MF Garage: 2000 Miles Behind the Wheel of the JCW Roadster


Our JCW Roadster arrived just in time for Todd, DB and Axel to bask in the sun during MINI Takes the States earlier this year. But our real test wouldn’t begin until late August, starting with a call that the car was in Chicago and ready for it’s day-to-day duty.

2,000 miles later it’s safe to say the Roadster has been one of the best MINI experiences we’ve ever had. Until we literally hit some issues earlier this week.

Before we get to that, it’s worth reiterating that the Roadster has been a fantastic daily driver. Its ride is the best sport suspension equipped MINI I’ve ever driven. On broken Chicago roads anyone coming from a first generation MINI would likely consider it comfortable – not a word used with MINIs historically. But that doesn’t mean it’s not quick-witted and eager to please in the corners.

While it may not corner entirely flat, the Roadster is easy to modulate and control up to the limit. Lacking the lift-off oversteer it’s not quite as entertaining at the limit as the Coupe (or a properly specced hatch), but it’s plenty fun thanks to the surprisingly rigidity it offers over just about any other open-top car

The top has been down pretty much every minute it hasn’t been raining since getting it delivered to Chicago. And for those who have never experienced open-top motoring, it’s nothing less than a revelation coming from years of tin-top cars. It turns any commute, road-trip or errand into a visceral experience. And with the weather turning colder, the heat blasting and the seat warmers on full, it’s an exceptional way to see fall foliage as we did last weekend throughout the Midwest.

MPG has been steady in the high 20s despite commuting in the Roadster every day. Which begs the question – what other sporty convertible out there can offer the thrills of the MINI Roadster with such impressive MPG numbers? And this car isn’t a 2013 which should get at least 10-15% better numbers than our 2012 without the updated JCW Valvetronic engine.

And it all came to a thunderous end last week. Traveling home in the dark, driving rain it happened. I saw it but given the wall to the left, the cars to the right and the wet conditions, I couldn’t make a move either way. So I hit it. What exactly I’m still not sure, but it was massive and immediately blew the right front tire and bent both front wheels. In hindsight I suspect it was something metal and likely freshly deposited off the bed of an 18-wheeler. But whatever it was the Roadster’s run flats immediately became a blessing as I made my way home without missing a beat.

Seconds after the hit I used the MINI’s built-in system to call MINI Roadside assistance where a very helpful operator scheduled to flatbed the car the moment I got home. Minutes later I was helping load up our battle-scarred R58 onto the flatbed of the nicest towing driver I’ve ever met in my life. Maybe it was the Roadster because he couldn’t stop talking about how great it looked on his truck. I thought opposite.

It’s been three days and I’m still gutted. Any time you hit debris you can’t help but take the blame. Could I have seen it? Could I have swerved? In this case both are pretty unlikely but I can’t help but feeling awful for giving this happy little car its first battle scars.

  • Dylan Bland

    F*ck yeah to your photography.

  • David Toshio Williams

    Ran over a “plastic” bumper cover with my old R56, it tore out the cooling system and melted down the engine in the time it took to find a safe spot to stop.

    BTW – I’m getting an average of 37 on my current JCW Coupe (running non-oxy) with as high as 42, do you guys have really heavy feet?

    • Gabriel Bridger

      I can’t imagine how anyone in a MINI of any kind can get MPG that high.

      • Mike

        I still average 36mpg(UK) which is around 30mpg(US) in my 2003 R53. that’s with spirited driving now and then.

        Longer runs I still manage over 40mpg(US). I suppose it’s the number of speed cameras in the UK that helps!

        • Edward Ng

          Yes, I find the R53 can get good mileage if one stays below 70 mph. 😉

      • glangford

        In the basic mini coop, its not hard. You don’t even have to hypermile. Now a JCW, that raises questions. But I guess if you keep the rpms lower, its possible.

      • hemisedan


        I’ve gotten as on normal highway trips of 37 – 38 and that is normal. Around town, granted quite a bit of expressway is 30 – 33 mpg. The lowest I’ve ever gotten, and that was two winters ago, was 28 mpg. Maybe mine is a freak, and maybe it’s just the way it was broken in. Varying the speed for two hundred plus miles from Schaumburg to Des Moines. Just my JCW. One stretch in Texas on vacation, yes I do drive Lil Guy, I got the same 42 mpg. That was in a Dallas to Galveston stretch. I didn’t believe the computor so I filled with gas on the way back, it was within a couple of tenths.

      • Edward Ng

        In a R56 Justa Cooper 6spd manual with the oem 15 inch wheels and rubber, a buddy of mine can average 50 mpg on very long car trips, say NYC to Boston and back. His secret is barely any throttle and shifting at 2k until at speed at 65 mph then locking in cruise control. Just don’t be behind him at a light or on an on-ramp. :)

      • Evan

        My dad has a 2009 R56 Cooper manual and gets in the low 40s in a mix of driving on a regular basis. Straight highway sees mid 40s without blinking. If I hold my 2004 Cooper manual at 72-73mph, I’ll see 38mpg on the highway, otherwise I’m in the low 30s in a mix and 26mpg in the city… The one thing the R56 has over the R50/53 is the much more effiecient Prince engine and that extra gear over the Cooper.

      • birddog2

        I just made around trip from Lewiston, Idaho to Boise ( 600+/- miles) with no Interstates, traveling about speed limit + 5mph in our MCS Roadster and got 39.8 mpg. Not unusual, get 30-31 around town.

  • Bob Hayhurst

    Oooouchh Gabe, I feel your pain. The runflats do have an edge at times. Worst sight I’ve ever seen on the highway was a 20 foot aluminum extension ladder that had been hit a gazillion times by a gazillion cars. The only good thing was apparently the last person who hit it knocked out of the roadway to the shoulder. I remember thinking it would have been so ugly to have hit it in a MINI…