Going soft about racy MINI Roadster

If you have got a soft spot for MINIs then you'll love the new Roadster, says Andy Russell.

Having been an owner of one of the original Minis I've developed a bit of a soft spot for the latest MINI – so much so that I've just bought a bright red Cooper Convertible.

But already my wife knows what we're having next – another MINI soft-top… but this time it's going to be the Roadster – the latest incarnation of the born-again motoring icon.

The two-seater soft-top is the sixth member of the MINI family, joining the hard-top Coupe, which brought two-seater motoring to the marque for the first time, and goes head to head with another evergreen favourite – Mazda's MX-5. And being built at Oxford, the MINI Roadster is a British two-seater sports car.

Its looks won't be to everyone's taste, with the boot protruding beyond the hood, but I think it looks better than the Coupe – roof up or down.

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Available only in Cooper spec, there's the choice of three petrol engines – 122hp 1.6-litre Cooper and turbo charged 184hp Cooper S and 211hp John Cooper Works along with the 143hp 2.0-litre turbo diesel Cooper SD.

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Pick of the bunch is the Cooper S which has more than enough performance to put a big smile of your face with strong low-down pulling power – the second and third-gear punch from low revs is fantastic when you're looking to be quick off the mark. And it revs freely and eagerly with a lovely raspy exhaust note and brisk acceleration yet will still return 40mpg overall.

The ride is firm, even without the optional sport suspension, but forgiving and soaks up poor roads well with only potholes and raised manhole covers thumping through the suspension especially with the bigger 17in alloys – part of the must-have �1,975 Chili pack.

Even without a fixed roof, the Roadster's body-strengthening and low centre of gravity help give that go-kart-like handling which make the MINI such a driver's car. The sharp steering, nimble feel and taut body control allow the Roadster to be flicked through corners with huge levels of grip and traction which inspire confidence.

What I wasn't so keen on was the folding soft-top. On my Convertible I hold one switch and the windows drop, the roof goes down and the windows come back up again or vice versa if you are putting the roof up – you can even do it remotely on the key fob. The Roadster's roof is semi automatic which means twisting a central unlocking handle and pushing the roof back a couple of inches, and it's quite heavy, before you can drop it electrically. When raised it stops just short of the steeply-raked windscreen and has to be pulled back into place and locked manually. And then you have to raise the side windows manually. You get used to it but it's a chore compared to the ease of the Convertible. That said, the hard front section of the roof folds leaves a tidier look when it is folded down and keeps the car's line looking neat.

But I loved the little spoiler, shared with the Coupe, which rises from the boot as speed builds.

A piece of rubber sealing trim on the roof frame of my test car kept falling off when the roof went down. It was easy to fit again but the fact I found an identical stray piece under the driver's seat suggested the previous driver hadn't bothered to refit it or even found it when it came off. If I had bought the car with my hard-earned cash I might not have been so willing to keep clipping it back myself.

The Roadster seats only two but there's no shortage of space for six-footers with decent legroom and headroom even with the roof up. Storage is also good with a useful full-width shelf behind the front seats and the 240-litre boot will take two people's luggage especially if you have squidgy holdalls – more sensible given the slight step in the boot floor. A hatch from the cabin into the boot means you can get to small items without getting out.

It's easy to get comfortable with plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment and the fascia features the large central speedo, rev counter behind the wheel and lots of little buttons and toggle switches.

Cooper S comes with front and side airbags, air-conditioning, electronic driver aids including stability control, semi-electric roof, engine stop-start, rear parking sensors, cruise control, sport button to alter steering and throttle response and sport seats. The Chili pack adds climate control, Bluetooth, brighter bi-xenon headlights, part leather seats, front fog lights, trip computer and wind deflector.

I was sorry to see the Roadster go, my wife even more so. When we replace our Convertible I have a good idea what will take its place!

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