MF Review: The JCW Leather Dash

There are few MINI accessories out there that are as seemingly extravagant as the new JCW Leather dash. I mean, it’s a MINI right? Why in the world would you spend the cash on something so exotic? Well I’ve asked myself that very question and all I’ve come up with is… there is no good reason. But then again there is no real reason to do what most of us have done to our cars. It’s all about a personal preference, a look, a feel, and with a leather dash, an atmosphere.

One thing you notice when you spend time in a Bentley, Aston or modern Ferrari are the large swathes of leather covering almost every concievable interior surface. This use of old world material gives the occupant the feeling of a handcrafted product with character and personal touch. Not exactly the thing you expect in a modern car. It’s one of those little atmospheric additions to exotic cars that I’ve always found immensely satisfying. Seeing the obvious hand stictching in a Ferarri reminds one that each car is a bespoke product tailored to the owner’s exact specifications.

The MINI (despite its price point) could be looked at in a similar light. A car that is effectively tailored to each owner’s preferences, the current MINI surprisingly shares some of that charm of cars costing 5-10 times more. I can imagine an Aston owner having that same feeling of pride and satisfaction that I had when first laying eyes on my custom ordered Cooper S.

Yet there are a few major differences between the two; price and quality of materials. Price is obviously a no brainer and a difference the MINI can be proud of. But more concerning for the MINI owner are the various interior bits and pieces that don’t live up to that tradition of a personally tailored automobile. The MINI is unfortunately saddled with a couple of major material shortcomings in the interior of the car – namely the large shiny swath of plastic that occupies a healthy portion of the dash. Enter the JCW Leather Dash. The dash goes a long way in both eliminating that and adding a subtle, bespoke touch.

But here’s the rub: $1010. Yup, that’s the suggested retail (not counting dealer install if you can’t do it yourself) of both the JCW Leather Dash and Leather Downtubes. Even with a healthy MotoringFile/Morristown MINI discount bringing the price down to around $700, it’s way more than the average MINI owner would probably spend to customize the interior of a car that may have only cost a little over 20 grand to start with. But that’s really the beauty of the MINI. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to creating your own. Each car has the potential to be a personal creation not that different from the long tradition English sports cars costing $100,000 more. And there are few MINI accessories that live up to that tradition more than the JCW Leather Dash.

Installation:

If you’ve ever installed an auto-up circuit or an iPod adapter, you probably know getting the MINI dash apart is a fairly easy process. In fact it’s almost scary how quickly it can all be done. However there is one big exception to this when it comes to the downtubes. Previously, taking out the downtubes was as easy as tipping them forward and just sliding them up and out. However for the 2005 and 2006 model year MINI designed a small lip on the bottom portion of the tubes which doesn’t allow for this. So the only real way I found to take them out unharmed was to pull the entire platic enclosure that houses the seat heater switches, cup holders and shifter. Okay, I admit I actually didn’t take the time to do that. Instead I used a (please don’t try this at home kids) dry-wall saw to cut off the majority of the downtubes. From there I compressed and pried the remainder of the tube (about an inch) until I could easily fit them out of the encloser. Not the most elegant solution but after visiting the area with a shop vac, no one was the wiser.

The dash is as simple as popping off the old and popping on the new. You do have to take the tach off but that’s simply a matter of two screws and disconnecting a plug. Otherwise the only suggestion I can give is to (A) don’t be afraid to pull on the old dash getting it out and (B) don’t be afraid to push on the new dash to get it in.

The leather dash is simply the best interior modification I’ve ever seen in a MINI. Still I have a really hard time actually rating it like other reviewed accessories. Even using Morristown’s price of just over $700, it’s still as expensive as some aftermarket exhausts. But if you get beyond that, it really comes down to personal preference. My rating is simply that: my rating. There will be some owners who will see it first hand and fall in love with it as I did. And then there will be others that will never understand the point of putting dead cow on your dash (let alone on your seats). That said, it’s one of those key elements that make the MINI in my garage my own creation. And for that, it’s worth every penny.

MotoringFile Rating: 4.5 (out of five)

Where to Buy

There are two versions of the leather dash in the US – black w/black stitching and black w/red stitching. And while the dash can be ordered from all MINI dealers, I’ve been told that it will be very limited in availability. So that means if you’re interested, you might want to get your order in sooner rather than later. MotoringFile sponsor Morristown MINI has a few of the kits in stock and is pricing them substancially lower than list for all MotoringFile readers:

JCW Leather Dash – black/black: $ 697.50 | MF Price: $ 495.00 (picture)
Down Tubes – black/black: $ 275.00 | MF Price: $ 195.00 (picture)

JCW Leather Dash – black/red piping: List $ 720.00 MF Price: $ 505.70
Down Tubes – black/red piping: List $ 290.00 | MF Price: $ 203.80

(Since the dash is only produced in the three panel design, it’s only available for cars produced after 07/04.)

Watch for them to go up on the Morristown MINI site very soon. (To take advantage of the MF price, just mention your a MotoringFile reader in the comment section when you order).

Other colors (Updated)

Outside the US the JCW Leather dash is also available with panther black, chili red, lapis blue, green, gray, white, yellow, brown and beige stitching. MF sponsor NewMINIstuff.com currently has these kits available (at a great price) for both right and left-hand drive.