Like all contemporary Mini Coopers, the Roadster traces its development to the 2001 BMW revival of the British original, which has since proliferated into a half-dozen additional variations. All are basically front-drive designs, with strut suspension up front, multi-link at the rear.
However, both the Coupe and the Roadster are two-seaters, and both benefit from structural stiffening, particularly important for a vehicle with no roof structure. This adds about 90 pounds to the Coupe's curb weight, but it's far more rigid than the Convertible, if not entirely free of chassis quivers.
Like all the Minis, the Roadster is available with three variations on the same 1.6-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine: the naturally aspirated 121-horsepower version that powers the basic Roadster; the turbocharged 181-horsepower unit that powers the S model; and another turbo edition tuned for 208 horsepower in the top-of-the-line John Cooper Works (JCW) model.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard in all three models, and the Cooper and Cooper S versions offer the option of a six-speed automatic ($1250). The JCW is manual only.
The basic Roadster is priced from $25,050 and comes well equipped with air conditioning; AM/FM/CD audio with MP3 compatibility and a one-year satellite radio subscription; power windows and mirrors; fog lights; 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels; antilock braking; stability control; front and seat-mounted side airbags; twin rollover hoops behind the seats; and a reinforced windshield frame, for added rollover protection.
The Roadster's windshield has a steeper rake than that of the Convertible, lending a sportier look reinforced by a spoiler that pops out of the rear deck at speeds above 50 mph (there's also a switch that allows the driver to keep it deployed full time).
A single layer cloth top covers the cockpit, secured by a single latch at the windshield header. It stows securely behind the rear seats at the same level as the decklid and, like the MX-5 Miata, doesn't interfere with luggage space. The Mini offers more trunk stowage than the Mazda: 8.5 cubic feet, amplified by a pass-through to the cockpit.
The manual top is easy to operate, but Mini does offer a power option for $750.
Inevitably, adding horsepower adds to the bottom line. Pricing for the S model, as noted, starts at $28,050, while the hot rod JCW starts at $35,200.
And the numerous options add up fast. A navigation system, for example, is $1750 as a standalone item, or $2500 in a package that also includes features like Bluetooth, a USB port, plus iPod and iPhone connectivity. Leather seat packages range from $1000 to as much as $2250. Like all Minis, the Roadster's option list is lengthy, offering lots of choices for owners to make their cars look distinctive.
> Looking for some rear-wheel-drive roadster fun? Check out the Mazda MX-5.
> Want to see a comparison of the Mazda MX-5 and Mini Roadster? Take a look at our Roadster Rumble.