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.