’re desperate for even more speed, you can buy a John Cooper Works model for even more wind in your hair.
The sporty Roadster comes in four specifications – Cooper and Cooper S petrol models, Cooper SD diesel and the John Cooper Works (JCW from here on in) high-performance petrol. The JCW can go from 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds, but the still zippy 1.6-litre turbocharged Cooper S does it in seven seconds, so there's no doubting the Roadster's performance credentials. As such, all the engines are smooth and powerful, and if you opt for the Cooper S or JCW models then driving with the roof down allows you to fully enjoy the attention that MINI's BMW engineers have paid to the sound it makes. If you press Sport mode, a valve opens in the exhaust that actually makes popping and banging sounds when you lift your foot off the accelerator. It sounds silly but is really a lot of fun. The Roadster's steering is very responsive and the car has lots grip with virtually no body roll at all in the corners, so you can really enjoy yourself on the move. An automatic rear wing pops up when you go faster than 50mph, which then also retracts again when you drop below 37mph.
Now that MINI has dropped any pretence of conventional practicality, the Roadster is a more rounded car. The two sports seats – standard in all models with the exception of the entry-level Cooper - have plenty of space for the driver and passenger, holding you in place without feeling uncomfortable. All models come equipped with air-conditioning, parking sensors and a DAB radio with Bluetooth connectivity as standard. Again, thanks to it no longer pretending to be a family car, the suspension is firmer in the Roadster than the four-seater MINI Convertible, which means sharper handling but a pretty bumpy ride on uneven surfaces. If you have the sports suspension pack, which is fitted as standard on the JCW Roadster, then the ride is even firmer and at times is very harsh indeed. Road and wind noise is an issue though, while the poor sound insulation means other cars and pedestrians can sound quite noisy at town speeds. That said, you don't expect a two-seat soft top to be super quiet.
MINI came a lowly 28th in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey (a drop of seven places), with the Roadster not featuring in the top 150 cars. This may be partly due to MINI recalling nearly 30,000 in 2012 to fix a faulty electric water pump, but other than that MINI's reliability record has been pretty good. All the Roadster's parts and engines have been tried and tested across the rest of the MINI range, with the MINI hatchback, MINI Clubman, MINI Convertible and the Roadster all using a practically identical platform. Plus, it's worth remembering that MINIs are built by BMW, whose reputation for quality and reliability precedes it. The Roadster is also very safe, coming with traction control, anti-lock brakes and seat belt pre-tensioners fitted as standard across the whole range. It hasn’t been put through Euro NCAP's rigorous crash safety tests yet, but seeing as the rest of MINIs stable have secured the top five-star rating, you can expect the Roadster to follow suit.
It may have two less seats than the MINI Convertible, but a usable boot has arrived in its place. You now get 240 litres of storage instead of the 125 litres in the Convertible, plus you can add an optional ski-hatch for loading longer items like, um, skis (you can see who MINI is targeting with that little extra). It's actually 60 litres bigger than the boot in the standard MINI hatchback and there's even a little bit of casual storage space behind the seats if you want to stow your bag without opening the boot. The simple cloth roof only takes 10 seconds to retract into a cubby behind your head up to speeds of 20mph, but you it's actually only semi-automatic. You have to unclip a handle above your and then reclip it, and put the windows the whole way up when you put the roof back – not a major negative but it can be a bit frustrating and distracting while you’re on the move. As a plus, the outer skin of the roof faces upwards, so there's no need to put on extra cover when it's stowed.
Value for money
No MINIs are cheap, but you’ll pay up to £500 more for the Roadster than for the Convertible, which is quite reasonable considering the strengthening of the chassis by extra 10 percent to make the handling a little bit more responsive. Entry-level prices are around the same as the Mazda MX-5, while the speedy Cooper S actually undercuts the slower base-model Audi TT by several thousand pounds. While standard equipment is generous, MINI likes to play the personalization game, so just keep an eye on your options or the price can quickly spike. And all MINIs hold their resale value well on the used market, so you can expect a good deal for this much-desired brand when it comes to sell it. Pre-paid servicing packs can keep running costs to a minimum, too.
For the best savings, go diesel – the Cooper SD returns 62.8mpg and emits only 118g/km in CO2, which is pretty fantastic for this kind of car. But economy figures are good across the board, with the petrol Cooper S still managing to return a decent 47.1mpg. Be warned, however, that adding any of MINI's automatic gearboxes makes the numbers take a tumble, with the SD dropping to 52.3mpg while upping emissions to 143g/km. All models have stop-start, which even helps keep the super-quick JCW Roadster in reasonable territory, returning 38.7mpg and emitting 169g/km.