Overall rating: 4/5
The new MINI Roadster may not be the last word in dynamic prowess, but it is an entertaining front-wheel drive convertible that stands out from the crowd. As adept at posing as it is as tackling your favourite twisty road, it's one of the coolest MINIs yet.
In the Metal:
Imagine a slightly squashed MINI with the roof lopped off and you'll have the new Roadster. Having said that, it does without the questionable backwards baseball cap element of its Coupé brother, and regardless is a squat and aggressive shape in a sometimes effeminate market sector.
It's much the same as any other MINI inside though, save for the fact there are only two seats. The boot's a decent size though at 240 litres - and the Irish market will get a semi-automatic roof as standard.
Cooper S models get the familiar 184hp 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine found throughout the MINI range. It's a cracking unit with a sharp throttle response and willing acceleration thanks to peak torque being available from as little as 1,600rpm.
The exhaust note could do with a bit more bite, though help is at hand thanks to the Sport button, which not only dramatizes the noise, but sharpens the throttle and increases the weight of the steering too. That helm could sometimes do with a little less feedback though, kicking around in your hand mid-corner like its MINI brethren.
Still, this car's all about the sensory experience, and though it's a bit of a cliché it really does feel a bit like a go-kart behind the wheel - all instant response and 'invigorating' ride. The car we drove made do with 16-inch alloy wheels, and we'd wager from previous experience that choosing anything larger will sacrifice what ride comfort there is.
Overall though, it feels like a MINI, which is a good thing. It may have lost its roof, but thanks to additional stiffening, the Roadster is just as much fun as the tin-topped models - which is all that really matters.
What you get for your Money:
This is always a bit of a sore point for MINI buyers. Yes all models of the Roadster come with a semi-automatic roof, parking sensors, air conditioning, a DAB radio and an active rear spoiler that deploys at 80km/h. However, the brand has built most of its appeal on customisation, allowing owners to ensure their MINI really stands out, and adding personal choices adds up. Still the options are extensive and include bespoke colours and trim, Harmon Kardon hi-fi, satnav and MINI connected - which includes in-car internet access. The range starts at €26,260 for the Cooper model, which is cheaper than the less powerful Mazda MX-5, and MINI TLC looks after the car's maintenance for five years from only €250.
If you want to mix frugality with top-down fun there's also a diesel Roadster available. The Cooper SD Roadster can still sprint from 0-100km/h in 8.1 seconds (only 1.1 seconds behind the petrol tested) but also returns 62.8mpg (4.5 litres/100km) on the combined cycle. CO2 emissions are similarly impressive at 118g/km, meaning annual road tax is only €160 instead of the Cooper S's €225 - just don't expect it to sound as good as the petrol car.
In short, if you're looking for a pure driver's car the MINI Roadster is probably not it. However, if you want a vehicle that can excite you on a favourite back road, but then be refined and comfortable on the motorway before grabbing all of the admiring glances at your final destination, it may just be ideal. Just pray for a good summer!