Twelve days, 4,482 miles, 17 states, 6,000 MINI friends and 46 and a half hours of top down motoring in a JCW Roadster. Those are just some of the numbers from my two week adventure on MINI Takes the States. There will be lots of reviews of the trip to come but, for now, I’m going to focus on my time in the Roadster.
In normal, day to day motoring, driving a JCW Roadster will get tons of looks and cause a lot of head-turns because its’ stunning in person. On MTTS, it’s hard to stand out in a sea of well appointed MINIs but the JCW Roadster did just that. Upon entering it, the first thing you want to do in put the top down. The, now standard, semi-automatic top is fantastic. A simple turn of the release handle and a slight push up is all it takes to get started. Press the toggle and the top goes down in just a few seconds with an audible chime alerting you when the process is complete and you’re ready to get moving. My biggest issue with this particular Roadster is the lack of the Recaro seats. This particular car was spec’d with them but a manufacturing hold up kept them from being installed on our test Roadster. Ok, we’ll deal. The problem? The substitution was the black lounge leather seats. While the lounge leather seats are very comfortable, they’re not aggressive looking enough for my taste and the leather is not a great idea in the summer in any drop top ride. Five minutes in the hot summer sun make the seats extremely hot so you really need to always remember to put the top up if the car is going to sit for more than a few minutes. The next problem with the leather is that while enjoying top down motoring in the sun, they don’t breathe and, yes, you’re gonna sweat. A lot. So my first recommendation is that you go for cloth or the amazing Recaros although those may even be a little warm too. I can only speculate.
Unlike the MINI R57 convertible, the Roadster has a great deal of boot space for luggage. Even with the top down, you are presented with the same amount of storage in the back – a great improvement over the four seat convertible which, with the top down, leaves scant amount of room for more than a couple of sandwiches and a stadium blanket in the boot. Ok, its a little more than that but not much.
Next, the exhaust tone of the JCW is addictive. A press of the sport button yields a slightly more aggressive soundtrack from the exhaust complete with a back popping that seriously turns heads, especially on Hollywood Boulevard. With the top down, you hear the JCW exhaust like never before. Amazingly, as hard as I pushed the car to keep the awesome sounds coming, the efficiency was incredible. This particular JCW averaged 32.1 MPG over 4,000 miles. Five minutes in this car with the top down listening to the exhaust and knowing you’re going to get great mileage should be plenty to convince you to go ahead and get the JCW.
In addition to the sounds of the JCW, the power of this car is impressive. So that you have perspective, my daily driver is a 2006 JCW GP. The power of the new JCW is delivered smoothly and evenly, almost to a fault. When you’ve got this additional power, you want to “feel” it. I’m used to a head snapping feeling on acceleration in the GP and this car simply does not have that. Don’t get me wrong, the new JCW is as fast or even faster than the 2006 GP but the seat-of-the-pants feeling is totally different. It’s less visceral. Granted, this is a subjective point of view and many people may appreciate the smoothness of this generation JCW. I know db described the power as “twitchy” at times so I think he may not have agreed with my assessment. I guess it’s all about what you’re used to.
Another must-have option is the Harmon Kardon sound system. I drove an R57 JCW convertible across country for MTTS 2010 and the stock sound system in that car was underpowered and virtually un-listenable with the top down. This Roadster, equipped with the HK system, was a joy even with the open air whistling though your ears. So if you enjoy your tunes with the top down, HK is a necessity.
My final note is in regards to the lack if visibility with the top up. The blind spots are enormous. But then again, if you have this car, the top should almost never be up!
The JCW Roadster is an amazing car. The practicality of it can certainly be questioned by a lot of people due to lack of rear seats and the perceived irrationality of a convertible in places where winter occurs. But the spirit of MINI has always been a little bit about the unconventional and the JCW Roadster screams out to go with your gut, enjoy the journey and drive a car that puts a smile on your face.