2012 MINI ROADSTER REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Small convertible
Price: $55,100 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy (claimed): 7.3 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 8.1 l/100km
The John Cooper Works Roadster is pretty much MINI’s hyperactive wild-child - primed to the gills with energy drink.
It’s absolutely ‘wired’. No matter how hard you try to quieten it down and behave... well, there’s just too much fun to be had.
That might explain why I found myself careening along the highway, top down, in 7°C weather, bucketing with rain, on my way to the snow. Yeah - John Cooper made me do it!
And, even though MINI already has a perfectly willing drop-top in its line-up with the four-seat Cabrio, that didn’t stop them from taking a gas-axe to the quirky two-seater Coupe.
The result is an out-of-the-box belter, custom built for hedonists.
Quality: The Roadster cabin is, like the rest of the MINI range, a fairly well assembled piece. Cabin plastics are high grade, there’s a rich look with lots of chunky chrome detailing and a satisfying solidity to everything.
We found a couple of niggles in the Coupe we tested recently, but, besides signs of stretching on the perforated leather of the seat base, everything held up well in our use and was rattle and squeak free.
Top up, there’s no lining to hide the folding roof mechanism, but it is all neat and tidy under there.
Comfort: Perched under the canvas roof, the MINI Roadster offers fair space for two. The seating is firm, but cleverly shaped - it’s easy to find that perfect position, even after hours at the wheel.
With the top up, staying warm and dry is no problem. And with a quick turn on the release-handle the roof can be stashed away single-handedly by the driver or passenger in a matter of seconds.
Windows up, and wind-blocker in place, maintaining a conversation at freeway speeds is no bother. The driver is treated to air vents that exit right at the hands for added heating or cooling, and the only breezy bit is behind occupant’s heads (nothing get too buffeted).
Equipment: MINI offers extensive trips down the options list should you be so inclined.
Standard equipment though is pretty good, starting with a ten-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system with CD/MP3 playback and USB and aux inputs, Bluetooth telephone and audio, partial leather sports seats, a leather trimmed multi-function wheel and a leather gear shifter.
There's also bi-Xenon headlamps, front and rear foglamps, dusk-sensing headlamps and auto-wipers, cruise control, illuminated sunvisors, sports suspension and JCW-specific 17-inch alloy wheels.
Storage: The Roadster scores 240 litres of boot space with the roof up or down, that’s just 40 litres less than the Coupe, but a handy 80 litres larger than a MINI hatch. There’s also a fold-through panel between the seats for carting long items.
Inside the cabin, there’s plentiful space behind the seats for backpacks and the like. The glovebox is lockable and offers a bit of room, but that’s about as far as it goes.
Otherwise, there are only slim door pockets and a small open space at the base of the centre stack for oddments storage.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: From the outside it’s only a tiddler, so knowing that MINI has packed its most potent engine into it can only mean good things for the JCW Roadster.
That engine punches out 155kW of power at 6000rpm and 260Nm of torque - on tap from 1850rpm all the way to 5600rpm. There’s also an extra 20Nm overboost available in short bursts for maximum attack.
There’s no place in the rev range where the engine feels short-changed. The JCW will pull like mad away from the line or when powering out of corners, even in taller gears. There is nowhere it feels limp or wanting.
For swift overtaking, dropping a gear or two and burying the foot awakens the overboost feature. The extra 20Nm probably isn’t strictly necessary, but it is certainly confidence inspiring.
Sorting that oomph out is no chore through the six-speed manual gearbox. The action isn’t quite as precise as the likes of a Mazda MX-5, but the lever has a comfortable throw and a nice robust feel.
Refinement: Once you take the roof off a car it opens a can of worms for refinement, but MINI has managed to put everything together in such a way that vibrations and harshness are mostly kept at bay. As much as the Coupe and Hatch at least.
But you still get to feel the throb of the engine at work, which is no bad thing.
There is plenty of noise, some of it is good, like the exhaust noise that seeps through the canvas top, but there’s also plenty of tyre shear at speed on coarse chip road surfaces.
Suspension: The suspension setup of the MINI John Cooper Works is, as you’d imagine for a sporty model, fairly stiff. Surprisingly, the ride isn’t too brittle, but you’ll notice every join in the tarmac or catseye you run over.
Fully independent suspension ensures fantastic levels of grip. The MINI Roadster darts about with the same eager turn-in as its fixed roof counterparts.
Braking: Four-wheel disc brakes with ventilated front rotors are well and truly up to the task of pulling the John Cooper Works up strongly. The braking ability is a good match to the performance of the JCW engine.
ANCAP rating: Not tested
Safety features: Dual front and thorax airbags, ESP, EBD, brake assist, ASC+T traction and stability control, corner braking control, load-limiting seat belt pretensioners. There’s active rollover protection hoops behind the rear headrest and additional strengthening built into the rear bulkhead.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years, unlimited kilometres.
Service costs: Service costs may vary, consult your MINI dealer before purchase.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Mazda MX-5 Touring Softtop ($44,265) - Mazda offers the spiritual equal to MINI’s two-place ragtop, but does so with a considerable power and torque deficit. Mazda has focused on keeping weight low and handling exciting.
On the right stretch of road the Mazda won’t be as quick, but remains a benchmark for sublimely-balanced sportscar handling. (See MX-5 reviews)
Audi A3 TFSI Ambition Convertible ($57,750) - While you have to muster up more coin to get into the A3, there’s two extra seats (then again there’s two more seats in a MINI Cabrio too) as well as a few extra little luxuries.
On the road the A3 isn’t quite as athletic, and is certainly more staid to look at, which might be just the thing for some. (See A3 reviews)
Fiat 500C Abarth Esseesse ($38,990) - It has retro appeal, feisty looks and a rorty engine to bring the fight to the MINI Roadster, but this chic Fiat is tempered by an automated manual transmission that isn’t exactly the enthusiast’s choice.
There isn’t as much ‘wind in the hair’ due the the 500C being more of a big sunroof than a true cabriolet, but there’s room for four, albeit tight, and plenty of fun to be had behind the wheel. (see 500 reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Despite already having a perfectly capable cabrio in its range, MINI gives us this riotous less-is-more Roadster. Less seats, more cargo space, and buckets of fun.
Some will find the price of entry a hurdle, it’s getting up there, but this car is unique. It’s one for extroverts - a bit mad - people who wouldn’t find that topless trip to the snow such an odd thing to do.
Among the convertible classes, the Roadster is at the top of the pile for driver enjoyment: you just can’t ignore that cracking engine and kart-like handling.
With all the John Cooper Works kit, this MINI Roadster is no shrinking violet. If you’re worried what the neighbours might think, then this one isn’t for you. But for a good time, give MINI a call.
- MINI Cooper S Coupe - $42,990 (+ $2350 for auto transmission)
- MINI Cooper S Roadster - $45,500 (+ $2350 for auto transmission)
- MINI Cooper JCW Coupe - $52,600 (no auto)
- MINI Cooper JCW Roadster - $55,100 (no auto)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price (unless otherwise noted) and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
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