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MF Review: JCW Alcantara Steering Wheel

The steering wheel is the single most used interface of a car and it’s the most important input device for both the track and the road. Generally speaking, thicker wheels with softer, grippier surfaces are preferred by performance oriented drivers. And since the E28 M5, BMW has been installing just that in it’s M line of performance oriented cars. So it makes sense that MINI would offer something similar from the JCW brand.

With the current generation MINI, BMW has decided to sell much of the components typically standard on M cars as a la carte options. Because of this, the JCW steering is a stand-alone accessories that can only be ordered at MINI service counters. It’s a beneficial strategy for those who don’t want or need the full JCW package, not as beneficial for the owners who just shelled out $30,000+ for a car with a standard steering wheel.

The JCW wheel comes in two flavors, full leather and alcantara/leather. Both retail in the US for $585 and are available worldwide (and for cheaper if you shop around). My alcantara and leather wheel came from newministuff.com in the UK.

One thing that seems to have confused many of those looking at purchasing the new wheel are the carbon fiber inserts that were shown in the original press pics. Most seemed to assume that meant the wheel was only available with those inserts and only available without the multi-function controls. Both of these assumptions are incorrect. The carbon fiber inserts are purely optional. And for those with a MFSW, you can easily move over your existing controls to the JCW wheel. In fact that’s exactly what I did when I installed mine.

And speaking of installation, it’s a very straightforward procedure. Not counting the disconnecting of the battery (a must when working around the airbag) the total time it took to swap wheel was around 20 minutes. The one tricky portion of the install is carefully cutting two small slits in the back of the airbag cover (exacto knife preferred) and releasing the clips that hold the airbag. However once you get the feel for it, it becomes a quick procedure.

One of the biggest improvements the wheel makes is in grip. Behind the leather and alcantara is a layer of what must be some kind rather resilient foam padding. This allows for both more grip in spirited driving and greater comfort on long trips. The leather (on both versions) is also softer and of a seemingly higher quality of that found on the stock three-spoke steering wheel. It feels indentical to the leather found on the M3 and Z4 M Coupe wheels.

Unlike the full alcantara wheels found in some BMWs, the alcantara JCW wheel uses leather on the portion of the wheel that would see the most wear. This addresses the wear concern that many have with the suede-like alcantara. It also gives a defined tactile point that subtly reminds a driver where they’re at in the turn to lock ratio while in tight corners.

The palm rests are also a bit more pronounced on the JCW wheel while being slightly shorter. This, combined with the thicker of the wheel, has worked very well with my larger hands. The end result is a wheel that feels as if it has been tailored to fit me like a glove.

On the face of it, a $500 steering wheel seems like a ridiculous luxury considering the stock MINI wheel is more than adequate. However I will say this, once you feel this wheel, you’ll have a hard time not wanting it. So if you’re on a MINI related budget, don’t even look at it, don’t pick it up, and for the love of God, don’t sit down in a car with one. In fact, if the MSRP was closer to what NewMINIStuff charges for the wheel in the UK (under $400) this could have been our second perfect score review. It’s that good.

There’s this intangible feeling you get with a thick, soft wheel covered in something like alcantara (or even soft leather). It gives you the impression of something substantial and sure-footed. Perhaps the greatest gift the JCW wheel gives to the performance minded driver is confidence. That, combined with greater comfort on longer trips and an subtly improved look, make the JCW steering wheel a must have for the MINI owner looking for that final touch. It would also be a great first first modification or a GP owner.

MotoringFile Rating: 4.5 (out of five)

Where to Buy: The JCW Leather or Alcantara/Leather Steering wheel retails for $580 and is available at all MINI dealers worldwide. However you can find it from several MotoringFile sponsors for much less:

NewMINIStuff: $380 + shipping from the UK
Morristown MINI: $468 + shipping
Knauz MINI (MF discount available)
Patrick MINI
MINI of Manhattan

DIY: Official MINI Installation Instructions PDF (thanks Dave)

Installation Note: The JCW Steering wheel only works as an upgrade to the three-spoke wheel available from 2005 onward.

Photos 2 & 3 taken by Brian Lalor.

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Written By: Gabe

  • Jon

    Great review Gabe, this is one of next additions to my own JCW. How long have you had it installed, the only concern I had is how the Alcantara would hold-up to daily use.

  • http://www.northamericanmotoring.com Dave

    First the JCW leather dash with the red stitching, and now this? Very nicely tied together. Consider me envious of your interior.

    Also, for anyone considering this. The JCW steering wheel installation pdf was previously posted on MF.

  • Aqualung

    any sense for whether this wheel will evolve to have a flat bottom as we’re seeing in the new BMWs?

