MF Garage: JCW Roadster Michigan Road-trip


Top down. Exterior temp: 53F. This was the beginning of what I was billing as a “Weekend for Men.” A glorified guys weekend of brewery visits, football and cars. And I was determined to make it the full three hours from Chicago with the top down.

The thing you realize with a MINI Roadster is that there are key differences in seemingly similar temperatures. Especially when you add speed into the mix. For instance 53F at 45 mph feels great. 48F at 55 mph feels like you’re living life the way it was intended. But 44F at 75 mph feels… well it feels horrible. With jacket zipped, all heating mechanisms on full blast and the windows up, there is simply no fighting the cold away.

The weekend got distinctly less manly within the first 30 miles, when the temperature dipped from 59F to 43, prompting the top to go up.

While the JCW Roadster is well sorted with the top down, it’s a much more comfortable car with the top up. Not to say it’s cocooning. With a single layer canvas top and a lack of rear sound deadening, the outside can feel inside at times. People talking outside the car can sound alarmingly close. And highway noise hits you at all angles.

Yet you don’t buy the Roadster for the opulent ride or isolation from the outside world. You buy it for the visceral qualities of a MINI that bring the outside world as close to you as possible. And in those terms this car succeeds wildly.

What are the critical ingredients? The engine, the handling and the braking are of course key. The engine in particularly has an undeniable charm from the note to the power delivery. I think initial reviews of the Prince series of engines were a little unkind but understandable. Its attitude wasn’t worn on its sleeve like the previous MINI engines. But the JCW powerplant arguably sounds more like a MINI Challenge race car than any production engine yet.

In the bright yellow and orange forests of rural Michigan’s autumn landscape, the JCW Roadster finds its natural habitat. Driving from corner to corner, attacking both tarmac and dirt roads, it’s an absolute joy made even better with the top down and the sounds brought closer to the driver.

Our JCW Roadster was perfect this weekend. It left clean and 450 miles later it was a filthy with leaves and mud. It had never looked better.

  • Hemisedan

    Sounds like you had a blast in the ragtop. I always thought it was weird seeing a convertible going down the interstate with the top down and the windows up, kind of takes away from the roadster look from the old days when roadsters didn’t have windows. By the way, you’re making my decision as to go JCW again, rather than a loaded up S roadster next year more difficult. Nice update.

  • kellyp

    At first glance, the map image looked like you were going 75 on PCH near Santa Monica :)

  • Jason Williams

    Sounds like the roadster would be a great candidate for a MB-like AirScarf system for real four-season top-down motoring! You start off the review by labeling the trip as a “Weekend for Men.” Just out of curiosity, do you think you felt the trip was any more or less “manly” in the roadster than it would be say in a JCW hardtop or coupe?

    • Gabriel Bridger

      Interesting question. Sounds weird to even say it but the Roadster is (IMHO) way more manly than either if you go top-down the whole way. And anyone who’s riden a motorcycle would understand how physical an act it is to expose yourself to the elements like that. Of course it’s also plenty rewarding.

      • Nathaniel Salzman

        I have to agree. Motoring in the open air is a much more intimate experience. You feel the changes in temperature and humidity, and you smell the changes in the scenery. Driving a normal car past a bakery, then passing by the same place in the open air — two completely different experiences. The exposure in the soft top, and especially so on the motorcycle, adds a whole new dimension to moving down the road.

  • Brent

    Same problem with the convertible Mini. Mini really needs to beef the heater up in the convertibles. In my 99 Miata, it would get so hot on your feet you had to turn it down. Top down 40 degrees at 80 mph with the windows up or down, NO PROBLEM! Stocking cap recommended though!

    • Gabriel Bridger

      To be honest… The heater is insanely hot. To the point that, with it in full blast, it would be too much to handle at full blast at stop lights.