Mini Cooper S Roadster
Friday 20 April 2012
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol, turbocharged
Transmission: six-speed manual
Power: 184 PS
Torque: 240 Nm between 1,600 and 5,000 rpm
Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 47.1 mpg
CO2 emissions: 139 g/km
Top speed: 141 mph
Acceleration (0-62 mph): 7.0 seconds
Just when it looked as though BMW had run out of ideas for future Mini variants, it came up last year with the Coupé, a radical two-door, two-seat version with an unusual lowered helmet-like roof and steeply raked windscreen. Now, with summer approaching, the Coupé gets an open-topped counterpart, the Roadster.
The two new cars are pretty much the same as the standard Mini under the skin but in one respect at least, they reflect a certain boldness on BMW’s part. Ever since the company reinvented the Mini back in 2001, it has tended to follow quite closely the template set by the 1959 original in terms of body styles and model names but the Coupé and the Roadster have no real historical precedents. The last time BMW tried to extend the Mini envelope in this way with the larger Countryman, it produced a mixed response (that’s “mixed” as in motoring journalists didn’t really like it while customers fell in love with the thing and are buying it in huge numbers) but everyone seems to love the Coupé and the Roadster.
That’s because although they don’t follow a traditional Mini body style, they score very highly in terms of the core Mini trait of packing a lot of fun into a small, visually appealing package, and, of the two, it is probably the Roadster, which looks very attractive indeed in roof-down mode, that probably has the edge.
And this is where a bit of magic comes in. The Roadster’s bonnet conceals the same engines as you’d find in a normal Mini hatchback, and the air that you breathe with the top down is no fresher than the air that you’d breathe in a standard Mini Convertible but the new car feels altogether cheekier and sportier in character – in short, more special. That’s probably partly because of the Roadster’s packaging, which closely follows that of the Coupé. These cars make no pretence at providing a back seat and they are better for it. The driver and passenger have a bit more room to stretch, and the space that would otherwise be sacrificed to provide a tiny rear seat that nobody would ever sit in can be given over to luggage, making the Roadster ideal for weekend trips. The Roadster’s much more steeply raked windscreen provides quite an important contribution to that sporty feel as well.
At first sight, the interiors of the high-end Roadsters I drove seemed to be a slightly awkward mélange of competing traditional British automotive cabin styles, with a characteristic Mini centrally-mounted “dinner-plate” speedometer jostling for attention with 1960s Cortina-style eyeball vents, Bentleyesque leather and distinctly Rover-y seats. After a few minutes, though, it all seems to come together and I’d actually rate the Roadster’s interior as one of its strong points.
Out on the road, like all of the smaller Mini models, the Roadster is excellent. I tried the 143 horsepower 2.0-litre SD turbodiesel and the 184 horsepower 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol Cooper S, and both provided strong performance over the excellent twisty and hilly Cotswold test routes BMW laid on to show off the new car’s abilities. The diesel impresses with its superior mid-range torque, economy and distinctly undieselly refinement but the petrol Cooper S has a stronger initial bite when you put your foot down. That suits the character of the Roadster particularly well. Dynamically, it is a known quantity, providing a strong reminder of how just how good the Mini’s chassis behaviour is, rather than moving the game on in any significant way.
I also tried BMW’s Mini Connected app which allows you to link your car to your iPhone in order to keep up with Facebook and Twitter, listen to Internet radio stations and (while stationary) watch video, all via the optional screen set into the Mini’s large central instrument dial and the in-car speakers. Another feature is that you can export destination addresses that you have previously researched via Google Maps to the car’s sat-nav, rather than faffing around entering them manually. It all works rather well. Minis now also have DAB radios and I found that reception of the main national BBC and commercial stations in the Cotswolds was for the most part pretty good.
Bloated Countryman apart, Minis are always fun – and the Roadster provides more fun than all the rest.
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