The new MINI Roadster looks awesome and handles great. But will the cool kids we willing to live with its hard ride and noticeable scuttle shake?What is it?
Basically what you’re looking at here is a MINI Coupé with a convertible roof. Like its tin-topped brother the Roadster only seats two and is currently available in three different model derivatives: a normally aspirated 1.6 Cooper, turbocharged Cooper S and the heavily modified John Cooper Works (JCW). Unlike the MINI Cabriolet, the Roadster comes standard with a manually operated roof that needs to be put into the desired position by hand. An semi-automated version will soon be available as an option.
How does it look?
With its high shoulder line and aggressively raked windscreen, the MINI Roadster is one attractive piece of automotive eye candy. The JCW version looks particularly tasty with its aggressive, wind-cheating body kit and arch-filling 17-inch alloy wheels. But even the lesser models stand out from the roadster crowd what with their bright chrome rollover hoops and active rear spoilers that deploy at speeds above 80km/h. Overall it’s a slightly more manly alternative to the MINI Cabriolet which, if we’re being honest, should only ever be driven by buxom members of the fairer sex.
What’s it like to drive?
Not as good as I was expecting it to be. And this is simply down to a surprisingly high level of scuttle-shake – chassis flex caused when one removes a car’s conventional metal roof and substitutes it for canvas. Some convertibles, like the new VW Golf VI Cabriolet, aren’t seriously afflicted by this phenomenon but the Roadster quivers and quavers like jelly on a plate. Exacerbated by the ultra hard, sports-orientated suspension setup, this all makes the latest cloth-topped MINI a rather uncomfortable thing to pilot – particularly on our rough South African tarmac. Sure, it handles very well on smoother sections of bitumen but most of the time you’re shaking up a storm.
Engine wise I’d suggest you avoid the entry-level Cooper model unless you are just in it for the pose factor. This normally aspirated mill works in the MINI hatch but here, in sporty Roadster specification, it seems way too underpowered for my liking. Even more frustrating, however, was the six-speed automatic transmission that spent its time hunting for the right gear – particularly when being hustled. Go for the manual.
Next up is the turbocharged Cooper S that provided just enough muscle to exploit the car’s handling potential and keep me from nodding off behind the wheel. It also made a glorious popping sound on the overrun – something that’s especially noticeable with the top down. But the pick of the bunch surely has to be the 155kW JCW. I drove it along Gordon’s Bay Drive was astonished by its sheer pace and eagerness to rev.
It also comes standard with MINI’s famed Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC) that – by keeping inside wheel spin firmly in check – gives you a little extra traction through tight, high-speed corners. On lesser models it’s available as an optional extra.
Any special features?
Well if you own an Apple iPhone and specify the optional MINI Visual Boost radio or MINI navigation system, you can then install something called MINI Connected. By hooking into your phone’s data stream, this allows you to tap into online resources like Google, Facebook and Twitter – all through the car’s 6.5-inch, high-resolution colour display. You can also access RSS news feeds and listen to Web radio stations.
Should you buy one?
Hmm, tough call this one. Although I do like the MINI Roadster’s styling and fine handling, I just don’t think I could live with its vision-blurring scuttle-shake and hard ride. With this in mind I’d probably be inclined to throw my money at a Mazda MX-5. It might not be able to match the MINI in terms of raw engine power and latent exhibitionism but it’s a much more rewarding and, indeed, better balanced alternative.
The Facts: MINI Roadster
Engine: 1598cc four-cylinder; 1598cc four-cylinder turbo (Cooper S and JCW)
Power: 90kW at 6000rpm (Cooper); 135kw at 5500rpm (Cooper S); 155kW at 6000rpm (JCW)
Torque: 160Nm at 4250rpm (Cooper); 260Nm at 1600rpm (Cooper S); 280Nm at 1850rpm (JCW)
0-100km/h: 9.2-seconds (Cooper); 7-seconds (Cooper S); 6.5-seconds (JCW)
Top speed: 199km/h (Cooper); 227km/h (Cooper S); 237km/h (JCW)
Fuel Consumption: 6.1l/100km (Cooper); 6.4l/100km (Cooper S); 7.3l/100km (JCW)
CO2: 142g/km (Cooper); 149g/km (Cooper S); 169g/km (JCW)
Price: From R295 000 (Cooper); R349 000 (Cooper S); R397 000 (JCW)
JCW is properly quick
Hard, wobbly ride
That anaemic 1.6 Cooper
we like it