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    How long have you had it installed, the only concern I had is how the Alcantara would hold-up to daily use.

    About a month – no signs of wear yet.

    any sense for whether this wheel will evolve to have a flat bottom as we’re seeing in the new BMWs?

    Actually BMW steering wheels don’t have flat bottoms. You’re probably thinking of Audis.

  • http://Motoringfile.com Mark Hendrie

    Great review and in the pictures the wheel looks the business – I want one now!

    I have always loved the feel of Alcantara and I think this wheel is just another example of how addictive modifying your Mini can become due to all these great options avaliable.

  • http://www.detailingconcepts.com matt

    heed gabe’s warning. if you value your wallet or personal relationships do not expose yourself to this steering wheel. as one who participated in the install i can say with some authority that once you encounter the JCW wheel you will need it.

  • http://paulr.us Paul

    Nice review Gabe. $10K upgrade club on the horizon? ;)

  • Scottinbend

    Nice write-up.

    No mention if this can replace the 2 spoke w/o having to buy new airbag.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Nice review Gabe. $10K upgrade club on the horizon? ;)

    Wow I can’t imagine. I wouldn’t be able to look in the windows of that club ;)

    No mention if this can replace the 2 spoke w/o having to buy new airbag.

    If you have the old two-spoke design you’re out of luck.

  • Trick

    Looks like it might actually be larger in diameter? Just by how much thicker it is. Interesting.

    Goes to double check rulebook on steering wheel swaps. . . .

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Looks like it might actually be larger in diameter? Just by how much thicker it is. Interesting.

    The 3rd photo has the JCW wheel propped up higher so it may look at that way but the wheel is no larger than stock save a millimeter or two.

  • Wraith

    gabe, maybe i’m misunderstanding, so correct me if i’m wrong. are the Carbon Fibre inserts and the MFSW controls mutually exclusive?

  • Bill H

    Whether good or bad form, my hand position during normal driving would probably fall most of the time on the leather part of the wheel. I wish they would offer this in full Alcantara; that’s something I definitely would purchase.

  • Edge

    Wraith, I know Gabe hasn’t spoken yet on it, but I suspect the MSFW parts are indeed mutually exclusive with the CF inserts… except the bottom one, since there are no MSFW controls there. You could probably put that CF insert in and keep the silver MSFW controls on the sides. That’s also the insert that has the JCW logo!

  • Seth L

    Hmm, would this wheel work with the MCSa shifters?

    Thanks for the review. I know they say the wheel I have is leather, but it’s not very convincing.

  • rkw

    I have the all-leather version and love it. However, the one “feature” I don’t like (which otherwise would have made it perfect) is the excessive stitching behind the spokes that feels rough compared to the rest of the wheel. Ian (GBMINI) has a close-up photo on his BLOG. Is it the same way on the leather/alcantara version? Otherwise JCW wheel feels sooooo nice and a big improvement over the rubberized, platicized “genuine leather” standard wheel.

  • MINI Fireman

    So Gabe, is that GP comment directed at Todd? ;) Ordered mine last week from NewMiniStuff as well. The wife says you are a bad man for planting all these ideas in your reader’s heads. Too bad the steering wheel inserts aren’t available in anthracite to match our dashes.

    IMHO, this should be a standard part of the JCW package along with a larger rear swaybar & the JCW suspension.

  • http://calabashcattery.com pbraun

    Great review – great wheel to drive with. Will go on my GP.

  • http://www.alldigitalnyc.com drew

    this wheel won’t work with the mcsa paddles. i checked. bummer.

  • Micah
    Whether good or bad form, my hand position during normal driving would probably fall most of the time on the leather part of the wheel. I wish they would offer this in full Alcantara; that’s something I definitely would purchase.

    I agree with you here Bill. I am definitely interested in a fatter wheel like this, but don’t you want the grippy alcantara at the place where you are most frequently grasping the wheel at 3 and 9 o’clock?! The current design of the wheel makes the alcantara mostly cosmetic, not functional… (like many of these JCW parts)

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    I agree with you here Bill. I am definitely interested in a fatter wheel like this, but don’t you want the grippy alcantara at the place where you are most frequently grasping the wheel at 3 and 9 o’clock?! The current design of the wheel makes the alcantara mostly cosmetic, not functional… (like many of these JCW parts)

    Very good point. However I think MINI had a good reason for designing the wheel like they did; longevity. Alcantara can wear much quicker than leather. If the entire wheel was made from alcantara there’s be a good chance it would look rather grimey in 2-4 years. This design allows the look and feel to be present but for the majority of normal contact to be in the leather surfaces. Of course this also depends on how you drive. At 9-3 there is no contact. At 10-2 there is.

  • http://vinreddy.blogspot.com vin.

