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MotoringFile Review: The JCW Cold Air Intake

mini

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.

mini

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.

mini

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

  • Rob

    Very timely review for me anyway; my car is approaching 3000 miles and spring is right around the corner. This will be my first change.

    Thanks.

  • Iggy-MCS

    Thanks Gabe, you just put me back on the fence about this intake vs. the Alta…

  • GSKChicago

    Good review Gabe. How many hours labor for the average MINI owner vs what the dealer would get it done in?

    Also, do you get to write-off your MINI modifications with Uncle Same by writing review’s hence making them a “business expense”? :o) Well done!

  • giacomo

    Thanks for the review as it covered my main issue with most after market units, noise.

    I wonder how it compares to the Dinan unit which costs $249? They both have that OEM kinda look which appeals to me. I have never heard of anyone owning the Dinan unit but if anyone out there does, how is the noise level, performance?

  • Badburro

    Gabe -

    What about power output and performance of the JCW intake?

  • b

    With all the anticipation of this article I was hoping for at least some before and after sound clips. My main issue with the Alta is the wail it unleashes under WOT, but it does produce some real gains for what it is. And I don’t think I have ever heard a sound clip of just an intake before. Any chance of this Gabe?

  • http://www.alldigitalnyc.com drew

    great review gabe, thanks.

    for the curious: i have had this mod for nearly a year and the only thing that i can add to gabe’s great review is that you really FEEL the car push when the flap opens up at 4500 rpm. i drive an mcsa with the jcw cai and exhaust so i would imagine its even more pronounced on a manual car. the sound is great too.

  • Siddhartha

    Thanks, Gabe. Very straightforward review of a well engineered JCW piece. It is miles above my original K&N CAI unit in looks, sophistication and sound quality. On the other hand, I found a happy new home for the K&N unit on ebay, so there is a market for all levels. You’ve heard me praise the JCW suspension and brake system elsewhere. All I will say here is that factory sponsorship, ‘Ring testing and setup based on the specific weight of your car found by adding the weight of your selection of accessories to the base weight has produced a vehicle without the usual MINI understeer problem, making a bigger aftermarket rear sway bar moot. It is so well balanced that I can induce understeer or oversteer at will with the throttle. And Tony Franks, Chief Engineer at JCW, answers my emails. Gotta love it!

  • curv872

    gabe can you confirm, i hear the replacement filter is outrageous $160!

  • Marc

    I have the JCW intake and have been pleased with it for the reasons Gabe mentions. Some have modified them to have the flap opened all of the time, but that sort of defeats the purpose of it in my opinion.

    It should be clear that the power this unit produces will not kick you in the butt. It is noticable, but it will not change the characteristic of a stock S. To some, that fact alone doesn’t justify the cost, but Gabe introduces the other sides of the issue.

    Thanks for the report, Gabe. I’m like you with modding, OEM+; the only mods I’m condidering are JCW or Dinan, who has an umatched reputation in the BMW world.

    Marc

  • Iggy-MCS

    Does anyone know if the JCW cone filter can be replaced with a K&N or other renewable filter? It was on Josh Wardell’s page, I think the replacement filters ran about $100.

  • tony T

    I would suggest that the comment that this it “will get exsisting owners you to 210bhp” is somewhat misleading…..

    The JCW 210 car has other modifications, including gearing and exhaust. All put together, with the latest remap, will give 210 on a factory car.

    I would suggest that a 197bhp car would be lucky to see 202bhp with this change.

    Some performance figures would be nice to have.

  • http://www.alldigitalnyc.com drew

    i can safely say that adding the jcw cai and jcw exhaust has added 8-10bhp to my mcsa.

  • 05DSMCS

    The third picture down looks funny. Gabe, do you have 3 arms?

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Tony – the gearing doesn’t add power and the exhaust wasn’t revised enough to add any appreciable power. The 10bhp increase comes via his intake and the new JCW injectors. That’s why JCW sells these two items bundled to previous JCW owners and calls it the 210bhp upgrade kit ;-)

    The third picture down looks funny. Gabe, do you have 3 arms?

    You mean you don’t?

    gabe can you confirm, i hear the replacement filter is outrageous $160!

    I’ve seen it retail for $90 and at least one cheaper alternative can be found at MyMini.

  • curv872

    just found an ITG replacement filter on MyMini for $80.00!!

    http://www.myminiparts.com/proddetail.php?prod=ITGJC&cat=13

  • tony T

    So how did you do the ECU upgrade Gabe…?>

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    So how did you do the ECU upgrade Gabe…?>

    Good question Tony. I think there’s a lot of confusion over this one. There’s actually no ECU upgrade needed with the JCW CAI. It’s only applicable if you get the entire upgrade kit which includes the JCW injectors.

