Big smiles from little wonder
The Mini Roadster shows how the Mini is more than a car; it's become a marque in its own right, writes Campbell Spray
THERE can be few more delightful ways to spend a day off than by speeding through the beautiful English Cotswolds in an open-top car with a very attractive woman as your passenger.
That the car is the latest version of the multi-talented, and ever surprising, Mini range is a very substantial bonus as you know that you have great handling and lots of fun guaranteed. The Mini Roadster is the sixth Mini variation and is the first two-seater convertible from the marque and follows on from the Coupe -- which I find rather ugly but has been quite a success.
At the launch at the lovely Cowley Manor the Mini executives said that they had cars like the Mazda MX5 and the Audi TT Roadster in their sights. That might be a bit ambitious as both cars are a lot more substantial. However, the Mini Roadster should do well in giving a premium alternative for the young and adventurous. The pink pound could be fairly useful too for sales of the car, which Mini claim is "inspired by the Great British roadster tradition".
It is so much fun to drive, especially with the fabric roof down and the beautiful burble of the Cooper S 184hp petrol engine. I found the petrol models lighter to use, but the Mini Cooper SD Roadster with a four-cylinder turbo diesel has more mid-range poke and its emissions put it into the lowest tax band.
The Roadster has useful space behind the two front seats where a dog might sit, and the luggage area of 240 litres is surprisingly generous in this sector. The fabric roof is semi-automatic and folds down without compromising the boot, or needing a separate cover. The rear view is a bit blocky, but from everywhere else the car is very tasty indeed with heavily-raked A-pillars. The elegant roofline is more than 20mm lower than its four-seater convertible sibling. Mini makes much of the "Mini Connected" system, where you can get everything from Twitter and Facebook to analysis of your driving style linked into the car. It was a bit too much for me.
The Mini has been a mammoth success story which just keeps on giving to its BMW owners. More than 50,000 Minis were sold in the UK last year, and 285,060 globally. Already this year sales are up 12 per cent from last year.
Since the launch of the new Mini in 2000 there are now 108 models available across the six derivatives and, with all the extras and colour and trim combinations, there could be more than 15 billion totally individual customised Minis. The marque is very proud of its engine developments and claims that no other "small car brand has the same level of performance and economy".
I love driving them all. They inspire total confidence with the trademark squat powerful grip on the roads.
While the Mini Roadster might not be for me -- especially the John Cooper Works version with a top speed of nigh on 150mph -- the much bigger Countryman definitely could be. It shows how the Mini has become more than a car, but rather a marque in its own right. Prices for the Roadster start at €26,260 with the SD Roadster stepping in at €31,090, and the John Cooper Works at €39,460. And that's before you start on the customising procedure.
The good sales of Mini at the time of the boom seemed to be lots of third and fourth cars for wealthy families. Sales are coming back, but with a more mixed bag of purchasers. They are a lucky lot. The smile on my face last week said it all.
For a time I was living the dream and gloom was out of the window.