Road test: 2013 Mini Cooper S Roadster

A unique characteristic of the retro-inspired Mini is its ability to attract devotees from all stages of life.

The delightful, if not quirky, array of Mini iterations resist being pigeonholed into a specific demographic, rather they cut a wide swath across the motoring populace, from young hipster to urban professional to empty nester. Whether seeking nostalgia, style or performance, they all have reasons for embracing the Mini.

I picked up this week’s tester at the end of a busy day. It was dusk but the sky overhead was clear and the air retained its late-autumn warmth. This would be a roof-down ride home. One other item was needed to complete the experience, and to my contentment, there it was. The Mini Cooper S Roadster to which I held the key featured a 6-speed manual transmission. Ah, roadster life as it should be. My next step was to hit the power roof button, removing the padded canvas between me and a darkening sky. Things got a little complicated at this point. I couldn’t find the power-roof button, and for good reason. The Mini Roadster is topped with a manually-operated lid that can be retracted in seconds once the technique is mastered. Despite its reliance upon my skinny arms to drop, the roof folds cleanly into place, creating a smooth transition from body to cabin. When in place, the roof seals snugly, doing an adequate job of insulating occupants from external elements despite hampering rearward visibility. Cabin com-fort is more than acceptable for a roadster while the retro-look instruments and switchgear complete the Mini experience, and that experience is more about form than function. The Mini’s collection of small, awkward-to-use switchgear isn’t the model of intuitive design, but they look cool, and hey, that’s part of the Mini’s allure. So is the turbocharged performance of the Cooper S and its stirring exhaust report.

Under the Mini’s short hood resides a short engine, but that doesn’t make it short on performance, quite the opposite, actually, provided it’s the Cooper S. The feisty 4-cylinder mill of the S displaces just 1.6-litres but dispenses 184 horsepower and 177 lbs.-ft of torque; and the muscle is on-tap anywhere north of 1,600 rpm. Mini literature cites a 0-100 km/h time of 6.9 seconds for the Cooper S Roadster, and that feels accurate to me but it’s not the measure by which to judge the little rocket’s performance. That only comes with seat-time, preferably on scenic back-roads with roof in delete mode. It’s in this environment that the Roadster thrives, and where its sportiness can be appreciated – and heard when the Sport program is activated.

The tiny Sport button remaps steering and throttle response to increase aggressiveness, which is complemented by a more pronounced exhaust note. Regardless of which gear is turning, the Cooper S Roadster is capable of more pull than expected. Rowing through the gears and listening to the resplendent pops and snarls is immeasurably gratifying to those who savour such auditory accompaniment; and I suspect many more do than are willing to admit it. And I bet many of those are in the empty-nester demographic, and quite possibly carrying the ‘Y’ chromosome. Just sayin … OK, it makes the right sounds and shows-off in the passing lane, but what about ride and handling?

Those scenic roads generally have lots of twists and turns, and that’s good because the Cooper S Roadster is remarkably agile and responsive, with steering that actions every nuance with surgical precision. But twisty roads are usually bumpy as well, and that’s where the price is paid. The Mini Cooper S Roadster isn’t excessively punishing toward its occupants but it’s not benevolent either. Ride quality is firm and not as absorbent as some may wish for, especially over the long haul. The vehicle’s short wheelbase also contributes to a sense of ride choppiness. Ride issues aside though, the Cooper S Roadster is a profoundly enjoyable car to drive.

If there’s one take-away for me, it is simply this: the Cooper S Roadster is fun, lots of fun. I’m not sure I would want to live with this car all four seasons, but I’m sure that I would relish its spirited topless performance in at least three of them. When the sun shines and the roof is down, this jubilant two-seater delivers plenty of exhilarating performance. It’s also more practical than typical roadsters thanks to the large trunk that isn’t consumed by the retracted roof. Presumably, this is the area that once housed a rear seat, making the Mini Roadster strictly a two-seater. Maybe that’s why empty nesters are attracted. Sorry, no room for the grandkids in this getaway.

Cooper, Cooper S, John Cooper Works
Sticker Price: $28,900 to $39,900
Power: 1.6-litre 122 hp, 1.6-litre 184 hp, 1.6-litre 211 hp
Fuel Consumption (Cooper S): 7.5/5.1 L/100 km (city/highway)
Fuel Consumption (JCW): 9.6/5.9 L/100 km (city/highway)
Basic Warranty: 48 months, 80,000 km
Corrosion Warranty: 12 years, unlimited distance

2013 Mini Cooper S Roadster.
Photograph by: Zack Spencer, for PNG