MF Garage: An Early Look & Long Drive in the New MotoringFile JCW Roadster

We’re days away from getting the MotoringFile’s longterm JCW Roadster to the HQ and we already have some initial thoughts on the car. How’s it possible? The first tour of duty for the JCW just happened to be transportation for a couple of us on MTTS across the US. And 4,400 miles behind the wheel of anything tends to generate some impressions. So with that said we hand it over to Todd, the lucky man who diligently observed all break-in procedures and drove as cautiously as possible in order to get the Roadster back to Chicago in one piece. Twelve days, 4,482 miles, 17 states, 6,000 MINI friends and 46 and a half hours of top down motoring in a JCW Roadster. Those are just some of the numbers from my two week adventure on MINI Takes the States. There will be lots of reviews of the trip to come but, for now, I’m going to focus on my time in the Roadster.

In normal, day to day motoring, driving a JCW Roadster will get tons of looks and cause a lot of head-turns because it’s stunning in person. On MTTS, it’s hard to stand out in a sea of well appointed MINIs but the JCW Roadster did just that. Upon entering it, the first thing you want to do in put the top down. The, now standard, semi-automatic top is fantastic. A simple turn of the release handle and a slight push up is all it takes to get started. Press the toggle and the top goes down in just a few seconds with an audible chime alerting you when the process is complete and you’re ready to get moving.

My biggest issue with this particular Roadster is the lack of the Recaro seats. This particular car was spec’d with them but a manufacturing hold up kept them from being installed on our test Roadster. Ok, we’ll deal. The problem? The substitution was the black lounge leather seats. While the lounge leather seats are very comfortable, they’re not aggressive looking enough for my taste and the leather is not a great idea in the summer in any drop top ride. Five minutes in the hot summer sun make the seats extremely hot so you really need to always remember to put the top up if the car is going to sit for more than a few minutes. The next problem with the leather is that while enjoying top down motoring in the sun, they don’t breathe and, yes, you’re gonna sweat. A lot. So my first recommendation is that you go for cloth or the amazing Recaros although those may even be a little warm too. I can only speculate.

Unlike the MINI R57 convertible, the Roadster has a great deal of boot space for luggage. Even with the top down, you are presented with the same amount of storage in the back – a great improvement over the four seat convertible which, with the top down, leaves scant amount of room for more than a couple of sandwiches and a stadium blanket in the boot. Ok, its a little more than that but not much.

Next, the exhaust tone of the JCW is addictive. A press of the sport button yields a slightly more aggressive soundtrack from the exhaust complete with a back popping that seriously turns heads, especially on Hollywood Boulevard. With the top down, you hear the JCW exhaust like never before. Amazingly, as hard as I pushed the car to keep the awesome sounds coming, the efficiency was incredible. This particular JCW averaged 32.1 MPG over 4,000 miles. Five minutes in this car with the top down listening to the exhaust and knowing you’re going to get great mileage should be plenty to convince you to go ahead and get the JCW.

In addition to the sounds of the JCW, the power of this car is impressive. So that you have perspective, my daily driver is a 2006 JCW GP. The power of the new JCW is delivered smoothly and evenly, almost to a fault. When you’ve got this additional power, you want to “feel” it. I’m used to a head snapping feeling on acceleration in the GP and this car simply does not have that. Don’t get me wrong, the new JCW is as fast or even faster than the 2006 GP but the seat-of-the-pants feeling is totally different. It’s less visceral. Granted, this is a subjective point of view and many people may appreciate the smoothness of this generation JCW. I know Db described the power as “twitchy” at times so I think he may not have agreed with my assessment. I guess it’s all about what you’re used to.

Another must-have option is the Harmon Kardon sound system. I drove an R57 JCW convertible across country for MTTS 2010 and the stock sound system in that car was underpowered and virtually un-listenable with the top down. This Roadster, equipped with the HK system, was a joy even with the open air whistling though your ears. So if you enjoy your tunes with the top down, HK is a necessity.

My final note is in regards to the lack if visibility with the top up. The blind spots are enormous. But then again, if you have this car, the top should almost never be up!

The JCW Roadster is an amazing car. The practicality of it can certainly be questioned by a lot of people due to lack of rear seats and the perceived irrationality of a convertible in places where winter occurs. But the spirit of MINI has always been a little bit about the unconventional and the JCW Roadster screams out to go with your gut, enjoy the journey and drive a car that puts a smile on your face.

