There is an old adage:“It is more fun to drive fast in a slow car than slow in a fast car.”What that really means is, we like driving at the threshold of a car’s capabilities.This is a far more enjoyable experience than driving a supercar at five miles per hour down a boulevard.The true driving enthusiast knows that in the right hands, a Kia can be more fun to drive then a Ferrari.
It is from this vantage that a car like the MINI Cooper S Roadster is enjoyed, using the best attributes of a small, nimble car, but with a power plant that turns this into one of the most enjoyable cars I have ever driven. Better than a BMW. Better than a Porsche.
Prepare to have your sensibilities rearranged.
MINI had been doing a little midnight snacking. Its Clubman and Countryman line seemed chunky and disappointing. But with the introduction of the MINI Cooper Coupe, all complaints came to an end. With no back seat and a tighter cockpit, this was the first ever two-seat MINI. The follow-up, this MINI Cooper S Roadster is a quirky droptop placed on the planet by the Car Gods to show others how fun driving a small car can be.
The Roadster looks like something a child would scribble if you asked him/her to draw a sports car. Bulbous curves, a sloped windshield, and a stubby rear end. It almost doesn’t look like a real car— more like Benn, the talking cab, from“Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”
The most fascinating feature of the Roadster is its fully manual cloth top, with no power assist. Just about any driver can operate the top, which can be opened by hand, while still sitting in the driver’s seat. Space is key on such a small car, and without the addition of electric motors for a power top, an actually usable trunk is found below the convertible boot. The trunk itself is adorned with an electronic spoiler that deploys at 50 mph. Just to recap: convertible? Not powered. Spoiler? Powered.
Part of my growing affection for the Cooper S Roadster is the combination of a 6-speed manual and turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-4. It makes 181 horsepower and 177 pound feet of torque and features an overboost function. When you get on the throttle between 1,730 and 4,500 rpms (a.k.a., most driving conditions), the torque jumps to 192 pound feet. That extra torque is the origin of the S Roadster’s surprising acceleration.
The MINI Cooper S Roadster gets to 60 from a standstill in seven seconds. Most modern performance cars are returning 0-60 numbers in the 4-5 second range, but due to the MINI Roadster’s diminutive proportions, it feels like you could blow the doors off a Corvette. Any potential owner of this car will never feel wanting for more power.
Those who do lust for added propulsion can opt for the 211 horsepower and that 192 pound feet of torque found in the range-topping John Cooper Works edition. The JCW engine features the same overboost function, sending torque up to ridiculous-for-itssize 207 pound feet of torque. This almost seems like overkill.
Finally, those who are less interested in acceleration and are just after a nimble, fuel efficient droptop can go for the base MINI Cooper Roadster.
The Cooper S Roadster is still the best of both worlds, as it achieves the same 27 mpg city, 35 mpg highway as the base Roadster, when equipped with the manual. Both manual and automatic versions of the base model get this mileage. Opting for the automatic on the S model lowers the fuel economy by 1 mpg to 26 city, 34 highway, so there is an added penalty besides catching the ire of driving enthusiasts for neglecting the manual.
The base MINI Roadster starts at $26,250, while a range-topping JCW model starts at $35,200. Our Cooper S Roadster test model had a base MSRP or $29,250, but climbed to $33,650 with options like the attractive faded racing stripes, custom mirror covers, unique white/silver paint job, and Harmon/ Kardon stereo. You will need the latter if you have any desire to listen to music with the top down. Besides, Harmon/Kardon makes some of the best sound systems available in an automobile.
At 6’3”, I can easily fit in this car, and have no issue when I put the top up, either. The ride is smooth, but with a catch. The suspension that delivers such great handling, will also shake out a filling or two if direct contact is made with a pothole, so pay attention.
I have driven the Boxster, the 3 Series, the Z4—you name it.While they may all have more impressive performance metrics, none of them has been as genuinely fun to drive as the MINI Cooper S Roadster. When you own and drive a car that feels fast, that’s all that matters. The detractors who complain about 0 to 60 times and power-to-weight ratio are usually forum trolls who will never actually own the car.
Anyone who has the pleasure of owning this stout droptop will never tire of the joy delivered from tackling a winding back road at its wheel. So go out and have some fun.