MF Reader Review: JCW R56 Engine Kit

The following review written by long time German MF contributor Alexander Lipphardt. Alex is also the owner a JCW GP, making his opinion especially relevant to the new R56 JCW Kit.

As a longtime MINI enthusiast I today had the chance to test-drive the brand new and highly anticipated R56 JCW tuning kit. In germany these kits will be available in the next 2 or 3 weeks or so and I know quite a few MINI dealers (and especially R56 owners) out there who are still waiting for the final delivery – so I was pretty lucky to take one of the first ever fitted kits (#22) for a spin.

So….where should I start then? Maybe right from the start: It was a Pepper White Cooper S going for close to $40,000 which had almost everything fitted you can currently find on the “MINI Extras” list: Navigation, Leather, Sport Button, JCW Aerokit, JCW Brakes, JCW 18″ JCW Suspension, JCW Wheels etc. In other words, a real nice and mean lookin’ machine!

Fitting the kit took some 6-7 hours and “flashing” the ECU took almost a full day as every R56 needs to be updated with the latest software (and re-booted) before the modified JCW engine software gets uploaded onto the ECU. So you can expect a 2 days job altogether! This is a real pain for every mechanic as flashing a MINI ECU nowadays takes ages compared to the good old R53 MINI where it was just a question of more or less minutes doing this. Further the Works software comes on a CD which is particularly related to the VIN so it is impossible to upload the software onto other ECU’s – interesting idea!

Visually there is no real difference between the standard R56 exhaust and the JCW exhaust besides the bigger JCW exhaust tips. Its a “non-cat-back” system (as you can see on the photo) compared with the old R53 JCW exhaust. Same thing for the manifold which is not “polished” or anything like that – just made from more heat resistant material to manage higher engine temperatures.

Thats about enough thoughts on the plain JCW parts. Now it gets interesting – what is it like driving the Works kit I compared to my JCW GP? Is there a huge difference in terms of performance, sound, handling, power and…..FUN??

So here I go: Sat down, turned on the engine and I really was wondering if that JCW exhaust sound would finally be meaner, or more aggressive as this is something I particularly miss on the new R56 models. From the inside: compared to a standard R56 MINI there is little if any real difference. Maybe a little “deeper” when in neutral or “idle” position. Of course the engine just had a few miles on the clock so I really wonder how the sound may change once it’s broken in? From the outside the change is not bad at all. But you can judge for yourself:

[ Engine Cold ] (Quicktime / High Quality)

The funny thing I noticed is that the exhaust sounded better when it was cold.

[ Engine Warm ] (Quicktime High Quality)

So…. lets drive! I was sitting on the co drivers seat in the beginning. First impression of a passenger after flooring gears 1 and 2 with “Sport button” turned on: this machine is really really moving and kicking forward without having any major traction problems – a nice surprise! We did not hit the famous german “Autobahn” to do some top-speed testing but I have no doubt that the new Works will run straight down to 240 km/h and more based on my time with it.

The brakes are also just perfect – maybe not “enough” for driving 20 laps on the “Nordschleife” but in normal conditions this set-up is just more than sufficient. The JCW suspension is also just perfect and allows for excellent handling. The car could have been slightly lower but thats just a personal opinion.

Coming back to the sound question. Wonder what the new R56 Works sounds like at speed? Check these out:

[ Pass 1 ] (Quicktime / High Quality)

[ Pass 2 ] (Quicktime / High Quality)

Now it was my turn to drive. I clearly have to admit: the new Works is bloody fast and the engine is clearly better than the standard R56 version. You get serious power and torque starting from 2400 rpms `till the high 6000´s. There is never ever a feeling of being underpowered. I also believe that this kit will beat any R53 JCW! But still…..there was something I personally missed. I mean: hey, I am sitting in a Works! It’s just that when I floor my Works GP I always get this feeling that I’m about to take off the ground. I start to sweat, the supercharger is whining beautifully – especially at 4500 rpms and the exhaust sounds like a F-16. Its just pure adrenalin. Maybe I’m a little to “MINI old-school” for missing all of this?

I think it’s the fact that, compared with the old Works generation, the performance and the power-curve of the standard R56 and of course the new R56 JCW is different. This is of course related to the Turbo and I know that comparing the power-curve of a supercharger with the power-curve of a turbo is like comparing apples to oranges – totally different character and totally different concept!

So what’s my conclusion? Well, if someone would have asked me directly after the ride how the new Works performs I probably would have chosen three words as an answer:

Very powerful understatement!

No question, the new JCW Kit I is really worth every cent and after driving it for the first time, I expect the Stage II JCW Kit to be nothing less than a rocket!

Alex Lipphardt (Macmini from www.newmini-technik.de)
PS: Thanks to my MINI dealer (BMW Hansa) for making this ride possible!

