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MotoringFile Review: The JCW Cold Air Intake

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One of the most popular upgrades for MINI’s has historically been the cold air intake. This is especially true for the Cooper S as the location of the air intake lends itself to some inventive re-engineering by after-market companies. The goal with this re-engineering is always to increase the the amount of cold (outside) air into the filter and subsequently into the engine.

There are a handful of different approaches that after-market companies have taken to achieve this. By far the most common design is generally an open cone type air filter with an aluminum shield for further protection. While this is seen to some as a rather low-tech solution, it results in increased power and enhanced sound.

Interestingly it wasn’t until late 2004 before JCW offered it’s own Cooper S intake. In fact, up until that point even the JCW engine kit used the rather conservative stock intake as part of it’s 200hp system. As with many JCW parts, the intake is also available a la carte and available as part of the JCW upgrade package intended for previous JCW customers. This upgrade (the intake combined with larger injectors) will get the previous JCW owners up to the new kit’s 210bhp level.

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Okay so history lesson over. You’re probably thinking, since I’m reading this review that probably means that he’s bought the damn thing. The short answer is yes. Now here’s the long version.

All the modifications on my Cooper S (and future ones to come) fall into the category of what I like to call OEM+. That means either OEM JCW components or well engineered pieces that don’t necessarily scream after-market. Since I’ll only track the car one or two times a year it seemed like a logical route.

As you can imagine the JCW intake fits this mold well. First off it’s nothing like the previous Promini intake I had on my Cooper. It doesn’t announce to the world that I can match revs while down-shifting. Nor does it set off car alarms or make babies cry. What it does do is give the driver a sense of quiet satisfaction as the needle hits 4500 rpm.

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See, the JCW intake has a few tricks up it’s sleeves compared to most everything else out there. In order to meet Euro noise regulations and to generally make it a very livable modification, MINI gave it two modes of operation. Below 4500 rpms the intake pulls in air like most intakes, through a larger cone air filter through the standard tubing. However above 4500 rpms a flap in the back of the intake opens and draws cold air from the left cowl (below the windshield) to increase air-flow. This results in a surge of power and some glorious supercharger whine. This design means that you won’t have to deal with extra sound while lazily tooling around town or cruising at 80 mph on the highway. Yet it still can kick ass and take names when your right foot wants it to.

Installation was pretty straightforward but I would recommend reading the official install PDF very carefully. The only thing that makes the installation a little more complicated than a typical after-market CAI is that the JCW intake needs both power and connection to a vacuum tube. And while it’s not rocket science, it does take a little know-how to pull it off. I’m not going to go into details here other than to give this tip; white and red, not red and white.

There is one downside to the JCW Intake however. As with most JCW components it’s pricier than comparable after-market products. While this shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone at this point it is something to keep in mind if you’re on a budget. That said, when you look at the engineering that went into JCW intake you start to realize that there really isn’t any comparable products out there. In fact all you have to do is look at an un-installed JCW intake to realize the amount of engineering and testing that went into the components. It may also be comforting to know that MINI covers the JCW intake for the remainder of your cars warranty. Certainly not a bad thing.

For those who need to know, the body of the intake was manufactured in the UK and the electronics and vacuum components were manufactured in Germany.

Now there will be some that say the JCW intake is too conservative by only opening up the cowl induction above 4500 rpm. For someone with that mindset this simply isn’t the right intake. If you want to make dogs bark and alarms go off you’ll want to skip JCW products altogether including this intake.

However if subtle, well engineered, Nurburgring tested performance modifications are your thing, than the JCW Intake is one of the best modifications you can make your Cooper S.

MotoringFile Rating: 4.5 (out of five)

The JCW Cold Air Intake lists for $475 however you can find it much cheaper if you look around. For instance the unit tested here came from Helix and from time to time they have them much cheaper. Both Morristown MINI and Knauz will also sell it to MotoringFile readers at a discount. Morristown lists theirs at $380 and you’ll want to call Knauz at 847/283.6740 for their pricing (make sure to mention you’re an MF reader). It’s also available at MyMini, Outmotoring and Patrick MINI.

