2013 Mini John Cooper Works RoadsterPosted on September 23rd, 2013
More performance, more fun for two-seat ragtop
By Bob Golfen
For the sixth model of its unique collection of small cars, Mini lopped the roof off its two-seat Coupe to create a two-seat ragtop, the Mini Roadster. The result is something akin to a proper little British sports car, with the emphasis on driving fun.
The test car was the high-performance John Cooper Works model, named for the performance guru of the original Austin Minis who transformed the landmark front-wheel-drive minicar from tiny urban appliance to potent racing star. Modern JCW additions enhance the regular Mini S roadster with a unique appearance package and special performance equipment.
These include a new 208-horsepower turbocharged engine, which is plenty when the car weighs less than 2,800 pounds; sport suspension; powerful Brembo brakes; dynamic stability- and traction-control systems; 17-inch alloy wheels; and aerodynamic styling cues.
Base price for the Mini John Cooper Works Roadster starts at $35,700. The bottom line for the test Mini, including a package of navigation and connectivity, and the automatic transmission, came down to $39,845. The performance is great, but that seems like a lot.
We had the 2013 model, which continues essentially unchanged for 2014.
The John Cooper Works tweaks for the Mini Roadster creates an uneasy alliance between roly-poly cuteness and hard-edged performance. The car can’t seem to decide whether it’s ready for a sunny romp on a country road or a day at the race track. Arguably, it could do either, although the brutally stiff suspension could wreck the mood during the country cruise. And it could be just too cute to impress the other drivers at the track.
The JCW sport suspension is rock hard, accentuated by harsh run-flat tires, and really too stiff for comfort on anything but the smoothest surfaces. Great for track day, not so hot for the everyday world. Plus, the cowl shakes and the roof (when up) shutters whenever the pavement gets rough.
The split personality extends to the performance. Press the driver-controlled ‘Sport’ button and presto, the accelerator and steering become more responsive. The 1.6-liter twin-scroll turbo engine builds 192 pound-feet of torque at 1,850 rpm, although an overboost function moves that up to 207 pound-feet for short blasts. Zero to 60 comes in 6.3 seconds with the six-speed manual and 6.5 second with the six-speed automatic, the manufacturer says. Fuel mileage is decent.
The test car came with the automatic, which was a disappointment even though the transmission performed flawlessly. This sporty critter cries out for stickshift.
The look is not for everyone, tipping more to the adorable side of the stylistic scale, but it is a great improvement over the weird-looking Coupe with its ball-cap roof. Actually, I’m not sold on the humpy look of the Roadster’s extremely short rear deck. With the top up, rearward vision becomes an issue. The trunk is miniscule.
The regular Mini convertible with its top that extends all the way to the rear has a better appearance, as well as greater functionality. But no, it’s not a roadster. That’s an important consideration for those who want a road-going fun machine for two, in the classic tradition.
Mini Roadster succeeds in its role as a two-seater sports car, maybe a bit taller and stubbier than most, enhanced by the sensory pleasures of top-down motoring. The short windshield is a plus here since it adds to the al fresco experience.
The hot summer weather in Phoenix limited our top-down exposure to the evening when the blazing sun doesn’t fry you like an egg in a skillet. The night cruises were super nice, with the healthy roar from the tailpipe adding to the ambience.
The two-seat interior is surprisingly roomy, even for too-tall drivers such as me (although I’m sure there was a clown-car effect whenever I climbed out).
I think the dashboard is overdue for an update; what once looked retro and chic is now starting to look overwrought. The giant speedometer in the center is about worthless. The top-down timing meter to the left of the steering wheel is a silly waste of space. Again, are we being a hot JCW sport compact or just too cute for words’
The accent lights that glow in changing colors when you open the doors are interesting, though I might have thought they were cooler when I was around 16.
The JCW Roadster was great fun to drive, which is after all Mini’s goal. It’s fast and handles like a roller skate. For those willing to compromise ride quality for handling, there’s a lot to like here.
Likes: Hard-charging performance, sharp handling, roomy seating, top-down pleasure.
Dislikes: Brutally stiff suspension, dated dashboard, kind of pricey.
Model: John Cooper Works Roadster.
Base price: $35,700.
As tested: $39,845.
Engine: Turbocharged 1.6-liter inline four.
Horsepower: 208 at 6,000 rpm.
Torque: 192 pound-feet starting at 1,850 rpm (207 with overboost function).
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Zero to 60: 6.5 seconds.
Wheelbase: 97 inches.
Curb weight: 2,745 pounds.
Side-curtain airbags: Yes.
First-aid kit: NA.
Bicycle friendly: No way.
Fuel economy: 26 city, 34 highway, 29 combined.
Bob Golfen is a veteran automotive writer and editor, formerly with The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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