Fair price with sporty flair

Break out the SPF 50 and the Ray-Ban sunglasses because the Mini Cooper Roadster has just arrived.

The two-seat convertible, a first for the Mini brand and a companion to the recently launched Coupe, adds some visual spice to the Mini’s broadening model lineup that already includes a four-passenger drop-top.

Admittedly, it seems a bit odd that BMW-owned Mini would now have two not-so-distinct convertibles that are constructed off the same platform and share the same mechanical bits. Furthermore, the two-seat Roadster lists for about $450 more than the standard four-seat convertible.

Ah, but there’s a point that’s being overlooked. The Roadster swaps out the rear bench that isn’t particularly roomy in the first place for an actual trunk (another Mini first). We’re not talking a cavernous space here by any means (it has a bit less volume than the Coupe’s trunk) but it’s enough to store a few decent-sized travel bags or a set or two of golf clubs regardless of whether the top is up or down.

The Roadster’s styling is far less controversial than that of the helmet-headed Coupe and it looks better with the roof up than the existing Mini convertible. Combined with a windshield that has been tilted back an additional 13 degrees, the Roadster is one of the best looking of the bunch.

The windshield frame has also been significantly reinforced and functions in concert with the twin padded steel roll bars to provide a measure of protection should a worst-case tip-over event occur.

The black-only cloth top that includes a heated glass rear window is secured in place with a twist of a single windshield-mounted lever. The spring-loaded lid lowers flat into its stowage spot by pressing a button located between the roll bars. The outer portion of the top remains exposed after the folding process so that a separate tonneau cover is unnecessary. The process is managed by either the driver or passenger from within the cockpit.

Most Mini fans will instantly recognize the dominating circular pod in the center of the dash containing the speedometer, audio controls, clock and fuel gauge. Behind the steering wheel is similarly shaped, albeit smaller, pod containing a tachometer and other operating data.

To reduce the Roadster body’s tendency to twist – which is fairly normal behavior when the roof is removed – Mini installed additional structural bracing in the trunk area and other key spots. And to help keep the rear end planted, a trunk-mounted spoiler automatically deploys once the vehicle reaches 50 mph and retracts when the speed drops below 37 mph. But if you like its look, you can leave it up.

There are no special tricks up the Roadster’s sleeve in the powertrain department. It gets the same basic trio of engines as every other Mini model, beginning with a 121-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder for base models. A turbocharged 1.6 comes in the S version that’s worth 181 horsepower while a tweaked-up 208-horsepower 1.6 is part of the John Cooper Works (JCW) package.

Base and S Roadsters come with six-speed manual transmissions and optional six-speed automatics, while the JCW is only available with the stick.

Base models hit 60 mph from rest in a leisurely 9.2 seconds, while the S is good for about 7.0 seconds. The JCW drops that time by another half second. But if fuel economy is important, selecting the base engine delivers 29 mpg city and 37 mpg highway using premium fuel.

With a lowered stance that matches the Coupe, the hair-drying Roadster deserves its sports-car appellation. And, with pricing that ranges from $25,000- $35,000, it’s an affordable alternative to the league-leading Mazda Miata and an extra-fun way to celebrate the summer season.

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