MINI Roadster Cooper S review
by David Finlay (17 August 2012)
The choice of body styles available from MINI rose to six earlier this year with the introduction of the Roadster. It has a foldable roof, but is not to be confused with the much longer-established Convertible, which offers extra fresh air potential to customers who might otherwise have bought a MINI hatchback.
The Roadster is the open-topped version of the Coupé, and while it's very closely related to all other MINIs at a technical level it bears the closest resemblance to the Coupé in having only two seats and styling that could most neutrally be described as "distinctive".
Either you like it or you don't. Personally, I think MINI has a problem in that it has to keep creating different types of car (to ensure growth) while also making them all resemble the original hatchback to at least some degree (otherwise people won't think they're "real" MINIs). As the Countryman shows, this can have alarming results.
The Coupé and Roadster are better-looking than the Countryman, but that isn't saying much, and I can't help wondering - rather wistfully, if I'm honest - what the designers would have come up with if they hadn't had to incorporate the MINI "face" into body styles which it doesn't seem to suit.
It's possible that this has turned me against the Roadster to some extent. I'm certainly grumpier on the subject than Sue Baker, who was very enthusiastic about the range as a whole in her launch report and singled out the Cooper S reviewed individually here for special mention.
Sue wanted fun from this car, and she got it, and I can see why. If you want something distinctive and you like wafting around in it knowing that hard acceleration is available if you require it, then fine. If you want a driver's car, there are plenty of MINIs that will suit you. It's just that this isn't one of them.
The MINI press material includes reference to "a torsionally rigid body", and of course every manufacturer who cuts the roof off a previously-roofed car is going to put some effort into reassuring everyone that much work has been done to regain lost structural strength. But the Roadster suffers quite noticeably from scuttle shake (the industry term for "rattling when you go over a bump"), and on some corners - usually ones where the exit was higher or lower than the entry - I found that body flex seemed to be having a large part to play in how the car handled.
Perhaps I was expecting too much. But the 184bhp 1.6-litre twin turbo petrol engine in the Cooper S provides impressive straightline performance, and that leads to expectations which the car can't fulfill when it's going round bends. I could understand this in an American muscle car, but how odd to find it in a MINI.
All of this applies whether the roof is up or down, since it's made of fabric and therefore doesn't contribute to the strength of the body. It also allows quite a lot of noise into the cabin, which you may find a) annoying or b) part of the convertible experience. On the plus side, all you have to do to fold it down is unlock it and then press a button, and the compartment in which it's stored isn't part of the boot so luggage space remains at a useful 240 litres in either configuration.
The list price for the Cooper S is £20,905, but MINI buyers traditionally spend a lot on optional extras. The most celebrated is the Chili Pack, which costs £1975 and offers several things which the Roadster would feel underdressed without. The Pack includes 205/45 tyres on 17" wheels (an alternative to the standard 195/55s on 16s), an upgrade from manual to automatic air-conditioning, a "basic" Bluetooth function, bi-xenon headlights, cloth/leather upholstery, front foglights, sports seats, a trip computer, a storage compartment pack and, for those alfresco moments, a wind deflector mounted between the two roll hoops behind the passengers' heads.
If you want satellite navigation, it's available as part of the £1120 Media Pack, and the test car also had seat heating at £215, a Harmon Kardon audio system at £550, a leather-trimmed dashboard at £805 and, for a further £45, a First Aid kit and warning triangle which could surely have been included as standard.