Gallery

We’ll have our full (and official) review of the kit in the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Great review Alex. It would seem the JCW kit (like the old one) magnifies the personality of the car. Where the old R53 became even more of a screaming missile, the R56 becomes a torque-filled monster with (dare I say it) more of a classic soundtrack.

    I can’t wait to get mine.

    BTW – of the three JCW cars that I’ve seen so far, none has had its badge on in the right spot.

  • scott

    Gabe when are you getting your engine kit? I know a motoring advisor that’s getting 3 kits in a few days.

  • Shamus

    Hmmm, Stage 1 or wait for Stage 2? I imagine the whole kit minus the bodywork will be quite the sleeper!!!

  • scott

    How did it handle with JCW suspension? I’m getting mine installed tomorrow, so what can I expect?

  • msh441

    A 6-7 hour instal and a full day to flash the ECU!?!

    Hopefully MINI will still charge me for the originally quoted 2-hours? Otherwise that will seriously impact the total price of the kit…

  • droll

    so what’s the 0-100 time for this kit?

  • AlwaysOpenCharlie05

    Wow… something’s missing…

    It’s got pedigree, no doubt- just like the old JCW’s, but it just sort of seems a little less quirky and jumpy now; I’ll miss that twisty edgy eagerness and spunk that the R53’s had.

    Don’t get me wrong, the thing looks like a total blast to drive!! It just seems like when BMW began to revive the Mini brand, the R53 MINI was the perfect balance between Mini and BMW… the R56 is more BMW and less Mini than the first try, and it almost feels a bit TOO grown up- it’s not a playful fun toy anymore, but a more sophisticated, classy performance driving machine, which is BMW’s real forte.

    Show me Stage II and really impress me now, John Cooper Works. Please, I beg you. Work your familiar magic!

  • Leo

    As alreday mentioned I hope that our dealer sticks to the 4 hour charge as indicated by MINI. Otherwise it’s gonna be an expensive option.

  • GregW

    Reprogramming ECUs and control units is BMWs achilles heel. Strike it on a bad day and it will take out a control unit or two. Talk about Bill Gates and Microsoft giving problems. This is the issue – MINI is now more BMW and comes with the BMW problems. However, a great article by Alex – danke.

  • Jon

    Thanks Alex, this was a very fun to read review. Have been eagerly waiting to start seeing the stage 1 kits being installed. Sounds like Mini has another winner on their hands. The car is a nice looking ride, and think the kit has made a good overall improvment to the base car.

    I am a little unimpressed with the exhaust note but then again I admit I am addicted to the sound from both ends of the R53 GP sitting in my garage now. I have little doubt that this new kit is going to be a screamer but personally I am holding out for the factory JCW.

  • msh441

    I do have one question for Alex: Can you clarify what the “Exhaust manifold (for operation at higher temperatures)” and “Turbocharger air filter air guide (to allow better cooling)” consist of. The rest seems pretty obvious. But since you’ve now handled the parts, maybe you could explain?

  • http://www.newmini-technik.de Alex

    hey msh441,

    in this post you’ll find some fotos of the mentioned parts:

    http://www.newmini-technik.de/viewtopic.php?f=390&t=4697&p=63498#p63498

    i guess these pix should answer your question pretty straight forward.

    there is no “visual” difference between the jcw manifold and the standard manifold. the jcw manifold is able to handle higher enginetemperatures which is definitely the bootleneck when it comes to “tuning the r56” !

    alex

  • Chuck

    “close to $40,000”, I know it’s loaded, but you’re getting near 335I territory!

  • Fred

    Alex, you sound positively underwhelmed. Thanks : )

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Gabe when are you getting your engine kit? I know a motoring advisor that’s getting 3 kits in a few days.

    I was told that MINI isn’t releasing the kits for at least a week or two. I should have it two days (due to shipping) after it’s released.

    Hopefully MINI will still charge me for the originally quoted 2-hours? Otherwise that will seriously impact the total price of the kit…

    I agree. I would recommend negotiating with your dealer on this point before the install. You don’t want to have to pay them to learn on your car.

    Alex, you sound positively underwhelmed.

    I don’t get that here or talking to Alex. I think you might be reading a little too much into this.

  • Nigel

    I guess my question is…. How MINI is exactly addressing the issue of torque steer in these cars? Torque steer is bad as it is (I had another shot at a R56 test drive a few days ago) so with more power and torque on tap, this problem is only bound to get worse, is it not?

    -Nigel

  • RUKnight

    I have to say I’m a bit disapointed in the exhaust. For over 2k I expected a cat back exhaust and not just a muffler change.

    I’m sure the drive is fantastic though. I’m waiting to see/hear what stage 2 will be like though. Mike

  • eager2own

    Gabe, I apologize if this has been answered elsewhere:

    Are there any rumors yet as to whether there will be an upgrade available from Stage 1 to 2? . . . or will buyers of stage 1 have to fork out for a full Stage 2 when that’s available?

