The MINI Cooper S Roadster is the latest addition to a family whose members all look like each other. Oh, sorry; since the Roadster was added to the lineup this summer, MINI has also introduced the Clubvan, the John Cooper Works Countryman and the Paceman.
It seems as though the brand is experimenting with gene-splicing in order to multiply the number of different models in their lineup. There are now seven Cooper models to choose from.
The 2012 MINI Cooper S Roadster is one of the family’s two droptops, yet it’s not just a two-seater version of the Cooper Convertible.
Manual folding top
The people at MINI told me that a power-folding roof would eventually be offered as an option. For now, however, we’re stuck folding down the roof ourselves, à la Mazda MX-5. It’s not a big deal, and apart from a little arm twisting, it’s relatively easy.
The 2012 MINI Cooper S Roadster adopts the Coupé’s shape, but replaces the huge glass hatch with a conventional trunk. It shares the Cooper hatch’s wheelbase, length and width as well, but somehow looks much smaller. Inside, claustrophobics be warned: While available space is pretty similar, less glass and a lower roofline will make you feel encapsulated. Needless to say, rearward visibility is not great, just like in the Convertible.
The rest of the cockpit is just like any other Cooper, with its giant centre stack speedometer, toggle switches and a design that emphasizes circular shapes. That’s good. On the other hand, hard plastics are to be found everywhere in the 2012 MINI Cooper S Roadster, which is tolerable at best but also easily forgotten once you get on your way.
Whichever Cooper you choose, you’ll discover what a fun-to-drive car it can be. Like a go-kart certified for the street, the Roadster turns on a dime thanks to its stiff little wheel and direct steering rack. You’ll feel like Mario (or Princess Peach, or even Yoshi) being chased by Bowser, and you’ll be looking for the spiked turtle-shell release button.
The 2012 MINI Cooper S Roadster can also go fast. Its turbocharged 1.6L 4-cylinder spits out 181 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque and sounds like a Chihuahua with rabies. With the standard 6-speed manual, it can zip to 100 km/h in 7.2 seconds.
While the Cooper S Roadster is a hoot to drive, when you’re into more relaxed driving, the car isn’t; it always pushes you to punch the throttle to feel that extra burst of speed, and the ride is stiff over less-than-smooth roads. At 100 km/h, the engine spins at 2,500 rpm and fills the cabin with a fair amount of noise.
Fuel economy, on the other hand, is pretty good. Despite our heavy right foot (the car asked for it), we managed 8.5L/100km. Oh, the car requires premium juice, by the way.
Roadster or Convertible?
Ah, the inevitable question. Since I have kids the answer is a no-brainer for me. In the MINI Cooper Convertible, you get a little more headroom and a standard power-folding top; the MINI Cooper Roadster gives you a little more trunk space (240 litres vs. 170), and costs about a grand less.
On looks alone, however, the stubby 2012 MINI Cooper Roadster gets the nod. Its smaller body flaunts a more athletic stance and clearly displays your selfishness by not having a back seat, just in case more than one of your friends might want to hitch a ride.
Worth every penny?
Hard to say. The MINI DNA we love so much is baked into every Cooper, even the base Classic hatchback that costs $23K. The extra power and equipment in the S models makes the cars more enjoyable, although a base 121-hp Cooper would suit me fine for the everyday commute.
Competitors include the Mazda MX-5, which is just as fun, and to a certain extent the Fiat 500 Cabrio, which isn’t nearly as fun, but just as cute.
As such, the 2012 MINI Cooper S Roadster starts at $32,900, while our tester includes Premium, Entertainment and Sport packages as well as Star Bullet alloys and Punch Leather seats, ringing the cash register at $38,670.
However, people don’t rationally buy MINIs. They buy them because they’re fun and they’re fashionable. They buy them because they’re different and because they have plenty of character. They buy them to show the world they have good taste.
At more than 38 large, though, you’re not getting a lot of car for the money; on the other hand, you’re also getting a brand to flaunt, like a Coach handbag or a pair of Adidas sneakers. You decide what’s best for your hard-earned cash or credit.
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