Related:

[ The Official JCW Intake Install PDF ] MotoringFile

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Written By: Gabe

  • http://www.frappr.com/motoringfile/photo/1174472 DEFCON3

    lol- thanks for reading all that. I guess I’m confused by the name “JCW Upgrade Kit”. The MINI USA site (and my dealer’s site) calls what I got the “JCW Air Filter Kit”. Same thing? :) Or is the kit you’re mentioning a 3rd option for those with older JCW WORKS kits. To summarize:

    • JCW Intake (what you got) • JCW Upgrade Kit (for old JCW WORKS owners) • JCW Air Filter Kit (for stock engines- what I got)

    JCW Air Filter Kit: This is what I have just to clarify.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe
    1. JCW Cold Air Intake (what is reviewed)
    2. JCW Upgrade Kit (CAI and Injectors) (meant originally for old JCW WORKS owners)
    3. JCW Air Filter Kit (same thing as #1)
  • tony T

    ORAL PLEASURE…..

    Sorry, I meant Aural Pleasure… :-)

    The best reason for the JCW airbox install is the excellent ‘step’ up in noise at 4500rpm. Achieve this in 6th gear and you are flying along.

    I often wonder how much of the ‘horsepower’ felt is the mental horsepower associated with the change in engine/SC note. Is there really a power spike when that flap opens? No, I dont think so, surely you’d see a significant ‘blip’ on a dyno when the car passes 4500rpm, which you dont.

    Highly recommended for JCW owners. However, if your looking for 240+bhp non JCW then I think you need to look elsewhere for this part of the conversion.

  • Marc

    Has anyone tried the ITG filter? Is it reusable? A better value than 99$ for a new JCW filter everytime you need one?

    Marc

  • SuperCharged

    Gabe,

    I once heard that fitting the JCW CAI without the rest of the kit eliminates the popping sound. Is this true?

    SuperCharged

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    The popping sounds is actually controlled by software so I’d say that would be about impossible.

  • Jomava

    For recommendations done by Peter at MyMiniParts.com, I installed the TCG filter (somewhat expensive). Was it worth it? I don’t know, since I don’t have anything to compare.

    Any comments on this?

  • Jomava

    Sorry… I meant ITG

  • Roco Rocket

    I know this post is late but I have to say the effort to install my JCW intake was worth it. With the help of other MINI guys I hooked it up yesterday. As you know the rear port opens after 4500 RPM. But air does enter through the partially open rear port before it opens completely. So I believe the intake has effects a RPM lower than the 4500 mark. I would recommend this intake for someone that wants performance with out the constant supercharger sounds.

  • http://www.pdxmini.org ScottinBend

    One major downside to this intake is the outrageous price for the replacement filter $100 and it’s not reusable. There a lot better designs available.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Scott – as discussed previously there are other replacement filters available for less money.

  • Alex

    will JCW airbox come with air filter or its an extra? how often have to change it? thanks

  • http://www.carcounsel.com/hid carcounsel.com

    in response to Nathaniel’s post – I’m not a MC/MCS owner (yet) but I think you’re onto something.

    BMW pretty much pioneered the sport button altering throttle curve and steering weight, changing the aural characteristics is bound to be next.

    The last 911 i drove (an ’05) had the sport exhaust – a dash switch allowed the bypass valve to open at low rpm for more rumble.

    Last weekend i followed an R32 through the hills and flagged him down to ask about the exhaust – it looked stock but sounded even nicer. he had rigged the flapper valve open and other R32 owners install a dash switch to force it open at all rpm or have it open only at high rpm.

    The RS4 does the same thing when the sport button is pressed.

