Mazda MX-5 vs. Mini Cooper S Roadster, which is best?

August is almost at an end, and most of you are probably not thinking about buying a convertible at this time of the year.
But I think you should, because if last year is anything to go by, we will have sunshine for a few more months, and that means, ample time to enjoy top-down motoring.
For many years, if you wanted a two-seater convertible for under $50,000; you’d have only one choice, the Mazda MX-5.
Now it has some worthy competition from another “M” brand, Mini.
While Mini has been offering a convertible version of the Cooper for many years now, the two-seat version they are calling the Roadster is all new for 2012.
So here we have two sporty convertibles, both are two-seaters and both are in the same price bracket (we’ll get into the actual price later), but one drives the front wheels, while the other propels the rear. So which is best, let’s find out.
Styling: Let’s start with the way they look. The MX-5 has been around for a few years now, so while it may not be the freshest design on the market, it is still very attractive. I still smile whenever I see one on the road. What is new is the SV model, which has a black roof and darkened wheels. Looks good. Only thing I’d change about it is the ride height, but that can easily be fixed.
The Mini Roadster on the other hand is a new design, albeit a very familiar one. If you’re interested in posing, than the Roadster with its low windshield and its rear spoiler which rises up at speed (or when you push a button), is the one to get. This car gets as much attention as walking in a mall wearing a scuba suit.
Which one you prefer is up to you, but either way, it’s a win-win based on design.
Interior: Step inside, and the differences get bigger. The MX-5 is a bit cramped and looks and feels very plasticy. The Roadster has much more room, has nicer seats and the overall look and feel of the interior is more upscale. Mazda should take some inspiration from the Mini’s interior when they redesign the MX-5. So for the interior, the Mini has an easy win.
Convertible Top: While the base model MX-5 has a cloth roof, the SV model I had on test had the power retractable hard top. This roof not only looks slick, but with it going up or down in 15 seconds, it is quick too. Plus when the roof is up, you have better sound insulation also, so this is a good roof.
The roof in the Mini Roadster is a traditional soft top that has no power assistance. This means that in order to get this roof up or down, you have to get in and out of the car. This is good exercise, although if it suddenly starts raining, it is a bit inconvenient to erect the roof at a traffic light (don’t ask me why I know).
So when it comes to roofs, I have to give the win to the MX-5.
Engine: Both cars have four-cylinder engines, but are very different in character. The MX-5 is available with just one engine, a 2.0-liter, inline-four which produces 167 hp and 140-lb/ft of torque.
The Roadster has three engine options, all displacing 1.6-liters. There is the base non-turbo that produces 121 hp while the John Cooper Works turbo produces 208 hp. My tester was the middle of the range Cooper S version, which produced 181 hp and 177-lb/ft of torque. This turbo charged motor is just fantastic. It accelerates well and sounds good, especially when it backfires on the overrun (sounds like its farting pop corns).
However, the normally aspirated motor in the MX-5 is a better engine in my opinion. It revs like mad, sounds even better than the Mini and accelerates this car forward with gusto regardless of whatever your speed. I love it.
On the engine front (both are front engined by the way), while both are good, I have to give my preference to the MX-5. It has the motor I enjoyed more.
Transmission: Both can be had with either automatics or six-speed manual gearboxes. Both my testers had manuals, and both units are very good, with the Mazda getting a slight advantage in my books due to shorter throws.
Performance: Both cars can easily top about 220 km/h, so both are equally as fast. Although, the MX-5 does feel a bit more planted at higher speeds.
Handling: Both cars handle exceptionally well, and will make any twisty road a play ground (if the Police isn’t looking). They are very close in feel, despite the Mini being front-wheel drive to the MX-5’s rear wheel drive layout.
When really pushed, I felt the MX-5 has a better chassis and suspension set-up and is more of a joy when you’re driving for enjoyment. So another win for the Mazda.
Highway Cruising: Both cars can handle a highway run, but I won’t recommend it in either of them. On a long drive, they are both a bit tiring, so these are better suited for shorter runs. If you have to pick between the two, I’d again pick the MX-5 for the journey, although the Roadster is more economical. I averaged 7.8-liters/100km in the Mini over a week of city and highway driving, the Mazda managed 8.4-liters/100km.
Price: The MX-5 SV is yours from $33,995. The Mini Cooper S Roadster is slightly cheaper, starting at $32,900. Options can easily raise prices for both these vehicles to upwards of $40,000.
Verdict: Picking one over the other is a personal choice. Both cars play the role of being a secondary fun car very well. However, if its my own money on the line, I’m taking the MX-5 home.

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