The new DS3, customise every feature to suit your style
ROAD TEST: Mini Roadster JCW
Yes, I’ve successfully conducted my very own little Mythbusters experiment, much to the bemusement of most motorists I came across.
I have proven, without a shadow of a doubt, that in a Mini Roadster with the roof down, the windows up, and the heaters and seat warmers in hot-as-hell mode you can cruise around Jozi in winter at night, as cozy as a bug in a rug. Not that the aunty in the C-Class, who looked at me like I’d lost my marbles, would believe it possible.
So I’ll give Mini’s sixth and latest model in the range, the two-seater Roadster, a tick there.
What did get on my nerves though was that the soft top in question was manually operated. It may sound all purist and romantic and, yes, it is quite easy to pull back when opening, but bloody hell it’s a mission to close when sitting inside.
REQUIRES SUPERHERO ARMS
Ideally you’re supposed to get out and do it, but then you have to get back in to latch the thing above the rearview mirror, which seems a step too far. This means that from the driver’s seat you need arms like the superheroes in Avengers to grip the roof and pull it forward. I understand that an automated answer is to be introduced in June as an eight grand option. Prioritise this if you’re looking to buy a Mini Roadster, before you even look at satnav or any of the other toys. Trust me.
On test here is the quickest of the Roadster bunch, the bad-ass John Cooper Works (JCW) pushing 155kW and 280Nm from its force-fed 1.6-litre four-cylinder powerplant. And, as you can imagine, in hairdrier terms this is the industrial strength one you find in the fanciest salon in Hyde Park. The JCW is wide awake, like a chihuahua chasing a tennis ball between your sofas, and it handles pretty much like that too.
Switch the electronic nannies off and you’ll rubberise tar through most of first gear should you launch at anywhere over three and a half thousand revs. Get the balance right and you’ll chirp intermittently through first gear – which is the sweet spot and got us a 6.8 second 0-100km/h time at our test track. With that kind of performance the 9.6l/100km average consumption figure we achieved wasn’t bad.
And then there’s the handling. Being the JCW you sense the torque wrench was set to maximum when tightening things like spring and damper rates. Steering response to driver inputs is just about as direct as that chihuahua cornering past your lazyboy. But be warned, that stiffness mated to those 17” wheels and stiffer-sidewalled runflats makes for a seriously hard ride, to the point of displeasure on bad roads. It also feels skittish when the going gets rough. But the JCW lives for anything with a curve, or tight corner, or apex for that matter, and is set up with this kind of bias.
It sounds cool too, especially with the Sport button on which brings the exhaust to life. We’re talking raspy crackles and backpressure pops – a very cool soundtrack to enjoy with the roof down. Sport also gets the throttle response noticeably more on edge, and the steering stiffens up a bit. But the highlight has to be the go-faster rear spoiler, which reminded me of the flaps on an aeroplane wing in how quickly at 80km/h you watch it raise (for additional rear downforce), and below 60km/h watch it drop. And just for your News Café moment of fame, there’s a button forcing that spoiler to wink on command.
Throwing JCW badges at the Roadster doesn’t remedy the nature of a roofless design unfortunately, and spending a week with the car did reveal some inherent scuttle shake. I also picked up the odd creak and rattle from the body itself on rougher surfaces.
The biggest flaw in the design though is the lack of visibility from the rear corners when turning, caused by no rear windows and the roof design closing up those corners. So you’re left with a massive blind spot and you simply can’t see traffic coming in your direction at an intersection.
The Roadster is strictly a two-seater affair with the obvious space issues. It’s not exactly claustrophic with reasonable leg and headroom, but you can’t swing the proverbial cat between driver and passenger either. I found the back support bolsters in the seat of the JCW quite hard too. There’s a bit of space behind the seats for not much more than a briefcase, but at least Mini has organised a through-loading setup from the boot for your golf bag. It’s hard to believe that the Roadster (and Coupé) platform dimensions are identical to the “normal” Minis, with the same wheelbase too.
It’s simple, just get the Convertible JCW which has the back seats, and at R395 190 is around five grand cheaper. It does the same job, has the same power, but is just so much more practical. Practicality aside the Roadster JCW is a ball of fun with a distinctly different look to the Convertible.
So what’s next Mini, a Countryman Coupé?