Posted Aug 31st 2012 2:15PM
A few years back, we proclaimed that the MINI Cooper S JCW was one of the greatest front wheel drive cars of all time. The Cooper S had just switched to turbo and was breathed on by JCW, resulting in one memorable drive. Since we had experience with some FWD legends of years past like the Acura Integra TypeR & GS-R, Sentra SE-R and the Civic SiR it would be quite a task for a heavy and complex vehicle of today to join that club. MINI has perpetually been hard at work refining their initial vehicle offerings to set them apart and as we have seen in recent years, they are increasing the level of intensity once again.
Our visit to MINI Canada headquarters gave us an interesting glimpse into the future of the brand. MINI brass outlined a road map to develop products for a wider market at different stages of life. When MINI debuted back in 2002, we honestly had no idea it would progress past a two or three model boutique brand. MINI is on a charge to make all kinds of derivatives and this latest iteration is the Roadster. While we are still grasping at why buyers would opt for a MINI Coupé with its two less seats and low roofline to get marginal performance gains, the 2-seater open-top car we totally get. With that, it was time to hit the road and check out what the Roadster was really capable of in our hands.
Related Gallery2012 Mini Cooper S Roadster
One of the challenges designers and engineers have when making a widely
accepted silhouette into a convertible is how to not make it look goofy.
One of the challenges designers and engineers have when making a widely accepted silhouette into a convertible is how to not make it look goofy. Making it operate is one thing but you don't want to turn buyers off by having a top that smacks of your big brother trying to cram on one of your tiny baseball caps. We think MINI did a proper job here with a gradual swooping rear section and vast glass rear window. The top is of high quality, keeps the noise out effectively and the manual operation is smooth and fast as we tested throughout the day. MINI also integrated a fun 'top-o-meter' showing how many hours the top has been down and they say owners have contests to out-drop each other.
Top down, the lines work for us better than that of the MINI Convertible. Without the extra seats, headrests, seatbelts and occupants, the Roadster has more room for storage, muscular rear haunches and dramatic chrome roll bars. The extra space also allows for one of our favorite features, the active rear wing. At 80 km/h the flush mounted wing pops up to stabilize the rear end of the Roadster (also in the Coupé as well) which is a welcome addition.
As an added bonus our Cooper S was popping off gurgling backfires
all day and as car guys, we just couldn't get enough of that.
At the heart of the Cooper S line is the fiery 1.6L turbo four. This ideal powerplant runs a lofty 10.5:1 compression but the premium gas allows it to churn out 181 hp at 5,500 rpm and a usable 177 lb-ft of grunt that comes on at 1,600 rpm. This mill has no issues pushing around a modest 1,245 kg (2,739-pounds) of MINI steel. The motor seems eager at lower rpms and begs to be pushed further and we did just that to keep up with our cruise leader, a BMW Canada veteran who like to exercise the car's capabilities. While the acceleration is not mindbending, going to 100 km/h certainly feels faster than the claimed 7.1s but then again, it was a chilly 19°C day meaning extra horsepower for these turbo MINIs. As an added bonus our Cooper S was popping off gurgling backfires all day and as car guys, we just couldn't get enough of that.
We drove the manual transmission for the day since there is a slight performance edge with less drag and less weight. The clutch has a decent amount of pressure and the 6-speed shifting mechanism was both positive and comfortable. When we turned the DSC off, the MINI would light up those fronts but could also really bite in to the pavement if you didn't mash the go pedal thanks to tuned suspension of the Sport Package our car came with.
The MINI bloodlines have guaranteed a solid handling car with
its low curbweight and wheels on all four corners of the vehicle.
The MINI bloodlines have guaranteed a solid handling car with its low curbweight and wheels on all four corners of the vehicle. Being a CooperS with the Sport Package ($990) we weren't expecting a plush ride, you can feel the road but to us, the way the interior wraps around the driver and the seats suck occupants in, so the ride was just fine. The Sport Package also comes with Dynamic Traction Control and the 17-inch conical wheels making this option a great value.
In the turns the Roadster bit down hard and didn't want to understeer, we could feel the rear end staying involved thought the corner. The Roadster is a joy to toss around, would we like a lighter curbweight? Yes, of course but buyers want well equipped cars and the Roadster delivers on that yet is still under 3000-pounds. The braking inspires confidence and we did not feel any form of fade on our spirited drive around the Kawarthas region of Ontario. But as we hinted, you don't need to tap the brakes much to get around the twisties fast either.
The beautiful toffee-coloured lounge leather (heated of course) was a $1,900
spend but they are some comfortable thrones if you can part with the cash.
The car has modest amount of road and wind noise but the insulated top is both quiet and warm for the winter months. The beautiful toffee-coloured lounge leather (heated of course) was a $1,900 spend but they are some comfortable thrones if you can part with the cash. The same unorthodox MINI controls, knobs and switches are everywhere and we are only proficient with them since we have driven a lot of MINI product. But for everyone else they need a magnifying glass to tell what switch on the centre console is which... or was that on the roof console?
The classic monster speedo is something that is here to stay but cramming all of the information into one tiny strip of orange characters at the bottom could use a refresh. The interior is still youthful and hip but we had to ask ourselves what was going on with the fake carbon fibre door inserts? From our perspective, make it real carbon fibre or something altogether different.
The Harmon Kardon sound system, part of the $1,290 Entertainment Package was on point in our books and sounds fantastic even with the top down doing triple digit speeds. The package also includes SIRIUS satellite and media connect but the Bluetooth is included in the base model.
Along with the $1,250 Premium Package, our tester started to creep up there and final bill was $38,820 coming in at almost $6-grand over the base price of $32,900. For the base Cooper Roadster with the 122 hp NA motor, you'll be looking at $28,900 which includes all of the open top motoring shenanigans better but with far less zip. However the economy is very similar with the Cooper S and if you aren't in boost all of time you'll get some decent mileage with 7.6L/100km in the city and a remarkable 5.6L/100km on the highway.
When it comes to having a grasp on a younger demographic
of hip urban dwellers, MINI has it on lock.
When it comes to having a grasp on a younger demographic of hip urban dwellers, MINI has it on lock. Although the diversification of the line came as a bit of a shock, the explanation given of offering a product for brand loyalists as they got older, makes sense. Kind of a start with us, stay with us mentality. We're not engineers but believe it would have been ideal had MINI designed this car with a retractable hardtop. There are obvious benefits for noise, safety and comfort (along with a loss of trunk space) but it would have completely negated the need and expense to release the Coupé. A car, which of the two will lose to the Roadster in the sales department.
We have some time scheduled to crank out all of the JCW models from MINI at Mosport next week. We'll see how they stack up against that first magical driving experience and the various Cooper S versions.
Image Credit: Copyright 2012 Dave Pankew / AOL