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Mini VI: We ride in the Roadster

2012-03-29 08:45

GET THE WORKS: This is the John Cooper Works version of the Mini Roadster - fastest, sexiest and best-looking. Gallery

Les Stephenson

Image gallery.

The Mini brand has got up close and personal; no extra passengers allowed, strictly the two of you – friends, lovers, secretaries and bosses, gramps and grannies.

Just the two of you. No kids allowed... just mom and dad.

And, if you like to add in a touch of driving enthusiasm, the whole package becomes a whole lot of fun. It’s called, collectively, the Mini Roadster. And one of them goes like, well, pretty fast.


BMW SA has just launched – in fact even as you read this (assuming no later than March 31, 2012) is still launching in the Western Cape  – the Mini Roadster, a two-seater bundle of joy with a choice of three 1.6-litre engines and some rather serious price tags.

The Roadster is the sixth incarnation of Mini’s hot baby-cars and is distinguished by being not only a two-seater but also a convertible – manual action (for now, but even a wimp can manage it). What Mini/BMW calls a semi-auto roof will be available within a couple of months of this launch.

Semi-auto? Yes, I wondered too; it means that, unlike a fully auto soft top, you must unlatch the roof from the windscreen frame (just like the manual) and THEN press a button to have the car do something you can do perfectly well yourself, almost without getting out of the driving seat.

Save the cash, folks – unless you want to impress the in-laws. You really don’t need a motor to drop your top.


It’s hard to define why Mini’s owner, BMW, went for this two-seater model. There’s already a competent four-seater, two-door convertible and a coupe, so why another one with only two seats? Well, that’s what Mini is – they probably thought “why not a two-seater convertible?”, the board agreed, and here we are. Another hair-dressers’ car – sort of. Why sort of?  Because the boss model – the John Cooper Works – is capable of 155kW, that’s why. And 0-100km/h in 6.5sec and top speed of 237km/h.

The other two are pretty quick, too (see below). The Mini Roadster line-up ranges from the Cooper (90kW) through the Cooper S (135 kW) to the John Cooper Works model. The S (though I didn’t get to drive it through Helen Zille’s super mountain peaks and passes) as I did the other two versions, has a great mellifluous exhaust note in rush-hour traffic.

At least it was an auto (yes, with paddle shifts on the steering wheel) so easing the frustration of shunting along with Cape Town’s incredibly selfish drivers.

Here's the basics on the engines:

MINI John Cooper Works Roadster
Four-cylinder petrol engine with MINI TwinPower Turbo technology and numerous technological details carried over directly from motorsport.
Displacement 1598cc, output 155kW at 6000rpm, maximum torque 260Nm from 1850-5600rpm (280Nm with overboost from 2000-5100rpm).
Acceleration 0-100km/h 6.5sec, top speed 237km/h.
Average fuel consumption according to EU 7.3 litres/10km, CO2 emissions 169g/km.

MINI Cooper S Roadster

Four-cylinder petrol engine with MINI TwinPower Turbo technology.
Displacement 1598 cc, output 135kW at 5500rpm, maximum torque 240Nm from 1600-5000rpm (260Nm with overboost from 1730-4500rpm).
Acceleration 0-100 km/h seven seconds, top speed 227km/h.
Average fuel consumption according to EU six litres/100km, CO2 emissions 139g/km.

MINI Cooper Roadster
Four-cylinder petrol engine with fully variable valve management based on the BMW Group’s VALVETRONIC technology.
Displacement 1598cc, output 90kW at 6,000rpm, maximum torque 160Nm at 4250rpm.
Acceleration 0-100 km/h 9.2sec, top speed 199km/h.
Average fuel consumption according to EU 5.7 litres/100km, CO2 emissions 133g/km.

The basic (S-less) Cooper felt a bit underwhelming until I said “sod it” and tried to rip the gearbox apart over Houw Hoek Pass (the manual boxes are all six-speed) and had a ball through the flowing curves of one of the world’s greatest driving roads. Seriously, 90kW is plenty muscle if you use it properly.

Earlier, the same car had stayed with a BMW Z4 which had overtaken everything else in sight - between Villiersdorp and the N2. Bottom line: each of the Mini Roadsters has enough under its bonnet to make itself be seen and heard.

The real limiting factor is your bank balance, which brings us to the prices...

Mini Cooper Roadster – R296 881
Mini Cooper Roadster a/t – R314 520
Mini Cooper S Roadster - R351 480
Mini Cooper S Roadster a/t – R368 434
Mini Cooper JCW Roadster – R401 189

A wide variety of options and accessories, the Mini people say, gives customers the freedom to create a car adapted precisely to their personal tastes. Attractive options – some of them claiming to be unique in the small-car segment – allow buyers to turn their Mini Roadster into a one-off reflecting their individual style in terms of design, comfort and driving fun.

A basic numbers are on the high side, you might think, but bear in mind that you’re really buying a BMW in drag and that more than two-million second-generation Minis have been sold in 100 markets around the world – 17 500 of them in good ol’ SA since 2001... 2900 of them in 2011 alone.

That’s likely to take a jump later this year when a seventh variant based on the Mini Countryman 4x4 platform and seen already as the Mini Paceman concept is added to BMW’s retail shelves. We're told it will be called the Mini Countryman Coupe (the board's been at it again!) and maybe they’ll be all over the Kalahari within weeks of launch, like sidewinders in the sunshine.

The order books are filling before my very eyes...

But back to the Roadster... the folding roof has its own compartment under the rear deck - no intrusion into the 240 litres of luggage space. There’s also a 66cmx20cm load-through hatch in the rear firewall – think skateboard or bagged tent, beach brolly or hiking sticks.


I’ve mentioned the engines, but a hot engine is pretty useless without a good suspension so BMW/Mini and its front-wheels drive rides on Macpherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear. Electric and speed-sensitive power-assistance is standard along with dynamic stability control, dynamic traction control and (standard on the John Cooper Works Roadster, optional on all other models) an electronic differential lock.

All model variants can be specified with sports suspension – which brings stiffer damper characteristics, sturdier anti-roll bars and upgraded springs – as an option.

Convertibles usually come with some built-in body wobble; the Mini Roadster has managed to avoid it by being (a) so short and (b) having extra transverse bracing built into the windscreen, floor and A pillars. All three models are rigid (the JCW more so because of its harder suspension) even with the top folded back.

Extra pressure can be added to the tail by a (standard) rear spoiler that lifts automatically above 80km/h and thus, at such a low speed, makes one a trifle ostentatious on the way to the airport, work or to pick up your girlfriend (“were you speeding again darling, or are you and Mini just pleased to see me?”.

Four air bags, a stainless-steel rollover loop behind each seat, run-flat tyres (heavens, are they STILL being fitted to cars?) and bi-xenon headlights are standard along with power mirrors and windows, parking radar, height adjustable steering-wheel and seats, MP3 compatible CD player/audio receiver and worldwide (through the internet) radio reception.

Should you elect to buy one of the lesser two models, you can specify visual body upgrades from the John Cooper Works collection and pretend you’re driving one of the most potent mini-sports cars around; looking the part is what counts, hey?

Find out more about the Mini through The Mini community.

And about the Roadsters...

Mini John Cooper Works Roadster.
Mini Cooper S Roadster.
Mini Cooper Roadster.

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