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Consumer Reports auto experts report from the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Mini Cooper Roadster

What is it? The Mini Roadster is the follow-up to the Mini Coupe, which went on sale late last year. Like the Coupe, the Roadster is a two-seater that takes the platform of the Mini Cooper hardtop and removes its “mini-scule” amount of practicality, replacing it with features designed to make the car even more fun. In the case of the Roadster, it’s a manually operated soft top.

On the outside, the Roadster appears to be the answer to the rhetorical question, “Can they make a Mini any smaller?” While it is actually the same length as the regular Mini Cooper Convertible, the Roadster’s chopped windshield, three-quarter-inch lower ride height, and snub nose make it appear to be shorter. A small rear wing automatically rises when the Roadster hits 50 mph and drops down below 37 mph.

Under the hood is the familiar 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, to be offered in three guises: the naturally aspirated 121-hp base; a 181-hp turbo in the Cooper S; and the 208-hp turbo in the top-gun John Cooper Works. All variations put power to the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual, while the base and S can be optioned with a six-speed automatic.

Inside the car is standard Mini, with a huge center-mounted display for speed, audio, fuel level, and more. Opting for the touch screen puts a digital display there, as well as the optional backup camera.

What is new or notable? Like the Cooper convertible, the Roadster has the cute Openmeter, which logs the amount of time the car has been driven with the top down. However, the 8.5 cubic feet of luggage space is what weekend-trip goers will want to focus on.

CR's take: While the Coupe (and likely the Roadster) retains the sportiness of the regular Mini Cooper hardtop, the raked windshield hampers visibility, the cabin is quite snug, and cargo room has taken a big hit. While fun, both cars will drive quickly-by any conversations involving practicality.

When will it be available? Spring 2012

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