Mini Cooper S Roadster

Mini Cooper S Roadster

Feedback is something you never want from an ex, and only sometimes from guitars. But you should always want feedback from a car, and it's this kind of communication that makes the MINI Cooper S Roadster – the British-via-BMW group's first-ever top-down two-seater – a must-drive this summer.

The Cooper S Roadster reveals itself with an uncommon amount of feel: Its chassis is especially rigid, even in comparison with the manufacturer's other variants. Combine that stiff ride with the car's direct, agile steering, and you enter a rewarding dialogue with the pavement beneath you – why, hello there, road!

Its feisty, economical (30 mpg combined!) powerplant talks to you, too: Our test model came equipped with a 184 horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbocharged four and a six-speed manual transmission that made squirting through city traffic a joy, like a giant marble game. Skip the automatic – you owe it to yourself to drive the stick on this one.

For sonic feedback, just click a tiny M&M-like button to put the car in "Sport" mode. Hearing the addictive pop-and-cackle kickback at 2,000 rpm is as simple as dropping the ragtop. Doing that takes just a couple seconds – twist a handle above your head 130 degrees and pull it back, like pitching a baseball in reverse. It's so easy that you find yourself going top-down even on the shortest deli runs.

The Cooper S Roadster is far from perfect: Its stiff handling would lose its charm on a long day on the open highway, and even in town on our test drive, a jaunt down a joltingly potholed avenue had one passenger jokingly wishing she'd worn a sports bra. And you gotta be confident in your manhood to enjoy the Cooper S Roadster – it isn't the most hyper-masculine ride on the planet. But let it charm you, and the low-key thrills come continuously, stoplight to stoplight, stimulating like draws from an endless iced espresso. [From $28,050 miniusa.com]