  • Victor

    No pictures of all the parts installed vs the old ones?

  • MINI Vanilli

    Can someone explain to me what the difference is between a stage 1 and stage 2 kit? (not so much specs because i know those are not out yet for the stage 2, but more what they mean in relation to each other).

  • engine 58

    two questions ? do you have to have lsd in your car and will the epa change any from a regular r56s. i have a long comute to work and mpg needs to stay the same for me.

  • Crusoe

    Funny, I cocked my head at the badge placement too. I knew that couldn’t be right. Great review with videos. For the ECU, I’m guess they can launch the upload and reboots and go about other business. No way they should bill for that, it’s like baking cookies.

  • greg

    My MA told me this week that stage 2 will be available in April 2008. I find that hard to believe as that could slow stage 1 sales with people waiting for the big boy. any way to confirm? Sure makes a difference on whether I order now or wait.

  • lavardera

    Not to dwell on the body kit, but at the rear lower fascia at either side of the exhaust – isn’t that supposed to be painted black, or unpainted left black, whatever?

    I’m thinking it did not leave the German equal of the VDC like that – a dealer install?

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Not to dwell on the body kit, but at the rear lower fascia at either side of the exhaust – isn’t that supposed to be painted black, or unpainted left black, whatever?

    It was intended to be painted flat black by the designers. However dealers and even the folks at the VPC in the US have been just painting the entire thing body color to save time. It’s very unfortunate as that was one of my favorite parts of the design. Two potential ways around this: (A) Have the kit installed at the dealer and talk to the paint shop about what you want or (B) buy the carbon fiber version of the piece.

    My MA told me this week that stage 2 will be available in April 2008. I find that hard to believe as that could slow stage 1 sales with people waiting for the big boy. any way to confirm? Sure makes a difference on whether I order now or wait.

    I’ve heard both spring of next year and September. I’m inclined to believe the latter for several reasons.

    Can someone explain to me what the difference is between a stage 1 and stage 2 kit?

    Take a look at this article from last winter: Future JCW Vehicles

    Are there any rumors yet as to whether there will be an upgrade available from Stage 1 to 2? . . . or will buyers of stage 1 have to fork out for a full Stage 2 when that’s available?

    There will be no official upgrade path from “Stage 1” to “Stage 2”.

  • MiniMark

    lavardera – The short answer to your question is ‘No’. The diffuser each side of the exhaust comes painted body colour as stock. I’m thinking you may have thought otherwise because of the JCW publicity shots from their website. In fact the red JCW car which appears in all their photos has a special carbon fibre piece each side of the exhaust which upon viewing in photos and from a distance looks black. This part, to my knowledge, isn’t available to purchase as yet, if ever. Hope this helps.

  • MiniMark

    Gabe,

    “or (B) buy the carbon fiber version of the piece.”

    This is available? That’s news to me, it’s on neither the miniusa.com configurator nor the official JCW site for purchase.

    Cheers in advance.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    The short answer to your question is ‘No’. The diffuser each side of the exhaust comes painted body colour as stock.

    I was told it was originally to be matte black.

    In fact the red JCW car which appears in all their photos has a special carbon fibre piece each side of the exhaust which upon viewing in photos and from a distance looks black.

    I’ve got some super hi-res of that car and it is indeed simply matte black.

    This part, to my knowledge, isn’t available to purchase as yet, if ever. Hope this helps.

    It is currently available in the US and I would guess worldwide. It’s not cheap.

  • MiniMark

    It is? From the dealer? Price?

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    It is?

    Yes.

    From the dealer?

    Yes.

    Price?

    Dealer cost is something like $525. So multiply by 1.25 and you’re about there.

  • bluzeke

    Gabe – so WHERE exactly is the front Works badge ‘sposed to go?

  • MiniMark

    Thanks Gabe, have you any idea why this part is in no catalogue or on no website whatsoever? Seems a bit weird.

    My dealer, Morristown Mini sells all accessories at 20% discount over MSRP so I should be able to get this installed for around $500. Now to decide whether it’s worth the outlay.

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  • Provofam

    Gabe, any thoughts of a comparison test between the JCW Stage 1 kit and the new Alta exhaust system? That would be very interesting as I am considering both at this time. I would be very interested on hearing about the results and the benefits of each system.

  • Ken

    “Gabe – so WHERE exactly is the front Works badge ’sposed to go?”

    Lower air intake.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Gabe – so WHERE exactly is the front Works badge ’sposed to go?

    There’s a link to a photo in my first comment that answers that. But in case you missed it, it should go a little further right from where it is in the pictures below. The photo below shows the “official” positioning:

  • engine 58

    gabe does anyone one know the mpg for the new kit?

