2012 MINI Roadster Review
By KBB.com Editors
What's Significant About This Car?
Since its 2001 resurrection and modernization by BMW, Mini has not only thrived, it's proliferated, going from success to success with a formula of unique styling and a consistently high fun-to-drive index. With the introduction of the 2012 Mini Roadster, the Mini line now embraces six different models, and there are more in the pipeline. Although there are now Minis competing in segments never envisioned during the long lifespan of the original – the Countryman crossover comes to mind, as does the new Roadster – the product planners have managed to maintain a unique persona that's consistent across the line. The success can be viewed as a microcosm of the guiding philosophy behind Mini's parent company. The BMW influence shows to exceptional advantage.
You'll Like This Car If...
The Mini Roadster adds affordable sports car fun to what has been a 1-car segment, belonging to Mazda's MX-5 Miata. The Miata is competent and well made, but after 23 years, it lacks the sassy, distinctive persona of the Mini Roadster and the performance of the Roadster's turbocharged models.
You May Not Like This Car If...
If practicality and all-around usefulness are important to you, the Mini Roadster could become a disappointment. Like any 2-seat sports car, it's essentially a toy, with limited luggage space, limited utility in winter climates, and, obviously, limited passenger accommodations.
The 2012 Mini Roadster is a first for Mini. Although there were open-top versions in the original range, and a 2+2 convertible among the current models, this is the first-ever 2-seater drophead (British for "convertible").
Driving the Roadster
A convertible created by removing a metal roof inevitably suffers in terms of structural rigidity and added weight. The 2012 Mini Roadster's structural reinforcements make it about 90 pounds heavier...
than the Coupe, but there are still some chassis quivers on bumpy stretches. Nevertheless, the Roadster's steering is sports car quick and tactile, with eager responses and very little body roll, even in the basic model. Like other Minis, the Roadster achieves its athletic responses with suspension tuning that's firm in the standard model and firmer still in the S and JCW versions. Combined with standard run-flat tires – there's no spare – this yields ride quality that can be harsh on even moderately rough pavement. Acceleration is modest in the basic Mini Roadster, but the pace picks up in the S and JCW versions, sprinting to 60 in the mid- and low-6-second range, respectively. The convertible top is unlined, and over 60 mph with the top up wind noise becomes excessive.
Mini product planners are borderline obsessive in their insistence on fun, and the Openometer is a manifestation of this corporate mission. Unique to soft-top models, it tracks the percentage of time the car operates with the top down. The higher the percentage, the more fun you're having.
The Mini Roadster has an 8.5-cubic-foot trunk, 2.0 cubic feet more than the Mini Convertible. It also has a unique feature – a small square trapdoor behind the seats that allows occupants to pop odds and ends into the trunk without stopping.
2012 MINI Roadster Details
As you'd expect, the inner Mini Roadster is snug, reinforcing the sense of driver engagement that makes sports cars special. Elbow room is a bit limited, but legroom and headroom are abundant, and the bucket seats are comfortably supportive, particularly in the higher performance models. Interior materials are better than average, despite a lot of plastic, and the instrument panel maintains a uniquely Mini look with a bevy of retro toggle switches, the tachometer perched on the steering column and the center of the dash dominated by a pizza-size speedometer. The speedo also embraces an info screen and, when so equipped, the navigation system readout.
All current Minis are descended from the 3-door Mini Cooper hatchback-now known as the Hardtop – that made its debut in 2001. Most recently, there was the 2-seat Coupe, afflicted with an awkward-looking steel roof, and now the 2012 Mini Roadster, with a soft top that stows neatly behind the seats without intruding on cargo space. The front end is unmistakably Mini, and the profile says sports car, particularly with the top down, exposing the twin stainless-steel rollover hoops, and the rear wing deployed at the rear of the trunklid. The wing pops up at 50 mph, lending cornering stability at high speeds.
The basic Mini Roadster isn't terribly basic, and includes air conditioning, AM/FM/CD MP3-compatible audio, power mirrors and windows, leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, trip computer, foglights, and 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels wearing 195/55 tires. The audio package includes a 1-year satellite radio subscription. Safety features include antilock braking, stability control, front airbags and seat-mounted side airbags, windshield frame reinforcement, and a pair of fixed stainless-steel rollover hoops behind the seats.
Every Mini option list is exceptionally long and tempting, and the Roadster's array of extra-cost features – many of them custom appearance items – is consistent with the brand. Navigation is offered as a standalone feature ($1,750), or in a package ($2,500) that includes Bluetooth, USB port and iPod/iPhone connectivity. Power top operation is $750, and a wind blocker, straddling the rollover hoops, is $250. Seat heaters are $500, and leather seating choices range from $1,000 to $2,250.
Under the Hood
Like all members of the Mini collective, the Roadsters are propelled by one engine – a 1.6-liter DOHC direct injection inline 4-cylinder – offered in three states of tune. The basic engine is naturally aspirated, whereas the S and the higher performance John Cooper Works (JCW) versions are both turbocharged. The top torque rating for the S version of the engine is 192 lb.-ft. and 207 for the JCW. However, this is attainable only with extra turbo boost, and only for a few seconds. Normal peak torque is 177 lb.-ft. for the S, 192 for the JCW. The torque band is very broad for both versions of the engine, and throttle response is immediate. The standard transmission is a 6-speed manual, and a 6-speed Tiptronic automatic is optional on all but the JCW version.
121 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
114 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,250 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 27/35
1.6-liter turbocharged inline-4
181 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm
192 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1,700 - 4,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 27/35
1.6-liter turbocharged inline-4
208 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
207 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1,700 - 4,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 25/33 (manual), 26/34 (automatic)
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