Compared to the first BMW-MINI introduced in 2001, the current generation is marginally larger and largely similar in looks, but more importantly, the second-gen chassis has been engineered to adapt to different derivatives. It marked the beginning of a whole new family of MINIs.
Late last year, a Coupe with a funky roof, more steeply raked windscreen and just a pair of seats joined the range. A soft-top version of this model is the latest MINI, simply called Roadster.
Not to be confused with the MINI Cabriolet, the Roadster is a pure two-seater. As strange as it may sound, this configuration actually makes it more practical than the cabrio. This is because with the token rear seats out of the way, the Roadster was given a boot big enough to hold luggage for two.
Compared to the Cabriolet’s meagre 85-litre cargo capacity (without folding the rear seats), the Roadster’s is nearly three times as voluminous at 240 litres. To put this into perspective, a full-size Samsonite suitcase is roughly 120 litres.
Externally, the Roadster has a shallower windscreen and, unlike any of the other MINIs, a notchback rear. With its fabric roof up, the Roadster looks neat and suffers none of the Coupe’s design fussiness. Folding the straightforward soft-top (something the driver or passenger can easily do while seated in the car), it tucks tidily into its cubby just behind the seats.
The Roadster’s “MINI” dimensions mean it is short from bumper to bumper, with minimal overhangs, and it therefore lacks the flowing elegance of classically shaped roadsters such as the Mazda MX-5. But this is precisely what gives this vehicle its unique character.
Unsurprisingly, the Roadster shares its chassis, suspension and drivetrain with the Coupe and the Hatch. In Cooper S state of tune as tested, the 184bhp 1.6-litre twin-scroll turbo engine offers the kind of get-up-and-go performance you would expect from a sporty, compact two-seater.
There is no perceptible turbo lag, and the healthy mid-range energy (240Nm of torque overboosted to 260Nm between 1730rpm and 4500rpm) is so easily accessible that driving this car quickly takes little effort.
Standard transmission is the same 6-speed manual found in other Cooper S MINIs. It is a slick-shifting ’box, if a little long in the throws. A stop-start function shuts down the engine at traffic light halts if the gear lever is moved to neutral, and restarts the engine when the clutch pedal is depressed. With the manual gearbox, the system works unobtrusively.
Structural modifications to the Coupe body on which the Roadster is based include stouter A-pillars and the addition of roll-over bars (those shiny stainless steel hoops), tied-in to the chassis. All in the name of maintaining a high level of structural rigidity.
The Roadster’s driving behaviour is every bit the Cooper S we have come to respect. Body rigidity is indeed exceptional for a convertible, but some amount of scuttle shake inevitably comes through, especially over very poor road surfaces. It is also under these conditions that the ride gets rough and choppy.
But the Cooper S Roadster excels everywhere else, providing true entertainment with its powerful brakes, precise steering and stupendous agility. Even when bad road surfaces do cause the situation to get untidy, the Roadster’s response to steering wheel input (electrically powered, by the way) is so instant and accurate that its dynamic stability is never in doubt.
So, the Roadster has turned out to be a “mightier” Mini than the Cabriolet. The MINI Coupe may have an edge in outright handling, but apart from the strange styling, it has little to offer over the standard three-door MINI.
The Roadster, on the other hand, takes the two-seater theme a step in the right direction by offering a decent boot and the versatility of open-top motoring, while adding to the already ample driving fun.
MINI Cooper S Roadster 1.6
Engine 1598cc, 16-valves, inline-4, turbocharged
Max power 184bhp at 5500rpm
Max torque 240Nm at 1600-5000rpm
Gearbox 6-speed manual
0-100km/h 7 seconds
Top speed 227km/h
Consumption 16.7km/L (combined)
Check out the 2018 MINI Convertible