The Roadster is a two-seat droptop aimed at buyers seeking a lighter, more focused open-air ride than the four-seat Convertible. Like other MINI models, it's focused less on outright power than on nimble handling dynamics. Three models are offered: the 121-horsepower Cooper, the 181-horsepower Cooper S and the 208-horsepower John Cooper Works.
The Roadster is heavily based on the Coupe, which in turn borrows handling-enhancing components such as rigid, reinforced rocker sills from the Convertible. This convoluted lineage essentially means that the Roadster and Convertible models share most of their major mechanical bits, yet MINI says the Roadster is different thanks to an emphasis on performance and style over practicality.
Like all Roadsters, the Roadster is distinguished from its drop-top kin by a more steeply raked windshield, a 0.9-inch lower roof and structural bracing (and storage space for the convertible top) where the rear seats would be in the normal Convertible. The top is a lightweight unit that can be raised or lowered manually, a task made easier by button-activated pneumatic springs that release the top from its stowage well and bring it into a more easily reachable position.
Unlike the multiple contrasting-color roof options for its Coupe sibling, the Roadster's top comes only in black. From the waist down, the car looks like a normal Coupe model, but the steeply sloping convertible top and stubby trunk set it apart.
Truncated though it may be, the trunk is capable of holding a useful 8.5 cubic feet of cargo whether the top is up or down, and its usefulness is extended by a pass-through feature that allows the storage of long items such as skies. The passenger compartment utilizes the traditionally quirky Mini control and instrumentation layout, with an enormous speedometer in the center of the dash and a steering-column mounted tachometer. In keeping with the nature of the car, sport seats are fitted as standard.
While many sporty cars can only claim to have go-kart-like handling, the Roadster delivers on the promise: the short wheelbase ensures extremely rapid direction changes, the steering is quick and communicative and the chassis provides a good ride and handling compromise. Helping the car's moves is a spoiler built into the tailgate that automatically raises above 50 mph to provide up to 88 pounds of extra downforce.
Cooper and Cooper S
Under the hood of the Cooper Roadster is a 1.6-liter inline-four cylinder that sports parent company BMW's flexible VALVETRONIC variable valve timing technology and produces 121 horsepower and 118 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 revs. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed automatic is available as an option.
Fuel economy is rated at 27 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway, regardless of which gearbox is spec'd.
The Cooper S is powered by a turbocharged version of the Cooper's mill that produces 181 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque at 1,600-5,000 revs (192 lb-ft in overboost mode).
According to the EPA, the Cooper S is good for 27 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway with the stick, while the automatic-equipped model returns 27/34 mpg.
John Cooper Works
After pioneering the superior-handling mid-engined layout and enjoying great success in the prestigious Formula One racing series, British racing driver and designer John Cooper turned his attention to transforming the original Mini into a performance machine. The resulting car, known as the Mini Cooper S, enjoyed a string of dominant performances at the Monte Carlo Rally in the mid-1960s, cementing Cooper's status as a racing legend.
Today MINI pays homage to Cooper with the MINI John Cooper Works models, which are the high-performance range-topping vehicles in the automaker's lineup.
True to its heritage, the JCW Roadster is a pure-bred performance car. It features an aerodynamic body kit, upgraded Brembo brakes and a version of the Cooper S' turbocharged 1.6-liter four that's tuned for 208 horsepower. The twin-scroll turbocharger helps the 1.6-liter engine churn out 192 pound-feet of torque under normal driving. An overboost function allows the JCW to eke out an additional 16 lb-ft for a total of 207.
While a six-speed manual was once the only transmission option for the JCW, MINI recently added a six-speed automatic to the options lists to appeal to clutch-averse buyers.
MINI also recently reworked the JCW's engine to achieve improved fuel economy; the result is an impressive 26 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway for the stick-shifted model, while opting for the automatic dings highway mileage by one mpg.
Standard and Optional Features
Befitting the brand's quasi-premium intentions, the Cooper Roadster features a healthy list of standard equipment including speed-sensitive power steering, electrically adjustable exterior mirrors, height-adjustable seats, leatherette upholstery, air conditioning and a six-speaker audio system with MP3-compatible CD player and AUX IN connection. Bluetooth connectivity is newly standard for the latest model year.
Options include park distance control, adaptive headlights, comfort access, automatic climate control, automatically dimming rear-view mirror and exterior mirrors, Harman Kardon hi-fi loudspeaker system, a navigation system, and MINI Connected, which has features like web radio, Google services, RSS news feeds, Mission Control, and in-car use of Facebook and Twitter.
Additionally, a wide variety of racing stripes, graphics and unique upholstery options are available for customers desirous of additional personalization.
In the event of a collision, the Cooper Roadster comes equipped with dual front and head-thorax airbags, which are integrated into the sides of the seat backrests and protect the head, upper body and hip area from injury in the event of a side impact. In the event of a rollover, the car comes prepared with an extremely rigid windscreen frame and polished stainless steel roll-over bars that protect occupants' heads.
Helping to prevent a crash in the first place are traction and stability control systems as well as ABS and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
The only drop-top close to the Cooper Roadster in price and size is the Mazda MX-5 Miata; for a bit more coin, the Ford Mustang Convertible and Chevrolet Camaro Convertible provide much more power and space but can't match the agility of the MINI.
Simiarly, the performance-focused Cooper S and John Cooper Works models don't have any direct rivals, but the V8-powered Ford Mustang GT Convertible and Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible are similar in price.