It’s a bit harsh, but I’ve been accused of driving a hairdresser’s car. What, me? In my MINI Roadster? What exactly is a hairdresser’s car anyway? It could be defined as a car that appeals to women first, followed closely by image-conscious men, but is that such a bad thing? And should it stop a man like me from enjoying a car like this?
Let’s face it, ever since the new MINI arrived in 2001, it’s been favoured by the fairer sex. At the press launch of the Roadster last year, MINI execs were keen to point out that the ‘macho’ newcomer was designed to shift that more towards red-blooded males, but they weren’t fooling anyone. And as our straw poll of the public – taken on the streets of fashionable East London – shows, it’s obvious how this car is perceived.
But everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and this is where I stand: I’m a big fan. Okay, so driving a two-seater sports car carries some stigma, but the Roadster’s chunky looks are definitely growing on me, especially with the JCW bodykit, racing stripes and big wheels. As I’ve said before, I think the two-seater layout with a bigger boot is a more efficient use of the space available than the MINI Convertible, with its tiny boot and cramped rear seats.
There are a few issues, though, and the first is refinement. With the roof up, the Roadster is a far cry from the Coupe. It’s a good thing we have the top-spec Harman Kardon stereo fitted, because with all the wind and tyre noise at motorway speeds, we wouldn’t be able to hear the radio. And although our Cooper S isn’t even the firmest model in the range (that’s the JCW Roadster), the suspension is fairly unforgiving over imperfections in the road.
There are other niggles, too. Build quality is generally top-notch, as you’d expect from a BMW-engineered product, but the passenger seatbelt tends to knock against the door if you’re driving alone – I’ve taken to fastening it across the seat when it’s not in use.
Then there’s the rear spoiler, which pops up automatically above 50mph. While it’s a neat touch, it blocks the bottom third of your already narrow view out the back. The multispoke alloy wheels look fantastic, yet they’re a nightmare to clean, while the manual hood release is a bit of a chore – you twist the handle and give a firm push upwards before the motors take over.
So the Roadster hasn’t got the same impeccable refinement as an Audi TT, and the ergonomics aren’t perfect, but none of that bothers me as much as it should. The overriding sensation when I’m driving is a great feeling of connection to the car and the road – something that’s rare these days.
All the major controls – the steering, gearchange, brakes and throttle – have a wonderful mechanical precision to them that reeks of obsessive engineering. But there’s character here, too. I can’t drive to the end of the road without selecting Sport mode and listening to the pops and bangs from the exhaust on the overrun. And why anyone would go for the overpriced JCW version when the Cooper S feels just as quick as this is frankly beyond me.
It will be interesting to see how the Roadster copes with winter, but for now we’re enjoying every minute of our time with it, whatever other people say.
“The Roadster is fun but flawed. Refinement is poor and on bumpy roads the handling can be wayward. Yet it’s hard to ignore the car’s strong performance, burbling soundtrack and razor-sharp responses.”
Luke Madden, Deputy news editor
“I’ve been cruel about recent models from MINI, but this one makes sense. It looks good and BMW has obviously put a lot of thought into the packaging and price.”
sgtgrash, via www.autoexpress.co.uk
“I like the MINI, but I’d have to get it in black. I’ve got a Brabus Smart car, which isn’t the most manly thing, though.”
Koran Ismail, 18, Assistant, Jack the Clipper
“It’s definitely a girl’s car. The only boy I could see driving this is an Essex boy.”
Lily Kay, 24, Event business manager
“I think it’s a great-looking car. I wouldn’t buy one, though – maybe my girlfriend would.”
Ivan Ivanov, 35, Hairdresser