MotoringFile Review: The JCW Cold Air Intake

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