Mini roadster SD
A soft-top that's swift enough for British weather
Engine capacity: 2.0-litre turbo diesel
Power output (bhp @ rpm): 141 @ 4,000
Top speed (mph): 132
0-62 mph (seconds): 8.1
Fuel economy (mpg): 62.8
CO2 emissions (g/km): 118
Testing a two-seater convertible during the wettest April since records began is a tricky affair. There's a patch of sunshine poking through the cloud, my passenger cries. The roof goes down to catch some rays while anoraks and heated seats go on to battle the late spring chill in the air. Seconds later the first splats of rain come down and the roof's back up. Repeating this tiresome process every 20 minutes or so does at least give me plenty of chances to test the most important feature of the Roadster... its roof.
There's little more important in a British convertible than the ease-of-use of its soft top and the new Mini Roadster doesn't disappoint – just pop the lid, push the button and as long as you're not travelling faster than 20mph it will be up (or down) before a passing rain shower leaves you dripping. Ideal then, for the lacklustre British weather and perfect for the buyer who likes to be seen bombing around of a summer weekend.
With the roof down, an extrovert design, bright bonnet stripes and a retractable spoiler, you are bound to get noticed. Add the sports pack (£1,195) for an aggressive front bumper, side sill and multi-spoke 17-inch alloys and you'll really stand out. Not everyone will like its slightly squashed look, but it's certainly prettier than the rest of the over-inflated cars in the Mini stable. I'm obviously in a minority when it comes to Mini design, though – the company is soaring up the sales charts, with six models on sale and 200,000 cars a year now rolling off its Oxfordshire production line.
It's on the road where the Roadster is really judged, though, and here it's a real joy to push along country lanes with the top down. It has a real sense of fun and the car's direct steering has just the right amount of feel and feedback to get really involved. My test model was the diesel SD (expected to account for around 20 per cent of sales) and while I'd rather have the racier (and far more popular) Cooper S, it didn't disappoint as much as I expected. Offering a sweet blend of pace and economy and lots of mid-range torque, it is a fun car to drive. And Mini hasn't ruined it with an insufferable ride, either.
Thanks to that comfortable ride and a few other neat tricks, the Roadster SD is actually quite practical, too. Yes, there are no rear seats, but the boot is bigger than the standard hard-top and the fuel economy and emissions are impressive.
It's an odd blend as a diesel, though. My head says yes, but my heart still longs for the raspy throttle and excitement of the Cooper S. Its sports stripe and rear spoiler – either a neat styling trick or a man's willy-waving device – scream sports car, but its practical diesel engine is just a little too pedestrian. True, its unique blend of performance and economy will attract some, but for most buyers the Roadster will be a second car, so why rate practicality over performance? If I'm going to spend most of my weekend slowing down to open and close a soft-top roof, I'd at least like to be able to really let rip the rest of the time.
There isn't really a diesel rival, but the excellent Mazda MX-5 offers rear-wheel drive fun for dedicated petrolheads. The trade-off is higher running costs.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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