  • matt

    For peoples’ information, if one wants, they can take out the flap on the filter housing and leave it open all the time, which is still quieter than say a rouge or madness

  • justaguyinvegas

    I have the DINAN intake on my 05 MCS and I love it. Rather than opening at 4500 rpm, it’s cowl intake hole is open all the time. I find the sound is somewhere between the tameness of stock and the scream of the Alta. I also like the stock look of the airbox. The DINAN is very comparable to the JCW and the filters are cheaper.

    Now for that twincharger…

    john

  • Bill
    Gabe Feb 9th, 2006 Link Tony – the gearing doesn’t add power and the exhaust wasn’t revised enough to add any appreciable power. The 10bhp increase comes via his intake and the new JCW injectors. That’s why JCW sells these two items bundled to previous JCW owners and calls it the 210bhp upgrade kit ;-)

    Gabe- Are the CAI and injectors you refer to currently those used in the factory-equipped JCW system? That is, are JCW MCSs currently rolling off the line “210 bhp MINIs”?

    Thanks for a great review !!

    Jersey Bill

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Are the CAI and injectors you refer to currently those used in the factory-equipped JCW system? That is, are JCW MCSs currently rolling off the line “210 bhp MINIs”?

    Yes.

  • Nathaniel Salzman

    Seems to me like the thing to do would be to put a bypass switch on the flapper in the intake so that you could choose to have it open at 4500 rpm on the normal switch or bypass it and have it stay open at the lower rpms. A similar, selectable exhaust system would be pretty cool too – something like the new Webb Motorsports exhaust but driver-selectable. You can be loud, burly, and powerful when you want but otherwise just be basically stock and quiet. I’ve also thought that if you were to put an electric clutch pulley like what’s on air conditioner compressors on a supercharger and tie that back to an alternate ECU map, you could have the car run both in and out of a forced-induction mode. Have the supercharger when you want zip, but then dial it out on a long highway stretch for better fuel economy. Now that’s my kind of hybrid!

  • Da Boy

    I make this argument all the time… “But the Promini looks sooooo much better!”… Bling Baby Bling… add the Strut brace to that … MMMM pretty …

    Note: just don’t try to chage your own oil with the Strut Brace – PITA! but doable… Hijak over.

    However: the nice thing about the JCW is that it does say John Cooper Works – Bonus!

  • http://bravo5.org/blog blalor
    The third picture down looks funny. Gabe, do you have 3 arms?

    His middle name’s “Zaphod”.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    I make this argument all the time… “But the Promini looks sooooo much better!”… Bling Baby Bling… add the Strut brace to that … MMMM pretty …

    No question Promini makes some sweet intakes. And for those that like to hear an intake working, I think they’re some of the best out there. Oh and they’re shiny, big plus ;-)

  • Brendan

    So how much power will it add to a stock cooper S? About 2hp??? I’ve seen talk of what it adds to the JCW…but not the stock Cooper S

  • TJM

    I guess I am one of those people, but I just can’t see spending this money on an over-engineered, underperforming intake just to have a jcw sticker under the hood. It is even still an entire airbox, which to me totally goes against opening things up for increased airflow. Even more amazing to me is that JCW would make this thing and actually expect to sell it. Like I said, I guess I am just one of those people, but am happy to be.

  • http://www.gbmini.net Ian C.

    Excellent review Gabe – and of course you love the new intake! You know how pleased I have always been with this JCW mod … the “personality change” when you hit that 4500rpm point is still pure pleasure :) :) :)

  • http://www.jwardell.com/mini/ Josh Wardell

    I have more details on the JCW intake’s insides on my page here: http://www.jwardell.com/mini/jcwintake.html

  • giacomo

    Thanks Vegas Guy.

  • Seth L

    Gabe-

    For the frugal, have you seen any MPG gains?

    Thanks for the review.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    For the frugal, have you seen any MPG gains?

    I will not go down that slippery slope. I’ll let others do that. I can tell you I feel very definite difference with both my SuperSprint exhaust (review coming soon) and JCW CAI.

  • Nick

    Gabe, nice write up. I suffer from louder is better. I had a Promini CAI and Magna Flow exhaust installed at around 1,000 miles on my ’05 MCS. I was actually disappointed in the Promini–not as loud as I had expected. No fear, I then went to an Alta CAI. SWEET. I tell folks–if they can hear me–that the mix of CAI whine and great exhaust notes from the Magna Flow results in a harmonic convergence. Downside: I never listen to my HK system. Keep up the great work. Nick

  • JAG

    Hey, just yesterday I was in eBay looking for one but at the end I was doubtful, this helps a lot, by tonight I am going to be $380 poorer but happier. Thanks for the review!!! Now, what do you think of the Dinan chips?? Worth it?

  • Day Tripper

    I’ve got a Promini intake on my 2005 MCS. Looks cool, and I love the sound. I really haven’t found the volume to be a problem – in fact the supercharger whine is one of my favorite things about the car.

