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!