The MINI has been a fixture in our annual performance car shoot-out for more than a decade. The brilliant hot hatch is fast, fun and affordable, and with its infectious spirit and sparkling driving dynamics, it has always finished well. But this is the first time a drop-top version has made an appearance.
Whether you love or loathe the stubby styling of the MINI Roadster, there’s no denying it turns heads. With an aggressive front, steeply raked windscreen, chrome rollover hoops and body stripes, it looks every inch the boisterous road racer.
This impression is heightened the moment the MINI’s 1.6-litre turbo burbles into life. With its razor-sharp throttle response and muscular power delivery, the 208bhp engine delivers great performance – you can zap past slower traffic in the blink of an eye. Better still, with the hood stowed you’re even closer to the twin-exit exhaust, which crackles, pops and gurgles on the overrun.
As with its hatch cousins, the Roadster attacks corners with gusto. The steering’s quick and full of feel, while you can alter the car’s attitude mid-corner using the throttle. There’s strong grip, too, although the thumping torque delivery can result in scrappy wheelspin out of tight turns.
Away from the track, the MINI can be a handful. With its hard suspension set-up, the JCW is easily knocked off line by bumps in the road, and the fierce power delivery causes the steering wheel to tug in your hands.
At £24,860, the JCW isn’t cheap, and it’s tiring over long distances. Yet when the sun is shining and the road is twisty, there’s little to rival it.
In small doses, the MINI JCW Roadster is great fun – sharp responses and sparkling performance make it a riot to drive. Yet for less money you can get a top-of-the-range Mazda MX-5 RC. And while the two-seater Mazda can’t match the JCW Roadster for firepower and kerb appeal, it delivers greater finesse on the road, thanks to its traditional rear-wheel-drive layout and supple suspension.