  • greg

    Actually, shouldn’t the badge go on the lower part of the grill? I plan to get driving lamps and it would get covered up.

    As long as everyone is commenting off topic on the body kit. I’ll throw my .02 on those JCW wheels. HORRIFIC! The aluminum version are great(gonna go on mine) but the black ones don’t show at all. It looks like hubcaps in the photos. Black wheels look great IF they are surrounded by silver alloy to seperate the wheel from the tire. JCW totally dropped the ball here.

  • Krash

    Engine58, supposedly, the mpg is the same…apparently, with the increased power output, the parts are more efficient, thereby giving you similar mpg as the standard S.

    I think I read it on NAM or here.

  • bluzeke
    The photo below shows the “official” positioning:

    Aah – Ha! So it’s 3 Honeycombs Up and 1 Honeycomb to the Right. All violators are herewith forewarned – we’re checking grills! 😉

  • greg

    I’m surprised this hasn’t come up yet. Any details on the air intake part of the kit? any possibility of opening the hood scoop to attach? It’s obviously designed to be opened by the materials used under the hood. Is Mini just waiting to sell us a hood scoop kit for $900 that provides 3hp?

  • engine 58

    thank you krash

  • http://www.smartboxusa.com/chicago GSKChicago

    Great read and sorry to go off topic, but Gabe, why don’t all the photos and videos show up on my iPhone? Shouldn’t quicktime show?

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    I think I read it on NAM or here.

    You read it right here last Tuesday: R56 JCW Kit Stage I Parts List

    Great read and sorry to go off topic, but Gabe, why don’t all the photos and videos show up on my iPhone? Shouldn’t quicktime show?

    They both use flash which isn’t viewable on the iPhone yet.

  • TomB

    I disagree with Greg’s comment on the black JCW wheels. Since I put them my Dark Silver and Black R53, I have gotten nothing but comments on how nice it looks. It is actually a running joke with my wife, because she doesn’t get the attraction between men and there wheels. just about every guy in my office has commented about them, even guys I never talk to otherwise.

    I think the black wheels need to be seen in person to be appreciated fully. They don’t show so well in these photos of an all white car. probably to much contrast for Alex’s camera.

  • engine 58

    awesome power and fuel economy i want it

  • engine 58

    awesome power and fuel economy i want it

  • 1825vine

    TomB, I want to see them too. Where can I see them?

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    I think the black wheels need to be seen in person to be appreciated fully. They don’t show so well in these photos of an all white car. probably to much contrast for Alex’s camera.

    Totally agree. I didn’t like them until I had a JCW press car equipped with them last year.

  • msh441

    Aah – Ha! So it’s 3 Honeycombs Up and 1 Honeycomb to the Right. All violators are herewith forewarned – we’re checking grills! 😉

    Ha! Having the driver’s lights installed, I have a feeling I’ll end up being a flagrant badging violator. I’m thinking lower grille to the driver’s side.

  • jimskater

    msh

    Lower grille on the driver’s side is an historically accurate placement (at least to 08/2006).

    That’s where the front badge is on my GP. 😉

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  • Steve S

    Looks fantastic but wow, 40k for a FWD mini, that takes a really dedicated buyer.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Looks fantastic but wow, 40k for a FWD mini, that takes a really dedicated buyer.

    Keep in mind that you could get an MCS with the JCW kit for around 23,500 if you didn’t want any of the other options.

  • chuck

    Gabe,

    I want to thank you for all the great information you have provided us mini owners (well mine is about to be shipped). I have been a reader since I decided to get a mini in May. Your site always seems to have the info first so thank you.

    Ok here is my question. Link provided:

    http://www.mini.com/com/en/john_cooper_works/

    when you look at the torque/Hp curves for the JCW mini and the standard R56 S, it seems to be puzzling, well at least to me. I thought that HP = RPM* Torque/5252. If that is true and the JCW R56 has the same shape torque curve but more torque over the same RPM range, how can it have less HP than the R56 S until around 4000 RPM? I am scratching my head on this one. Maybe the graph is incorrect and the peak torque for the JCW R56 starts at a higher RPM than the R56 S.

    thanks,

    chuck

  • Craig

    I expect the badge will be relatively easy to re-position. The grille is incredibly easy to remove (4 plastic rivets and a couple clips) and the badge is probably just clipped to the grille from behind.

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  • Willie

    Since you mentioned that Chuck, I looked at the power graph curve as well, and have the same confusion as you do. It appears that a MCS with Stage 1 Kit will have less power over most of the normally used RPM band.

  • greg

    Your opinion on this Gabe would be very interesting…….

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  • mike

    hey gabe, any update on this kit?

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  • Dennis

    Gabe,

    Which Chicago area dealership did the installation of your Stage 1 kit and how was your experience? Thanks

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Knauz – they did a fantastic Job. Tell them I sent you :)