    “Day Tripper, you’re cleared runway one-three.” WHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE!

  • OldRick

    I K&N offers several hundred varieties of their “Universal” filters.

    I’d sure like to know the diameter of the JCW filter flange, and the OD and length of the filter, for a less-restrictive alternative to the paper stock filter or the foam filter from mymini.

    If anyone with the JCW intake has a filter out, perhaps you could measure it and post the results? The K&N filters are listed from http://www.knfilters.com/universal/universal.htm

  • http://www.jwardell.com/mini/ Josh Wardell

    OldRick, I read a thread somewhere that someone lived near K&N and was having them work on a filter. I think last I checked I didn’t find a duplicate on their site. Most of their filters are cones and the JCW filter is a cylendar.

  • Mike Tiger

    Gabe,

    What’s the best Cold Air Intake for a 2006 Cooper? And any chance the horsepower can go up to 130 from 115?

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    What’s the best Cold Air Intake for a 2006 Cooper? And any chance the horsepower can go up to 130 from 115?

    No chance unfortunately. I’d recommend the BMP. You can read a review here: MINI Cooper Promini Intake

  • http://bravo5.org/blog blalor
    match revs while up-shifting.

    You do mean down-shifting, don’t you?

    (make sure to mention your an MF reader)

    That’d be you’re. Sorry, my mom was a grammar fiend…. Your copy of Eats, shoots & leaves is on its way, Gabe. ;-)

  • http://bravo5.org/blog blalor

    Oh, and before anyone asks, yes, I am perfect, and have never confused its with it’s.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    blalor… first off what are you talking about. You must be read some other review because none of those mistakes can be found above! (currently)

    BTW you know my address right?

  • tsukiji

    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.

    I feel the same way – that’s why I chose ALTA, you can’t beat the UNIfilter for flow & filtration.

  • rick

    I have 2006 MSC/JCW pack…

    I have 2200 miles…What is the life the CAI filter?

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    I feel the same way – that’s why I chose ALTA, you can’t beat the UNIfilter for flow & filtration.

    Alta makes a great CAI and I’ve recommended it many times, but it certainly doesn’t fit my definition of OEM+

  • Rich

    I have the BMP Promini installed on my 03′ MCS (with the fire wall modification). Did you notice a bigger horsepower advantage between the two or just a noise difference?

  • http://N/A Craig

    Very interesting review and timely, also. I have just this past Tuesday, Feb.7 taken delivery of my long waaited for, ordered on Dec. 8, 2005, 2006 MCS and the very first upgrade that I marked on the ordering sheet was the JCW Filter. Better news still is that when the MCS finally made it to MINI of Sterling, they had rare special going on. The special was for the JCW down to $375.00 from $450.00. I have only had this great MCS for the last few days but after my 2003 MC, look out!!!! I recommend this upgrade for any future MCS owner. The large smile it brings pays for it!!!!!

  • http://www.frappr.com/motoringfile/photo/1174472 DEFCON3
    There’s actually no ECU upgrade needed with the JCW CAI. It’s only applicable if you get the entire upgrade kit which includes the JCW injectors.

    So I think what you are saying Gabe is that if you order the JCW Air Filter Kit, you get the injectors as part of the package. If so, I highly recommend getting the kit to those thinking about it.

    I had the JCW Air Filter Kit installed at my dealership a few weeks ago on my stock MCSc and have been thoroughly pleased with it. For what it’s worth, I’ve seen a quite noticeable gain in power through the whole RPM spectrum, not just after 4500 when the flap opens up. This could also be due to the new performance filter element itself too. I really can’t say, but I think those installing on their own just the main unit may not be reaping the full benefits of this filter. Seems like all reviewers (that I’ve read-up on) who’ve installed themselves make no mention of any enhanced low-end power. So, it could be the injectors that I’m experiencing. Though none of MINI’s marketing materials mention that the filter kit comes with “JCW” injectors. Maybe a reader who’s had a dealer-install as well can verify my hypothesis…

    Also just wanted to add that the exhaust note is nicely enhanced from stock and it sounds great especially when gearing down from higher-RPMs (jump a couple gears down at freeway speeds and it sounds like a Porsche/Ferrari- or something like that ;). I’m getting the MINI cooper S chrome exhaust tips as my next mod which may add even more gruff (without dealing with the whole exhaust system thingy). Enjoyed the review and more than enjoying the site as always- thanks!

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    So I think what you are saying Gabe is that if you order the JCW Air Filter Kit, you get the injectors as part of the package. If so, I highly recommend getting the kit to those thinking about it.

    No. There is the JCW Intake and the JCW Upgrade Kit. The Intake is just the intake. The Upgrade kit is the intake plus the larger JCW injectors. This review is only about the JCW Intake. Whew…. does that make sense? Sorry for the confusion.


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