2012 MINI Roadster Overview

Resuscitated and reinvented by BMW in 2001, the Mini Cooper line has grown and proliferated beyond the expectations of its parent company, and far beyond the vision of Sir Alec Issigonis, who designed the 1959 original. The 2012 Mini Roadster is the sixth and most recent addition to the modern Mini lineup, a soft-top front-wheel-drive two-seater that's a first-ever model for the brand, BMW revival or original. It brings affordable sports car fun to a segment that previously consisted of one car, Mazda's MX-5 Miata. Although the Mini Roadster's price range soars higher than the Miata's, pricing for the next group of roadsters, all German brands, begins well over $40,000. All the revivalist Mini variants were developed from the 2001 three-door Hardtop. However, the Roadster, as well as the recently introduced Mini Cooper Coupe, is more directly descended from the 2+2 Convertible. Coupe and Roadster were designed simultaneously, but the Coupe preceded the Roadster in the U.S. market by about four months, and immediately drew mixed reviews for its awkward looking roofline. The Mini Roadster substitutes a conventional folding soft top for the Coupe's hard roof, yielding a look that's a little more conventional and distinctly more appealing. With the soft top stowed in the well behind the seats and the rear decklid spoiler deployed (automatic at 50 mph or more, but manually operable as well), the Roadster becomes a brawny little sports car with the active persona of a Jack Russell terrier. Like other entries in the Mini Cooper collection, the Roadster offers three levels of engine power, all delivered by the same 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. With direct fuel injection and variable valve timing, it's on the cutting edge of current internal combustion technology. The basic version is naturally aspirated, whereas turbocharging adds thrust to the variations offered in the higher-performing S and John Cooper Works (JCW) models. Two transmissions are available for the basic and S versions, a 6-speed manual and an optional 6-speed automatic. The latter offers a manual operating mode, but is a conventional automatic. The more powerful JCW model is limited to a manual transmission. Respectable fuel economy is a strong suit for all Minis, and the Roadster is no exception. Standard and S models both carry EPA ratings of 27 mpg City, 35 mpg Highway or 26/34 mpg City/Highway for the Mini Roadster S automatic. The numbers fall only slightly with the JCW version, to 25/33 mpg. The Mini Roadster's soft top is stretched over a span of sheetmetal at its leading edge, which serves as a tonneau cover when the top is snugged down behind the seats. Top stowage doesn't subtract from trunk capacity, which is respectable by small roadster standards. The top secures to the windshield header with a single latch, and is easily raised and lowered by hand, though a power option is available. Even in larger scale versions such as the Clubman wagon and Countryman crossover, Minis place a high priority on fun-to-drive, and the Roadster arguably delivers more of it than anything else in the growing lineup. It's quick on its feet, responsive, and eager, and the snug two-seat cockpit provides the sense of intimacy, driver engagement, and open air motoring that make roadsters so entertaining. There are caveats, practicality foremost among them. Like any small two-seat convertible, the Mini Roadster's strong suit is driving entertainment. Considered as an all-around automotive implement, though, the elements that make it appealing as a driver's toy limit its usefulness for more mundane motoring chores such as hauling multiple passengers, bulky cargo, or both. The suspension tuning that makes the car a blast to drive on a smooth stretch of twisty country road renders its ride quality distinctly unpleasant when the pavement is punctuated by warts, potholes, and sharp bumps. Also, wind noise stifles conversation above about 60 mph with the top up. Nevertheless, the Mini Roadster rolls onto the sports car stage as an appealing new entry at the affordable end of the two-seat spectrum, with the same blend of sassy styling and snappy handling that separates all Minis from the herd.