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2013 Mini Cooper Roadster Test Drive by Martha Hindes - RTM's 2013 Sexy Car Buyer's Guide Top 10 Picks

2013 Mini Cooper Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

2013 Sexy Car Buyer's Guide - Top 10 Most Sex Appeal

Chevrolet Camaro SS

Mini Cooper Roadster

Dodge Challenger

Nissan 370Z

Our first ever drive in a contemporary MINI auto left us wondering how something so small and stubby could be so much fun. That was a dozen years ago when its parent BMW let the first of its abbreviated cars with the revived MINI name out the garage door and into the hands of anxious driving enthusiasts. With its reputation solidified and marque expanded with bulkier versions for a total of five since then, it was time to think small again. That brings us to the 2013 MINI Roadster, a little squished, a little brash and a whole lot of chops when it's time for two on the road. When you have a big-little auto that plays to a gear head base, you need to take advantage of the smallest category on wheels that's larger than a golf cart, don't you?

After all, who can ignore a MINI or its distinctive kind of bulbous body that wraps over some serious performance underpinnings? Especially now with abbreviated styling designed for a couple, a pair, and a duo of like-minded droolers.

And if you think small can't be sexy, you should have seen the  MINI Roadster's unveiling (literally) in decadent L.A. teasing passers-by with a forbidden store window series of "peep" shows. That snitch of a look, quick glance at the newcomer peeled down to a topless taunt, was all designed to bring one back for a second, and third look after peering over one's shoulder to make sure no one saw us lingering. We can imagine a Jennifer Lopez or a Jennifer Lawrence sweeping such caution goodbye to demonstrate their personal brands of irreverence with flair. If we spot a most unique MINI Roadster tooling around Los Angeles, you know we'll check out who's driving.

The MINI brand, originally with British credentials, was resurrected by the German automaker at a time several auto companies were swapping ownership at the end of the 20th Century. Now it is a premium staple among many driving enthusiasts for its ability to own the road in its own quirky style, or with the personalized traits of its buyer. Anyone with an ounce of moxie knows exactly where a MINI shines.

We can't see the MINI name without getting that "SHOUT" reaction.  (You know, anything on the internet in all caps is tantamount to shouting.) Maybe with the MINI, it's clearing the deck for an auto that's smallish on the outside, but all heart on the inside.

If you want to know how we feel about the MINI's looks, think of a box of crayons. Those, bold, delicious, shiny hues on the somewhat squared off body just burst out of nowhere with eye-grabbing attention, daring those who buy a MINI to create a unique look of their own. We've seen them topped off with black and white checkers, with tops peeled off for summer sun toasting in convertible version, with dual rear doors that open like a closet (something we suspect would please the collector in the crowd who needs a quick place to stash a precious find). The main idea, however, is the individuality that's possible. This has been a central theme of the auto since it emerged on the American car landscape.

And why does MINI intrigue the driving kind? It has a well-earned reputation for precise, agile handling, for shift throws (manual) or shift gate changes (automatic) that excite, for nimble capability that belies its "bulldog" appearance. (What else would you expect of BMW, or "Bimmer," progeny?)

All versions of the front-wheel-drive MINI Roadster ride on a 1.6-liter, inline four cylinder engine, that generates 121 horsepower (and 118 lb.-ft. of torque) in the standard Cooper version, 181 horsepower (177 torque) as the upgraded CooperS, and 208 horsepower (192 torque) for the hyped up John Cooper Works version.

It fairs well on the fuel economy side, with the Cooper  earning an EPA rating of 27 MPG city, 35 highway or 30 combined, with the standard six-speed manual or six-speed automatic earning the same. Moving up to the Cooper S with six-speed automatic loses one MPG each for city, highway or combined.

Since this is a roadster, an obvious consideration is going topless. With the MINI, you'll have to work at it a little. This might be a premium auto, but that doesn't translate to lazy, mushy or snobbish. One needs to turn an overhead latch and give a little push to start things going before the semi-automatic soft top folds up and back then tucks down into a smallish storage space.  A collapsible spoiler for rear wind deflection enhances the summer fun.

You won't get MINI panache on the cheap, although it comes in considerably lower than some premium vehicles designed for playtime. The base roadster, or "Cooper," version checks in at $26,345. Add $3K for the mid-range Cooper S. The top, John Cooper Works model hits the road running at $36,495. That's about a $1,200 uptick in cost from its 2012 introduction price tag. Add $795 to each for destination and delivery.

What's our assessment? We can't imagine the driving world without a vehicle like the MINI, now in roadster iteration. The world simply needs more fun, and this is one vehicle that can give a handy salute to just about any stodgy road hog out there. After all, what other car has folks buying textured carbon fiber wrapping for accessorizing such things as gas caps, headlamp surrounds, parking brake grips, or instrument panel insets simply because it's the cool thing to do?