  • b-

    Nice first thoughts, can’t wait to hear the rest of the review over the next months. Oh and DB, no matter what you say, I want that car!

    • dbwilldo

      I’d want that car. As my second car that I get to pull out for special occassions or weekends. Daily driver, not so much.

      • b-

        Of course, my R52 is not my daily driver. I put less than 5000 miles per year on it. The Roadster for me would be just that, the nice weather top down car.

  • Brian

    What a great looking car.

  • JonPD

    Totally agree with the difference in feeling between the twins and the GP. No doubt the JCW twins are good but they broadly lack the personality. They are easy to drive quick however around corners, with the torque available you can sweep corners with very little drama. Personally to me however the GP is light years ahead on fun however.

    Got to see my first viewing of the Roadster in the wild. An attractive design but bizarrely though I think its the better looking car in photos in person the Roadster is not as good looking to me in person as it is in photos. This was a first for me as any number of cars (the GP included) just don’t photograph well and look much better in person.

    • r.burns

      The GP is also light years ahead on uglyness for a majority (though i like it)

      If you speak of “fun”, yes, any stock R53 170 would do the trick

  • birddog2

    I have owned a 2012 Roadster since 21 March. It is a S with Sport Package, Mini Connected w/Nav, BRG w/silver stripes, manual trans. Prior to this, I owned a 2009 R56 Cooper S. A couple of comments re: the Motoring File Review; The current standard sound system is much improved over the previous offering and the Harmon Kardon $500 option is probably not needed I have the manual top and would not pay $750 for the semi-auto option (now included). When I bought the 2009, I initially wanted a R 57 convertible, but rejected it due to poor visibility The Roadster is much improved in that regard. The Roadster is noticeably stiffer and flatter cornering than my R 56. The body is tight w/o rattles or groans, However the soft top makes groans and creaks when up. Was pleasantly surprised by the room in the boot, plenty of room for trips with my wife and luggage. The space behind the seats provides room for purse, camera, etc. The wind deflector works well, altho it is hard to imagine how it costs $250. The 17 inch Run flat tires are better than the 2009’s were, but still noisy and rough. The “Openometer” is still the most useless gauge ever invented by man, and the space would be better servered with meaningful gauges. The Roll Bars look like they are serious and might actually work. Hopefully, none of us will find out. This MINI is a joy to drive and I am thoroughly enjoying my third childhood.

  • Bob Hayhurst

    “…drove as cautiously as possible…observed all break in procedures…”, Wow, not to pimp anybody out or anything but I’m pretty sure that was Todd behind me @ the impromtu track session at HMP in Hastings Nebraska. The track was owned by “George” and the time on it was arranged by Jim. While I can’t say say how “cautiously” Todd drove, (I never looked in the rearview mirror), I’m SURE he avoided any full throttle starts…

    • Bob, I thought I made sure that all evidence of our “track time” was destroyed. Let’s just say that there’s plenty of rubber left for Gabe to, ahem, test.

  • Bob Hayhurst

    “…drove as cautiously as possible…observed all break in procedures…”, Wow, not to pimp anybody out or anything but I’m pretty sure that was Todd behind me @ the impromtu track session at HMP in Hastings Nebraska. The track was owned by “George” and the time on it was arranged by Jim. While I can’t say how “cautiously” Todd drove, (I never looked in the rearview mirror), I’m SURE he avoided any full throttle starts…

  • Nice to read about your thoughts compared to the GP you drive Gabe, have to agree having moved from a GP to a JCW Roadster, but have really got used to the new JCW and the ease of driving compared to the GP. Both different to each other, but both really give the grin factor.

    HK like you say is a must, it doesn’t matter what speed or road noise, it really does give good quality sounds.

    With regards to the comments on leather, leather is a natural material, and totally breathable, harder wearing perfect for a soft top, will fade less in light exposure than cloth too. Cloth used in a cars is not as breathable as you would expect in a car, as it has to be treated with chemicals to make it Flame Retardant, which is generally a PVC type of compound that is sprayed or rolled onto the rear of the fabrics, and leather is naturally Flame Retardant so doesn’t get all the back coating that cloth gets on it restricting its breath-ability. The other consideration should be that all that open top driving means the interior gets dirty easier and faster, easy to wipe off leather unlike cloth.