    (Not that this tech is that uncommon in exhaust systems: 3000GT, Acura RL, E36 328i for example).

    so to make a long story short, BMW insiders if you’re reading this please give us more cockpit adjustability for such things in the future – sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. i’d tolerate iDrive if it let me get in and set up the car the way i wanted.

    sorry to veer off topic – having driven the JCW kit with and without the new intake I love the way the intake helps the mtor pull cleanly into the limiter. The MCS and oriinal JCW always felt a bit congested to me.

    p.s. Mike Tiger – read up on the JCW kit for the NA Cooper. To get that kind of gain JCW had to rework the head, ECU and exhaust as well. : – /

  • Pete

    Good day,

    After reading the well written review I decided to buy and install myself even though I know better with my VERY limited mechanical skills. It’s been fairly smooth (thanks for the white and red and not red and white tip)except for the vacuum line. I have been unable to locate the vacuum unit. Is it underneath the intercooler about halfway down the length of the intercooler? If this is the right location how do I get my hand in there? Do I need to remove the intercooler? Any assitance will be appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Pete

  • Roco Rocket
    Is it underneath the intercooler about halfway down the length of the intercooler? If this is the right location how do I get my hand in there? Do I need to remove the intercooler? Any assitance will be appreciated.

    Yes, it’s under the intercooler. NO! Don’t remove the intercooler! If you already have go ahead and install a larger one while your at it you should get some benifit from all that work. LOL;)

    But seriously, you will find this vacuum line near a round valve just to the right of center as you face the car. It will appear to be impossible but I have large hands and long fingers so it is possible to connect the lines. I’ve done two. First remove the hose from the valve that you find under the intercooler. If it will not pull off easily, pinch it between your index and second finger like a cigarette and push it on. This might sound crazy but it breaks the seal and allows the hose to be pulled off. Once the hose is free push the end of the new JCW (Y- connnector) into the hose under the intercooler. Taking the hose free of the intake helps a ton. Again I used my index and second fingers (on both hoses) because my thumbs wouldn’t fit. Now with the JCW hose connected gently pull the hose toward the valve and it should go on easy. Reconnect at the intake and rev to 4500 and listen to the music.

  • Pete

    Thanks Rocket! Great tips. I didn’t set any speed records for installation – 3 hours total with 30 minutes spent searching for that elusive screw I dropped but I made it. It was yet another reminder that I should look and not touch when my hood is open. Will I learn? Probably not.

  • Gilbert

    I’ve got that but i’m not satisfy what I found out… I dont believe that this will put out 210 hp on JCW if any body will post the actual dyno where did they get this…. at the flywheel or at the wheel.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Gilbert – as stated in the review the kit that bumps the JCW up to 210bhp also includes larger injectors.

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  • http://www,design-1-1.com tom

    PROMINI aFe Magnum Force Intake Kit vs. Performance Intake

    besides the price / and airbox repacement what it the difference between the 2 products? pros/ cons

    performance?

  • Darryl

    I bought a JCW air intake after reading your review and decided to install it myself. The unit comes shipped with a flat black piece of plastic inside the lower air intake seal. Is that supposed to remain in place to block off the lower intake or is it there just to keep the seal from deforming in shipping? Thanks Darryl

  • Jae

    I actually installed the JCW CAI like 3 days ago and I must say, I am in love with that addicting supercharger whine at high revs. It is just a beautiful site. The speed picks up extremely fast and easily, even after hitting 80 you just step on the gas and it just keeps going.

    Also some people seeem have to have the question about the popping disappearing when the JCW CAI is installed and that is untrue. I still have that popping. Now I have two sounds I love, the popping and the high whine at high recs. NICE. Recommend it to anyone with a Mini.

  • tirlibibi

    Does it opening at 4500 even without the ECU reprog ?

  • James

    The unit comes shipped with a flat black piece of plastic inside the lower air intake seal. Is that supposed to remain in place to block off the lower intake or is it there just to keep the seal from deforming in shipping? Thanks Darryl

    Did anyone have an answer to this question?

    Regards

    James

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  • Al B.

    I have the WORKS air box on a ’06 S. Is it possible to have the flap open all the time without removing it or prying it open?

    Thanks ab

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