The Mini Roadster holds few surprises for those familiar with the ‘new’ Mini brand’s dynamic precedent – something that can be considered both good news and bad, depending on your particular perspective.
Cowley’s infamous ‘kart-like’ handling character is 100 percent alive and well here, despite the structural compromise associated with lopping off a good portion of the body-in-white.
The usual fast-paced steering rack, razor-sharp off-centre steering response and almost total lack of body roll characterise this car’s driving experience as vividly as a slapstick comedy routine. It changes direction with gleeful zeal, seems to generate abundant lateral grip and generally gives the impression that, on the right road at least, its capacity to amuse would be huge.
That impression is a conceit, of course – as our track handling tests ultimately proved – but, from a convertible, the existence of this impression in the first place seems a significant achievement.
However, while the car’s hyperactive, ever-eager-to-please temperament will put a smile on your face to begin with, it can seem a bit one-dimensional after extended use. Once you get over the sheer incisiveness of the Mini’s steering, for example, it can actually become a barrier to your enjoyment, encouraging you to overwork the front wheels and disrupting front-end grip on slippery surfaces. The car’s chassis tune is taut enough to send shudders and quakes through the body over even medium-sized bumps, and both bump steer and torque steer can make their presence felt over less than smooth A-roads and B-roads tackled with a bit of commitment.
There’s no question: this isn’t a refined enough car for an average driver to use every day, and nor is it the last word in dynamic subtlety or finesse. As a word, it wouldn’t even appear in the last sentence on that particular subject. But it’s definitely a more thrilling machine than the standard Mini Convertible, and in its own slightly contrived way – enjoyed perhaps once rather than five or six times a week, on a well chosen route – it certainly entertains better than most compact drop-tops.
Moreover, if you find the fuel economy benefits outweigh its slightly clattery nature, the Cooper SD delivers a similar driving experience. With the hatch version only 10kg heavier than the petrol S, there was little discernible difference between the driving characteristics of the two. We would expect the same from the Roadster.