Mischievous Mini roadster is brilliant fun to drive

ROAD TEST REPORT AND REVIEW: Mini Roadster John Cooper Works

Fun in the sun - this little Mini roadster is a bit of a riot!

Feisty and fun, the Mini still has it, especially when you road test one of its latest incarnations, as DAVID HOOPER finds out when he reviews the two-seat roadster.

The Mini's interior is dominated by a large circular dial in the middle of the car.

IN case you haven’t noticed, the Mini range has been expanding at a pace in the last couple of years and now offers a car for virtually every occasion.
The most recent additions are the coupe, the roof of which is supposed to resemble a cap, and the roadster I’ve been driving this week, which in my opinion, is one of the best looking cars in the Mini range.
A pure two-seater, it would tempt a different kind of buyer to that of the original convertible, which comes with four seats and a large folding roof which can make parking with the roof down that bit more of a challenge.
With the roadster, there are no such issues. The canvas roof almost throws itself backwards once you have released a catch on the header rail, folding neatly behind the two front seats.
I like the simplicity of the design – as it’s a canvas roof, there are no complicated folding metal roofs and the other bonus is that you still have a good sized boot, which is  more than capable of swallowing a couple of overnight bags or the weekly shop.
In the sporting John Cooper Works, or JCW trim which pays homage to the now legendary specialist tuner of the 1960s, this roadster is quite a piece of kit.
Drop the roof and the side windows, and the high-waisted Mini, sitting on its trendy alloy wheels, really looks the part, with its deeper spoilers, side skirts and central air intake carved into the front edge of its bonnet.
Lurking beneath said bonnet is the respected 1.6-litre turbo-charged engine which, in this application, produces an enticing 211bhp in a car which doesn’t take up that much more space on the road than the go-karts Mini boasted the original car’s handling replicated.
The benchmark 0-62mph sprint is dismissed in just 6.5 Seconds and the car has a potential top speed of 147mph, so it is quite a potent little machine.
Open the door and the interior will be familiar to Mini fans from other models. My test car featured the large central dial with the red marker which rotates around its outside edge to point at the speed. It always reminds me of the old-fashioned butchers’ shop weighing scales. In the centre of the dial there are various displays for the sat nav, radio, Bluetooth, MP3 interfaces and so on, all of which are controlled by a rotary knob positioned on the central console between the two front seats.
Fire up the engine and you are treated to a sporting engine note, amplified by the twin exhausts sticking out of the middle of the car’s rear end, which burble and pop delightfully when the car is properly warmed up.
The Mini has always had a quality feel to it, and it still compares well with the best on the market, but you would expect nothing less from any BMW product.
Once out on the road, a quick press of the throttle pedal whets your appetite for what is to come once you escape the urban traffic.
In JCW trim, this is one quick little car, but if you think you will get a relaxing drive from this Mini, then think again.
It’s very fast and it is tremendous fun, but it can be a bit of a handful and I suspect the boot mounted spoiler which raises and lowers automatically when the car’s speed reaches 50mph is there for a reason, not just decoration.
The car’s chassis is reasonably stiff but does flex to an extent, given away by vibrations in the rear view mirror, which means its handling can be a bit twitchy and its steering isn’t as accurate as it should be. The large tyres tend to fidget on uneven surfaces, or if you touch a white line in the middle of the road.
arrying speed into corners while braking makes the car’s rear end feel a bit wayward, even with the rear spoiler deployed, as if it was threatening to oversteer, but it never did and I didn’t notice any of the traction or safety systems intervening, but when driving very quickly, I needed a firm grip of the wheel with both hands and plenty of corrections at the wheel to keep the car on my intended course.
At a more leisurely pace, the Mini is easy to drive, with cruise control a boon on long motorway trips and the superb Harmon Kardon sound system was great company, even with the roof down, which was how I spent most of my time in this car – even if I did get a few funny looks at the traffic lights now and again.
Involving and entertaining, as with most of the other models in the range, it puts a  huge smile on your face every time you drive it and having left it in a hotel car park for a couple of days while I was playing with the new Ford Focus ST in the South of France, I was looking forward to getting back to my Mini for the long drive home – although I wasn’t so much looking forward to a second dose of backache from its less than brilliant seats which make their presence felt after a few hours at the wheel.
For all its foibles, I loved this smart little roadster and was sorry to hand back the keys. It returned 38mpg overall during my test – and the “Sport” button was only ever used once! It really is surplus to requirements in this car.
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Rating: ★★★★★☆

The rear spoiler deploys at speed to improve stability.

THE VITAL STATISTICS
MODEL: MINI Roadster John Cooper Works.
MINI ROADSTER RANGE: From Cooper (£18,020) to John Cooper Works (£24,860).
ENGINE: 1598cc, 211bhp four-cylinder engine, driving front wheels through 6-speed manual gearbox.
PERFORMANCE: Top speed 147mph.
0-62mph in 6.5 secs.
ECONOMY: City: 29.4mpg.
Country: 47.9mpg.
Combined: 38.7mpg.
Fuel tank: 50 litres.
CO2 EMISSIONS: 169g/km.
INSURANCE: Group 37.
PRICE: £24,860.
WARRANTY: 3 years/Unlimited miles.
WEBSITE: www.mini.co.uk
• All data correct at time of publication.