Full 2012 MINI Cooper Roadster Review
What's New for 2012
The 2012 Mini Cooper Roadster is an all-new model.
There's a new addition to the family of those quirky, zippy and fun cars known as Minis. The 2012 Mini Cooper Roadster is a simpler, more basic convertible that still delivers the twisty road entertainment that has become synonymous with the Mini brand. With a convertible Mini already in the family, however, some may wonder if the Roadster is really necessary.
Placed next to the regular convertible, the Mini Roadster's most prominent difference is its raked-back windshield. In back, there's also a hint of a conventional trunk lid in place of the convertible's odd tailgate hatch. In the absence of rear seats, the Mini Roadster benefits from more luggage space than the convertible. Unfortunately, that is just about where the Roadster's advantages end.
The Roadster's fabric top is the source of most of the car's drawbacks. With the top up, the lack of an inner liner means that all of the roof's internals are visible, while road and wind noise are noticeably louder. And just as with the Mini Convertible, rear visibility leaves much to be desired. The top is also manually operated and not at all easy to deploy from a seated position. With the top down, the wind buffeting at highway speeds is nearly intolerable. We heartily recommend that buyers purchase the optional power-assist top and wind deflector.
Otherwise, the 2012 Mini Roadster behaves as any Mini Cooper does, and that's a good thing. With sharp handling and adequate power in the base model, Mini's spirit of fun is most certainly still alive, but it's also not the only game in town. The rear-wheel-drive Mazda Miata offers similar thrills behind the wheel and is also available with a retractable hardtop. In terms of charm, the Fiat 500 Convertible can warm the coldest of hearts, while those of a slightly more practical mind could find the regular Mini Convertible and its backseat to be (slightly) more useful on a day-to-day basis. In the end, the 2012 Mini Roadster is worth consideration, but you'll certainly want to be aware of its significant drawbacks.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Mini Cooper Roadster is a two-door, two-passenger convertible that is offered in three trim levels: Base, S and John Cooper Works (JCW).
Standard features for the base Mini Roadster include 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, cruise control, remote keyless entry, leatherette (vinyl) upholstery, air-conditioning, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, six-way manually adjustable seats, a trip computer, interior ambient lighting and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio and auxiliary audio jack.
Stepping up to the Cooper S Roadster adds a turbocharged engine, a hood scoop, foglights, firmer suspension tuning, sport seats and alloy pedals. The performance-focused JCW upgrades include a more powerful turbo engine, 17-inch wheels, upgraded suspension components and tuning, sport-tuned traction control, Brembo brakes, an aerodynamic body kit, cloth upholstery and piano-black interior trim.
Bundled options include a Cold Weather package (power-folding and heated mirrors, heated seats and headlight washers), a Premium package (keyless ignition/entry, automatic headlights and wipers, chrome interior accents, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and automatic climate control) a Technology package (center armrest, rear parking sensors, a premium Harman Kardon surround-sound system and Mini Connected smartphone integration) and a Sport package for the base trim (17-inch wheels, hood stripes, foglights, sport seats and dynamic traction control). The Sport package on the Cooper S also includes xenon headlights.
Many of the packaged features are also offered as stand-alone options, along with a variety of 16- and 17-inch wheel designs, adaptive headlights, a sport suspension, a power-assist convertible top, a wind deflector, Recaro sport seats, cloth upholstery, lumbar seat adjustments, Bluetooth and iPod/USB connectivity. As with all Mini vehicles, buyers can choose from a seemingly limitless combination of colors and graphics, while the Mini Yours program allows for additional customization with exclusive exterior colors, upholstery and interior surfaces.
Powertrains and Performance
Powering the 2012 Mini Roadster is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 121 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual with hill-start assist is standard and a six-speed automatic with shift paddles is optional. Mini estimates a manual-equipped Roadster will go from zero to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds (10 seconds with the automatic). EPA-estimated fuel economy is 27 mpg city/35 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined for both the manual and automatic.
The Cooper S Roadster has a turbocharged version of the same engine, increasing output to 181 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque (192 lb-ft at full throttle thanks to an overboost function). Mini estimates 0-60-mph acceleration in 6.7 seconds for the manual and 6.9 seconds for the automatic. Estimated fuel economy is still excellent at 27/35/30 with the manual and 26/34/29 with the auto.
Thanks to increased turbo boost, the John Cooper Works churns out 208 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is the only available transmission, and fuel economy is 25/33/28. In Edmunds performance testing, the Roadster JCW went from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds.
Standard safety features for all 2012 Mini Roadsters include antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control, seat-mounted side airbags and rollover protection bars. Parking sensors are optional.
In Edmunds brake testing, a John Cooper Works Roadster stopped from 60 mph in 115 feet, which is what you'd expect from a roadster with summer tires.
Interior Design and Special Features
As expected, the interior of the Roadster is done up with typical Mini flair, including the infamous toggle switches, giant speedometer and body-colored panels. They're all nice nods to the original Mini, but in terms of practicality, it comes off as a bit gimmicky.
Unlike the four-seat Mini Cooper convertible, the Roadster takes a more frugal approach and, as a result, suffers from a distinct lack of refinement. The Roadster's single-layer folding fabric top (as opposed to the Convertible's twin-layer) lets quite a bit of road and wind noise into the cabin and leaves the top's mechanicals exposed to the occupants.
To compound matters, the Roadster comes standard with a manually operated top. A power-assisted top is available as an option, and we highly recommend springing for the added cost, as well as the wind deflector to combat the intrusive amount of buffeting. With the top up, rear visibility is notably poor, making the available rear parking sensors a sensible add-on.
Fortunately, the Roadster does manage to improve upon the Convertible in one area: cargo capacity. Featuring a more conventional trunk lid instead of the Convertible's odd tailgate-style opening, the Roadster can hold up to 8.5 cubic feet (the Convertible tops out at 6 cubes).
Reactions to the 2012 Mini Roadster have been mixed, but it's worth noting that the split occurs down trim level lines. Most of the criticism levied at the Roadster and Roadster S stems from a lack of distinction from the standard convertible in terms of performance, and a ride quality that can be considered too harsh for some. To its credit, every Mini's mission, regardless of model/trim is to provide a uniquely sporty driving experience, and the Mini Roadster fulfills that promise.
When it comes to the John Cooper Works model, however, the burly exhaust note and tossable nature around corners had us giggling like schoolchildren. Yes, the ride is on the harsh side on broken pavement, but the payoff when driven hard is well worth the sacrifice. Furthermore, the car's electric-assist power steering is as good as any manufacturer has developed, with crisp reactions and laserlike precision.
Overall, the base 2012 Mini Cooper Roadster will likely satisfy most drivers, with the S trim adding a little more thrill with its turbocharged engine. Opting for the 208-hp John Cooper Works is a commitment best left to the most spirited of drivers only.