Believe it or not, this was only the second time I’d driven a MINI of any sort. Frankly, I don’t know how I managed not to drive more of them. Back in 2005, I briefly drove a friend’s normally aspirated MINI Cooper and remember car’s quick reflexes and great driving dynamics. It wasn't big on power, but it was big on personality and agility. The 2013 MINI Cooper S Roadster is big on all that stuff, adds some grunt to the equation, and can transform into a drop top.
Remember, MINI offers both a Convertible and a Roadster. The difference? The MINI Convertible seats four, has a top that runs clear to the back of the vehicle, and has a tiny liftgate at the back for cargo. The Roadster seats two, has a top that folds behind the seats, and has a small but usable trunk.
With the top up, the Roaster has a unique look with somewhat bizarre proportions. We find it much more attractive with the top down, where its lines are clean and minimal. Putting that top down is simple, too. Twist a knob to unlatch the top from the windscreen, push the top back about six inches, then hold the switch at the windshield’s front, and the electric top lowers itself into position.
I remember my dad saying to me at a young age that a car stereo always seems to sound better in a convertible. Well that’s definitely the case here. The MINI’s Harman/Kardon sound system is flat-out phenomenal (top down or top up). With the top down at 60 mph, you can crank the stereo and it sounded as good as it does parked.
This car rides stiffly, there’s no doubt about that. After all, this is the sporting version of the MINI. However, the chassis gets rather unsettled over bumps and potholes, and the suspension delivers rubbery kickbacks, and there was noticeable cowl shake. But in the corners, the MINI comes into its own, and delivers that driving experience the marque is heralded for. It’s as nimble and light on its feet, just as a car with the name MINI should be. Steering input was very good with a quick ratio and great feel. Yes, this car loves the corners, as I was hoping it would.
One thing: With the top up, rear outward visibility is awful. The combination of a tiny rear window and expansive fabric between the side window and rear window makes for daunting lane changes and reversing. While poor rear visibility is often an issue in convertibles, it seems worse than average in the Roadster.
Our test model came in at a whopping $35,345, which includes $500 for the Spicy Orange paint and $795 for destination. I found it odd that for that price you didn’t get things such as leather upholstery or heated seats. That’ll cost extra. In fact, I built a fully loaded MINI Cooper S Roadster and the price came to $39,095, and that’s without any of the high-performance John Cooper Works parts. And, by the way, you could opt for the faster 208 hp John Cooper Works MINI Roadster, which I was able to option up to $46,445 on MINI’s website.
To me, the MINI Roadster definitely has its highs and lows, and is full of quirks. While it’s a lot of fun to pilot with the top down and the stereo up, its interior oddities, polarizing shape (with the top up), rough ride, and hefty price tag kept me from falling in love with it.
Plus, I kept thinking about the Mazda Miata variable. A similarly equipped Miata Grand Touring with the power retractable hard top, automatic transmission, and, of course, rear wheel drive will top out at $33,330 including destination. No, it isn't turbocharged, and it has a much different persona than the MINI Roadster, but it is stiff competition against this British-built drop top.