Is it possible to have a vehicle that delivers a fun driving experience along with decent fuel mileage?
The answer depends on your definition of “decent,” of course, but when it comes to the Mini Cooper S Roadster, it’s a definite yes.
With turbocharging kicking horsepower in the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine up to 181 and torque to 177 (192 at full throttle) pound-feet from the 121 and 114, respectively, in the base model, the new Mini Cooper S Roadster offers a thrilling combination of power and handling often found on cars costing thousands more.
It goes from zero-to-60 mph in just 6.7 seconds, according to company clockers, a full two seconds quicker than the base Roadster and just four ticks off the elapsed time for the top-of-the-line John Cooper Works trim.
And it stays balanced when taking corners at speed with only a hint of the torque steer you sometimes get with front-wheel drive performance vehicles.
Oh, yes. The mileage.
When equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission (a six-speed automatic is optional, but why bother?), the S Roadster delivers 27 miles per gallon of premium (required) fuel in the city and 37 on the highway for a combined rating of 30 mpg.
That falls in between some of the Mini’s competitors and qualifies as excellent by most standards, especially when taking into consideration the performance figures.
The Roadster is an all-new model in the Mini Cooper lineup for 2012. You’ll find some features from the standard Mini Cooper, like the grandfather clock-like speedometer that dominates the center of the dash, and some differences as well.
By definition the Roadster seats only two because it doesn’t have the backseat — though snug as it may be — you’ll find in the basic Mini Cooper convertible. That may be an issue if you need a backseat for extra passengers, but you pick up a bit more trunk room in the Roadster.
The exterior has a sportier profile, especially with the top down. The soft top hangs out over the back on the basic convertible. It folds back into a covered compartment on the Roadster.
A manual operation is standard for raising the lowering the top, but it’s not all that difficult to unlatch the lever and flip the fabric top back over your head while sitting in the driver’s seat ready to go. It clicks into place under a cover.
You can put the top back up while sitting in traffic as well by pushing a button over the driver’s right shoulder to release the compartment’s cover. After it pops open, you simply grab the cover with your fingertips, lift and latch the top back in place with one hand. (A semiautomatic soft top is a $750 option.)
Pricing for the Roadster starts at $24,350 with the S version adding $3,000. The John Cooper Works version — if you want the extra power (208 hp) — starts at $34,500.
Fair warning here, though. A handful of options, including a premium package and 17-inch alloy wheels (16-inchers are standard), ran the total MSRP of our test S Roadster to $33,650.
That may seem high, but it’s essentially in line with the pricing for the standard Mini Cooper convertible. And considering the Premium Package includes items like anti-theft alarm system, keyless entry, chrome-line interior and other features that you can probably live without, you can save $1,750 by not including it.