A lot has been said and written about the MINI Cooper S JCW Kit since its release a year ago. Yet, until now we hadn't had a chance to throw our hat in the ring with a full review. We had originally planned on having a review last year but schedules conflicted and things in the end simply didn't work out. However, I recently had a chance to “borrow” an MCS with the JCW kit for awhile and thought it was as good a time as any to add our voices to the growing number of reviews out there.
Many have slammed the car for its high price and lack of exterior differences from the stock MCS. Others have sung its praises as the ultimate (albeit expensive) factory-authorized MINI. I found that the answer lies somewhere between the two drastically different opinions. In fact, it really depends on what you want from the car and what you expect it to be.
My very first thought after driving the JCW MCS: wow. The engine felt as if it had lots of reserve power in every gear – almost an odd sensation for the MINI. In fact, cruising at 70 and punching it in 6th gear gives a similar sensation to cruising at 40mph and punching it in 4th gear with a standard Cooper. Further, going from 4th to 3rd and then punching it at 70mph is absolutely exhilarating. On the other end of the spectrum, it's hard not to feel cool blipping the throttle going from 3rd to 2nd knowing you have all that power at your disposal at any time. In an MC, or even to some degree an MCS, it's there but just not always immediate. In the JCW S you're really never concerned about where the engine is within the rev range.
Another sensation that is almost un-MINI-like is having to properly modulate your power delivery out of turns so you don't scrub away too much of that newly found acceleration. Exiting corners is pure joy in this car. Where the MCS is eager, the JCW S is just plain rapid. Certainly we can thank the more robust power band for this sensation. Simply put power everywhere and you don't need to work at all to get it. Quite a change from the MC and even the MCS.
And that power is something that proves to be not only satisfying but also very addicting. The MINI has always turned and stopped very well. However, the JCW S is almost an epiphany with its power.
Of course, all this comes at a price tag. A $6000 price tag ($5200 for the parts, around $800 for the installation). One of the more popular opinions among the MINI faithful is the JCW S just isn't worth the money when you consider what else is out there in terms of aftermarket choices. This may be true. But who am I to say its overpriced to someone who (A) has the money and (B) wants the warranty and exclusivity? That's really the catch. The JCW S is completely covered under the MINI factory warranty and is as rare as the new MINI gets.
But what about that notion that you can get all the JCW kit provides and more from aftermarket parts? Well yes – you certainly can achieve similar figures using products from the growing number of reputable aftermarket companies that specialize in the new MINI. I've experienced a couple MCSs with aftermarket pullies, exhausts, and reprogrammed ECUs and found there to be a subtle difference between them and the JCW S. Both are powerful and incredibly fun to drive, but the JCW S felt a bit more polished and seemed to have a more linear powerband. It feels as if it came that way from the factory. Having driven an MCS with 200hp+ derived from an off-the-shelf mix of components, I can say the big advantage that the JCW S has (beyond the warranty) is its seamlessness. Along those lines it also seems to have an almost a perfect amount of power for the rest of the stock components. Personally if I had much more power than 200hp on my MINI I'd seriously consider larger brakes, a more agressive suspension set-up, and a limited slip differential. Now admittedly, this is just a comparison between three cars and there may very well be setups out there that better mimic the JCW S but it was something that was fairly noticeable on the three MINIs tested.
In the end, the advice I'd give to someone thinking about the JCW S would really depend on their individual situation. For those that have no problem with the expense and like the idea of a warranty, I think it's a no-brainer. On the other hand for a MINI owner that is wanting the biggest bang for their buck, its frankly not the best choice. It's also not the ideal choice if you'd rather be more adventurous with your modifications. For instance 17% and even 19% pullies are out and being installed in cars as we speak. Granted you won't find much, if any, warranty on items like that, but they will get you more speed then the JCW kit's 13.8% pulley.
So yes, the JCW S is as good as advertised. It's the most exciting thing to come out of MINI dealer showrooms yet. It just happens to come at a high price…another reason why it's so rare.
The graph used in the article is courtesy of www.johncooperworks.co.uk