MINI Roadster review
The MINI Roadster is a sportier version of the MINI Convertible to rival the Mazda MX-5
Essentially an open-air version of the MINI Coupe, the Roadster has been designed to offer enough style and dynamic flair to challenge the reigning class champion, the Mazda MX-5. The rear seats have been removed so the Roadster gets a bigger boot than the MINI Convertible, and the stiffer chassis means it’s sharper to drive, too – and to reflect that it’s only available in desirable Cooper form and above. Serious enthusiasts can opt for the rapid John Cooper Works version, which is extremely quick.
Our choice: Roadster Cooper S manual
The Roadster is unmistakable as anything other than a MINI. The round chrome-rimmed headlights, short bonnet and low stance are all part of the family DNA, but the windscreen is raked more steeply in the Roadster than in the Convertible, giving it a more aggressive look. Every Roadster gets alloy wheels as standard, but Cooper S versions also get the trademark bonnet scoop and twin chrome exhausts at the back. The interior design is identical to other MINIs, with an oversized speedo in the centre console, retro toggle switches and a low driving position.
There’s one diesel engine in the line-up and one petrol in three different states of tune. Kicking off the range is the 120bhp Cooper, followed by the turbocharged 182bhp Cooper S which feels very quick indeed, completing the 0-60mph sprint in just seven seconds. Enthusiasts can go for the 208bhp JCW, while those after economy can opt for the 141bhp Cooper SD. Every engine provides brisk performance, but the JCW can feel hard-edged on rough roads, with lots of feedback from the steering and a very harsh ride. The Roadster corners well, though, and the stiffer chassis means there’s no flex or movement in the bodywork like there is in the Convertible. The drop-top is also quite noisy inside, even with the roof raised, and squeaks and rattles can be heard from the mechanism on rough roads. Also, the unusual locations of items such as the fuel gauge and electric window switches can be confusing at first.
MINIs tend to very reliable, with hardly any problems reported by owners, and because the Roadster uses the same parts and engines as the rest of the range, there are unlikely to be any nasty surprises. Chrome roll hoops are standard and provide important protection if the car flips over in a crash, and although the MINI hasn’t yet been tested by safety body Euro NCAP, we’d expect it to be awarded the maximum five-star rating. Traction control, ABS and seat belt pre-tensioners are all fitted to every model as standard.
Like most two-seater sports cars, the MINI doesn’t exactly major on practicality, but because the rear seats have been removed, the boot is actually fairly reasonable. At 240 litres, it’s larger than most rivals’ – in fact it’s nearly 60 litres bigger than the load bay in the standard MINI hatch. The cloth roof folds neatly behind the headrests in less than 10 seconds, and does without a tonneau cover to save weight. Unlike in some convertibles, you have to unclip the roof by hand before you can stow it away. An optional load-though ski hatch is available, but it’s unlikely to be worth the money unless you actually plan on going skiing.
MINI uses engines and technology supplied by parent company BMW, so every Roadster is remarkably efficient. The Cooper SD diesel will return 62.8mpg and emits just 118g/km – superb figures for a sports car of this type. Even the Cooper S manages to return 47.1mpg – but those numbers fall rapidly if you go for the automatic gearbox. Other costs should be reasonable, and MINIs usually hold their value very well, but servicing can be expensive compared to rivals like the Mazda MX-5. Most versions are reasonably well equipped, but there is a lengthy list of option packs that can be added to personalize the Roadster to your own taste.