MF Garage: Our Roadster’s First Spring Road-trip

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With a quickly packed bag in the trunk and the Valentine 1 mounted on the windshield, the MINI Roadster and its first spring road trip gets underway just as the sun begins to climb into the morning sky. Our little JCW Roadster has done countless miles on this kind of road trip already but it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to go on one with weather worthy of top-down motoring. If all goes according to plan, that should happen today.

When we ordered our Roadster, we vacillated back and forth about how to spec such a unique car. We weren’t going to go with a frugal spec simply because we wanted to test as many of MINI’s long list of options as possible. Yet still, it was hard to narrow the choices down to just a few last year when we brought the question to our readers. While we weren’t able to get the Recaros we wanted (they were dropped from the Roadster due to wear problems) we ended up with a loaded Black JCW, finished with plenty of Chili Red touches. The result turns heads unlike any MINI I’ve ever driven.

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Why? In my mind it comes down to the Roadster falling into some kind of golden ratio between shape and compactness, with a healthy dose of body curves. In fact, after living with the Roadster for seven months I’d say that the most unique aspect of the exterior design are the car’s rear hips, which rise over the quarter panels. They subtlety mirror that familiar shape behind the front lights that all MINIs have been endowed with since the original.

At our starting point in downtown Chicago there was no hope of the top being down, but with plenty of miles and plenty of time behind us later in the day, the sun shone bright in the sky it was time to pull over, twist the handle and flip the switch. A few seconds later we’re back on the road with the wind in our hair.

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At around 50ºF with the wind-deflector in place (now standard on the Roadster) the MINI Roadster is a surprisingly comfortable place. It’s not cocooning like larger convertibles with windshields that extend near or past your head, but it feels as a MINI should — alive, civilized, but with reflexes tensed up a notch or two.

The same could be said for the driver. The beauty of open top motoring is the connection to the world outside. I’ve said it before here, automotive engineering has gone to great pains to cosset drivers to an extent that is usually robbing them of the joy of driving. While the normal MINI naturally strips much of this away, it’s the MINI Roadster that goes even further — bringing the outside in and reducing layers of modern comfort that can dull the experience.

With winter ending, I suppose it’s worth speaking to the Roadster’s ability to live through it. In my experience the R58 isn’t much different than any other MINI. With the proper tires there simply are no issues. The single layer top certainly allows for more wind and road noise into the cabin. Beyond that, however, there are no issues with extreme cold, with the car warming up, or staying warm as some had wondered.

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After a few hours of top down driving at highway speeds, pulling up to our destination and turning off the car feels like quiet introspective moment. The Roadster won’t re-energize you after hours behind the wheel. It’s not meant to pamper or envelope you in the wonders of luxury. Instead this is a pocket-sized dose of excitement that seems to have endless spirit and eagerness. Top up or down, it’s a car that puts a smile on my face quicker than any MINI I’ve ever driven.

  • ulrichd

    It could just be the angle or shadows but did you lower the suspension? It doesn’t seem to have the usual MINI 4wd wheel gap.

    • Scott Eaves

      Why would a Roadster have a 4wd wheel gap?

      • ulrichd

        IMO, current Minis seem to have a fairly high stance compared to the R50/53 cars. I was just using that term to describe it.

  • Gary

    Gabe, thanks for accurately capturing the Roadster experience, even up here on the seemingly endless upper Midwest tundra. You hit the nail on the head.

    Where did you mount the V1? I’ve noticed that anywhere below the rear view mirror has the line of sight is blocked to the rear by both the wind deflector and the deployed spoiler. No big deal for Ka, but methinks not good for laser.

    A little bit of Prima Swirl for that A-Pillar too please. 😉

  • swiftaw

    Is that black grille surround standard? I thought the JCW came with a chrome surround now.

    • Gabriel Bridger

      It’s a $50 dollar part I highly recommend.

      • swiftaw

        From where? How easy is the install? Would having driving lamps installed make the install harder? Thanks.

        • Gabriel Bridger

          Not sure about driving laps but its about 10 minutes normally.

        • swiftaw

          Thanks, where did you get the parts from?

        • b-

          Just try some of the Motoringfile sponsors. You can get it there.

        • Gabriel Bridger

          Any of the MotorongFile sponsors would be happy to help. Tell them you saw it here in this article and they should be able to order it and have it to you in a day or so.

  • Bob Hayhurst

    Nice… I’ll never forget the first time I drove a convertible. It was a sprite. Wind, motor, exhaust, gear change; I loved it. Hope it was a fun trip for you…