Mini Cooper SD Roadster Driven

Often billed as a cynical money-spinning venture, BMW’s reincarnation of the Mini brand continues to sprout increasingly farfetched variations on the original hatch theme. What Mini does brilliantly, though, is capitalize on the marque’s inherent individuality. Aesthetically, a Mini – be it the humble Mini One or anything up to a Countryman John Cooper Works – has a verve and idiosyncrasy that other marques find hard to match. Taking the roof off one of the most distinctive Mini models – the Coupé – has only served to reinforce the Roadster’s desirability.

Energetic Roadster hardly wanting for stance

Gert Hildebrand, currently Head of Design at up-and-coming Qoros Auto but previously General Manager of Mini Design, was the man responsible for bringing the original Coupé off the drawing board. In the past he’s spoken about the importance of visual diversity in a brand and his desire at the time was to plough a new and radical furrow rather than sticking to the straight and narrow. Cast your mind back to the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show when the Coupé was launched and remember the stir it caused. Hildebrand, there again, had the freedom to be more expressive with form as, at the end of the day, the car would feature the charmingly goofy circular headlights and sporting front valance that are immediate identifiers of the Mini style. The Coupé is still a radical looking machine today, although it’s ubiquity renders us immune to it – selling cars by the shedload being one of Mini’s greatest strengths.

With short overhangs, wheels set deep into the corners and small panels that don’t require ostentatious surface entertainment (it’s a very small car after all, despite the larger-than-life attitude), the Roadster lays a good claim to being the most well resolved Mini of all – with the roof down at least. This is in part because it foregoes the Coupé’s jagged roofline and with the canvas roof stowed away the rood-hugging stance is emphasized. This particular car, in Eclipse Grey with black go-faster stripes – resembled a giant iPhone in the twilight. Smooth and unruffled, with well measured chrome highlights.

DRG is a bit obvious, but true to the recognised Mini 'face'

You never forget that this is a fun car, either. The cab-forward stance is reinforced by the front graphic, which leans forward down the road like a dog pulling at its lead. It’s bold, unashamed and the Fisher-Price grille and headlights remind you that this isn’t a car that takes itself seriously (we’ll come on to the supple, planted chassis that leaves rivals for dead later). With chunky roll-hoops, wheel-arch filling alloys and a bonnet-scoop utterly unwarranted by its 2-litre diesel engine, the Mini Roadster is bling, and it doesn’t particularly care what you think.

Inside, things seems a little more grown up, until you notice the wall clock-sized speedometre and integrated infotainment system mounted front and centre. The running theme is ‘circular’ – the air vents, sound speakers, dials, readouts, door-handles, the concentric steering wheel – they’re all circular and interspersed with retro-styled aircraft toggle switches. It all works though and doesn’t seem contrived. The infotainment system (a lightly modified version of BMW’s iDrive setup) works well, too, and the curved sides of the readout are a nice detail. There’s not a lot to complain about, although if pushed I’d admit that the speedo is so big that it’s sometimes difficult to interpret at a glance. Otherwise the surprisingly spacious cabin ticks all the boxes, including decent forward visibility and cool switchgear.

Inside is just as unique as the exterior, with a heavy circle theme

The Cooper SD model is the most frugal and, as is so often the case, the slowest model in the range, too. With the Mini Roadster, though, we really cannot see why buyers would opt for the more powerful Cooper S or JCW variants. 143bhp is hardly sluggish in a car that weighs just 1275kg and there’s a glut of low-down torque that makes the Roadster ideal for most driving environments. The way the front axle communicates through the steering wheel is also enough to dispel the ‘100% poser’s car’ myth immediately. With no noticeable scuttle-shake either the Roadster really does offer a compliant and engaging drive.

The compromise – and I use the word loosely – are the carbon dioxide emissions. At 118g/km the Roadster is hardly a reckless polluter, especially with car’s relative performance in mind, but the benchmark is nevertheless moving towards 100g/km for cars with similar performance credentials. Combined economy is rated by Mini as 63mpg, but we achieved around 10mpg less, although that’s not to say that 60mpg+ isn’t achievable at constant motorway speeds. A stop/start helps (which generally works better on automatic cars than manuals like this one) helps to bring down fuel consumption.

Roof-down the Roadster is extremely well resolved considering its tiny wheelbase

The obvious fact is that these Minis – and this Roadster in particular – are fantastic cars. They’re individual yet considered and, with BMW mechanicals and electrical components, are fantastic to drive and live with.

Would I buy one? No, but I wouldn’t no matter how frugal or characterful it was. But, it’s easy to see why someone would spend above the market-average for a car like this, and that explains why there seems to be one on every street corner in the UK. If the Mini is your cup of tea, then nothing else will do.

Engine: 1995cc 4-cyl diesel Power: 143bhp @ 4000rpm Torque: 225lb ft @ 1750rpm 0-62mph: 8.1s Top Speed: 132mph Combined economy: 62.8mpg CO2 emissions: 118g/km Price: From £21,630

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