    Any chance the JCW wheel could fit on 2004 models with the 3 spoke steering wheel?

  • http://www.newministuff.com mikeythemini

    One of these will be finding its way onto my new S when it arrives :)

  • Micah
    However I think MINI had a good reason for designing the wheel like they did; longevity. Alcantara can wear much quicker than leather. If the entire wheel was made from alcantara there’s be a good chance it would look rather grimey in 2-4 years.

    Good point too. Despite my previous critique, I still want one! The tactile feel of the steering wheel is crucial IMO, and the real leather at surrounding upper spokes on the JCW wheel looks like it would still offer improved feel over the stock “pleather” rim. Being over 6 feet tall, the JCW would probably match my hands better as well…

  • Micah
    Any chance the JCW wheel could fit on 2004 models with the 3 spoke steering wheel?

    Morristown Mini’s site says “the item fits years: 2003-2006″ – must be a misprint, no?

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Morristown Mini’s site says “the item fits years: 2003-2006″ – must be a misprint, no?

    It should fit anything with a three-spoke wheel.

  • codemunkee

    i need one

  • http://mydrive.roadfly.com/blog/asakowsk/ Andy S.

    I would love something like this, but I can not part with my 2-spoke wheel…or absorb the cost of the full 3-spoke conversion.

    Any ideas for a steering wheel upgrade for the 2-spoke fans? I would consider a leather wrap, but they always seemed kind of cheap.

  • http://toddsmods.com/blog Todd
    So Gabe, is that GP comment directed at Todd? ;)

    Gabe knows that I’ve already ordered one for the GP. The question is, should I ship/haul it out to CA so I can experience it on the drive home from Monterey…

  • vanderspunk

    I still love the 2 spoke steering wheel witht the controls on the backside.

  • MINI Fireman
    Gabe knows that I’ve already ordered one for the GP. The question is, should I ship/haul it out to CA so I can experience it on the drive home from Monterey…

    Of course you should. You know you want to break it in.

  • http://bravo5.org/blog blalor
    Not counting the disconnecting of the battery (a must when working around the airbag) the total time it took to swap wheel was around 20 minutes.

    It was so easy, we did it twice! ;-)

  • CoolJamJar

    Just finished fitting one – and all I can say is WOW. It feels so much better than the standard one – I would go so far as to say the standard one feels like it is made of wood by comparison!!

  • http://mini2.co.za timmee
    I still love the 2 spoke steering wheel witht the controls on the backside.

    I disagree. During spirited driving on a skid pan on an advanced driving course in collision avoidance, these buttons constantly were toggled, causing the radio preset to change, disconnecting us from our instructor who was guiding us over the radio. In the end, we just tuned all the presets in to the channel the instructor was using.

    Unique circumstance, but annoying nonetheless.

    Give the the three spoke any day.

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  • Jon

    I am insane.

    I just wanted to get that out of the way right from the start. I have done the nearly impossible, and expensive task of swapping out my old 2-spoke wheel, for a JCW leather wheel. It is very cost-prohibitive! Even doing extensive research online to find the best prices for all the parts I needed, I still spent north of $850.

    It woul’ve been a tiny bit cheaper if I didn’t have the multi-function wheel, but still, once you factor in buying an airbag, wiring, spoke inserts and the JCW wheel itself, it passes way beyond the crazy level, into insane territory.

    That is why I must reiterate Gabe’s comment, if money is tight, you should avoid all contact with this wheel, because after you touch one, you will lose all control of your sanity and wallet, and you will be joining me in the assylum. You would sell your soul for this steering wheel. Is it possible to lust after a car part? YES.

    Now that mine is installed, I am so loving it! Every time I drive my car is even more of a treat than it was before. It feels like a race car wheel.

    I cannot recommend this mod enough, (especially for owners of the 3-spoke wheel, where it would be much less expensive, [they'd only need to buy the JCW wheel itself; all other parts like the spoke inserts and airbag would be reused from their current 3-spoke wheel]).

  • http://www.iwantamini.com MaxMCS

    Jon, I know how you feel. I myself made the mistake of sitting at the wheel of a JCW Clubman S yesterday while my MCS was in for service… and I’ve gone certifiably insane. I have a Leather/Alcantara JCW wheel currently being shipped to my parts department, where I plan to install it into my 2003 MCS with the 2-spoke wheel. To save slightly, I’ll be leaving behind the MFSW controls until a later date, but my theory is that if I’m too lazy to reach an extra four inches to hit the button I don’t deserve the wheel in the first place.

    Still… the cost is already becoming apparent. And I haven’t even gotten the inserts yet! Avoid this wheel at all costs- unless you’re willing to suffer the wonderful consequences!

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