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2012 Mini Cooper Roadster
This Mini lets you put more junk in the truck while you drive al fresco

It carries half as many people as the Mini convertible, yet costs a bit more. It's a fair price to pay for a little extra sporting flair.

By Malcolm Gunn

Break out the SPF 50 and the Ray-Ban sunglasses because the Mini Cooper Roadster is ready for summer driving adventures.

The two-seat convertible -- a first for the Mini brand and a companion to the recently launched Mini Coupe -- adds some visual spice to the Mini's broadening model line-up that already includes a four-passenger drop-top.

Admittedly, it seems a bit odd that BMW-owned Mini would now have two not-so-distinct convertibles that are constructed off the same platform and share the same mechanical bits. Furthermore, the two-seat Roadster lists for only $300 less than the standard four-place convertible.

2012 Mini Roadster (front view). A mini with a trunk is a rare thing, but the Roadster has one. It takes the place of the rear seat in the four-passenger convertible model.Ah, but there's a point that's being overlooked. The Roadster swaps out the rear bench that isn't particularly roomy in the first place for an actual trunk (another Mini first). We're not talking cavernous space here by any means (it has a bit less volume than the Coupe's trunk) but it's enough to store a few decent-sized travel bags or a set or two of golf clubs, regardless of whether the top is up or down.

The Roadster's styling is far less controversial than that of the helmet-headed Coupe and it looks better with the roof up than the existing Mini convertible. Combined with a windshield that has been tilted back an additional 13 degrees, the Roadster is one of the best looking of the bunch.

The windshield frame has also been significantly reinforced and functions in concert with the twin padded steel roll bars to provide a measure of protection should a worst-case tip-over event occur.

The black-only cloth top that includes a heated glass rear window is secured in place with a twist of a single windshield-mounted lever. The spring-loaded lid lowers flat into its stowage spot by pressing a button located between the roll bars. The outer portion of the top remains exposed after the folding process so that a separate tonneau cover is unnecessary. The process is managed by either the driver or passenger from within the cockpit.

2012 Mini Roadster (front quarter view): All Minis share the same engines that burn premium fuel. However, the base 1.6-litre four-cylinder is good for 7.2 l/100 km in the city and 4.9 on the highway.Most Mini fans will instantly recognize the dominating circular pod in the centre of the dash containing the speedometer, audio controls, clock and fuel gauge. Behind the steering wheel is a similarly shaped, albeit smaller, pod containing a tachometer and other operating data.

To reduce the Roadster body's tendency to twist -- which is pretty normal behaviour when the roof is removed -- Mini installed additional structural bracing in the trunk area and other key spots. And to help keep the rear end planted, a trunk-mounted spoiler automatically deploys once the vehicle reaches 80 km/h and retracts when the speed drops below 60 km/h. But if you like its look, you can leave it up.

There are no special tricks up the Roadster's sleeve in the powertrain department. It gets the same basic trio of engines as every other Mini model, beginning with a 121-horsepower 1.6-litre four-cylinder for base models. A turbocharged 1.6 comes in the S version that's worth 181 horsepower while a tweaked-up 208-horsepower 1.6 is part of the John Cooper Works (JCW) package.

The two-seat 2012 Mini Roadster, left, would seem to have the advantage over the Mini coupe, right, since you can put the roof down on a sunny day. Base and S Roadsters come with six-speed manual transmissions and optional six-speed automatics, while the JCW is only available with the stick.

Base models hit 100 km/h from rest in a leisurely 9.2 seconds, while the S is good for 7.0 seconds. The JCW drops that time by another half second. But if fuel economy is important, selecting the base engine delivers 7.2 l/100 km city and 4.9 highway using premium fuel.

With a lowered stance that matches the Coupe, the hair-drying Roadster deserves its sports-car appellation. And, with pricing that ranges from $30,500-$41,500, it could be considered an alternative to the league-leading Mazda Miata and an extra-fun way to celebrate the summer season.

What you should know: 2012 Mini Cooper Roadster

Type: Two-door, front-wheel-drive two-seat convertible
Engines (hp): 1.6-litre DOHC I4 (121); 1.6-litre DOHC I4, turbocharged (181-208)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic (opt.)
Market position: The entry-level-roadster field has been largely abandoned since the departure of the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky a few years ago. Despite the Mini Roadster's launch, it's unlikely that the category will expand any time soon.
Points: Roadster trades a back seat for a trunk, but will it add sales or just cut into the Convertible's piece of the pie?; High-output JCW model will appeal to performance-minded buyers; Quirky gauge layout and location is cool, but not to everyone's liking; Premium fuel requirement offsets impressive fuel economy.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy): 21/30 (base 1.6)
Base price (incl. destination): $25,000


Mazda MX-5 Miata
Base price: $30,500
The world's best-selling roadster is still the best at blending fun and fashion.

Base price: $21,500
Just barely a convertible, but giant retractable roof does let the sun shine in.

Smart Fortwo Cabriolet
Base price: $21,700
Not very sporty, but gets good fuel economy and is an ideal city runabout.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted August 14, 2012. © TM


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