MF Garage: First Drive in Our Long-term JCW Roadster

It’s early but the car is packed and the top is down. It’s the day after the ALMS race at Road America, and we’re heading three hours back north to prepare for the 24 Hours of LeMons at the same track. Pulling our trusty $500 ’86 Toyota MR2 is a Toureg. Carrying me and my luggage is our new long-term JCW Roadster. Did I mention the top is down?

We’re going to be bringing you the ins and outs of Roadster ownership over the next year with this car. The idea is simple; we want to find out if the MINI Roadster can be an every day car in a city like Chicago. From sunshine to rain and snow, our Black and Red JCW will be subject to the daily grind and all the highs and lows that go with it.

And with that, the journey starts today heading north for a ridiculous race with ridiculous cars. For those that don’t know, a few members and friends of MotoringFile and BimmerFile have been competing in the 24 Hours of LeMons now for the last three years in a team called the Hofmiester Kinks. You can read some accounts of the previous races here and here and follow our progress here. It’s fun, it’s addicting and it’s at Road America for the first time ever. All why we’re back for another year.


It also serves as a great warm-up act for our JCW Roadster.

So how is it? In a word: impressive. The Roadster is unique in that taking the top off doesn’t result in inherently flawed dynamics. The large structural brace that separates the driver compartment from the boot gives the car far more rigidity than the four seat MINI convertible, and more than any other drop-top I’ve ever driven. What that does for the dynamics is to simply make it feel like a hardtop MINI – perhaps the greatest compliment.

We’ll get into much more in the coming weeks and years, but I’ll leave you with this: driving this Roadster over the last two days has been more all-around enjoyable than any MINI I’ve experienced to date.


  • Timothy Daniel

    Looking forward to the interior redesign…that speedometer around the nav is terrible.

    Other than that, I’m loving the black with red accents. Hard to keep clean I’d imagine, but it looks great after a wash.

    • Gil-galad

      Au contraire, I (and many others) prefer the speedo ring around the Nav as a vastly superior look to the “pizza pan” non-Nav speedo. Yeah, I admit that I functionally rely on the digital tach readout but do like the retention of the heritage center stack speedo. I’ve talked to a lot of MINI owners who claimed that the improved look of the Nav display was a major catalyst in their decision to devote $$ to the Nav option.

      • Timothy Daniel

        Well, different strokes I guess. I have an R53 and at least the big speedometer is readable. I don’t see how one can even see that little line moving around the large circle.

        It would also appear that BMW/MINI agrees that the current iteration is a “Jack of all trades master of none” scenario. Either it’s a speedo or it’s a nav. Cramming both into one space is less than ideal.

        Personally, I’d love it if MINI goes to a small tach and small speedo behind the steering wheel.

        • Gil-galad

          Yes, and it looks like you’ll get your wish if/when the F56 redesign works its way into the follow-on Roadster. Not sure what the forecast is on that happening…


          That’s why we spec’d the chrono pack on our 06 R53–turned out to be our best option pick by far.

  • Shmiata

    Why aren’t the seats trimmed with red in a JCW?

    • They were suppose to be Recaros but production was stopped due to a seat belt anchor redesign and these were put in their place without my knowledge.

    • Approved

  • Joao

    I’ve tested the roadster in the SD version, and liked a lot. It would a nice substitute for my 2005 R53.

  • bluzeke

    No mistaking that Roadster for a LeMon – Good Luck!

    We await your report.

  • Kev50027

    What is it about MINI leather seats that makes them look old when they’re brand new? Do they not stretch the leather enough like in BMWs? It’s one main reason I went with the leather side bolsters only.

  • goat

    Agree with last sentence because: “Roof goes down, fun goes up…” Even top up (like in your inevitable “rainy day” photo), two-seat convertibles have a very special snug-as-a-bug feel. Gabe, here are what I have found to be some of the best times/associated places driving a roadster: (1) pitch black night on a twisty back road with the engine and exhaust wailing and nothing but clear sky above to witness your smile; (2) evening leisurely heading downtown for dinner or a movie; (3) any time of day or night between rainshowers when everyone around you still cluelessly has their windows up and wipers smearing the glass while you are tearing along dry and cozy and connected to the surroundings and the mechanical sounds of the car in a way a closed coupe can never manage. Enjoy your year with this car… I am sure you will. 🙂

  • ChicagoRus

    Great article. I’m interested to hear your experiences with the JCW. I’ve got a Roadster S with the JCW engine package and am also in the Chicago-land area. Are you planning to use it through the winter?