MF Review: JCW Stage I vs Stage II

MCS JCW

Unlike the previous Cooper S, MINI has taken a two prong approach to developing a faster MINI or the R56 MCS. First out of the gates was the JCW “Engine Kit” which debuted in July of 2007. The kit developed 192 bhp and had 201 ft lbs of torque for an MSRP price of $2100 (plus installation). But unlike the previous JCW dealer installed kit, this new kit was easily installed in an hour and relied mostly on software to achieve its performance gains. You could think of it as a kit that unlocks the hidden potential in any stock R56 MCS.

We coined the term “Stage 1” JCW for this engine kit when it became clear through sources that MINI was creating something even faster and more powerful. In July of 2008 MINI released the “Stage 2” or factory JCW car to the public. This car was a little closer to the original R53 kit in it’s design. Not only did it feature revised software but also upgraded mechanicals. We won’t go into details here (you can read that in our full review) but needless to say it’s fast.

It’s also pricey. At $29,200 for a stripper, the JCW can get real pricey real fast. And that’s $6,600 more than a stock MCS. For that price you could add a JCW Engine kit, JCW Aero-kit, and most importantly the JCW Suspension. But how would that stack up against the increased power and better brakes on the JCW factory car? We thought we should find out.

In one corner we had a 2009 JCW press car from MINI USA (we’ll call it the “factory JCW for short”). Equipped with only a few options (sunroof, auto climate control, bluetooth/iPod adapter) it came in at $31,800. But where would we find the perfect MINI to pit against the new JCW? As it turns out that was the easy part. The 2007 MCS I recently sold had all the right JCW accessories to give the factory car a run for it’s money. Equipped with the JCW Engine kit, JCW Aero-kit, JCW Suspension and full of all sorts of JCW accessories. So in the other corner we had all the best that JCW had to offer without ordering the JCW from the factory (we’ll call it the “JCW MCS” for short).

Driving the two back to back you’re immediately struck by the sounds made by both cars as compared to the stock MCS. The factory JCW has more growl, pops and burble to go along with it’s deep exhaust note. And while the JCW engine kit lacks the burble, it does have an aggressive growl that almost equals that of the factory car. Almost, but not quite. The factory JCW (under full acceleration) can sound almost violent from a chase vehicle. It’s simply the best exhaust note we had ever heard from a MINI.

But the 2007 JCW MCS has one huge advantage in this test – the JCW Suspension. It allows the car to not only corner more effectively but also it’s helps transfer the 200 ft lbs of torque smoothly to the road out of corners. As anybody who has tracked or driven the stock suspension aggressively can tell you, there is a surprising amount of lift-off over-steer and that is exacerbated by the body-roll. It can be incredibly fun but it’s all the excessive motion from this that ultimately slows down the car in corners and let’s the JCW MCS (with the JCW suspension of course) catch up quickly. There’s really no way around it, the factory JCW is done a huge disservice with the stock suspension.

There’s little question that the factory JCW is the faster of the two in a straight line however. There’s simply more power throughout the range. There’s even better throttle response (something the JCW MCS already has plenty of compared to the stock MCS) which gives the car a more eager feel off the line. And it pulls all the way up to red-line in a fashion that reminded me a lot of the JCW GP.

Stopping all of this are four-pot Brembo brakes on the factory JCW. They live up to the hype in that they are better than the single-pot set-up on the stock MCS or the JCW MCS tested here. However more than one of us who drove the two felt that the stock braking set-up on the JCW MCS actually had more feel than the Brembos on the factory JCW. It could have been the extra 7,000 miles on them but they seems slightly easier to modulate. That said, if we had to choose one it would be the four-pot Brembos.

While there’s a lot to compare and contrast with these two cars (you can see in the photos the striking difference similar money can buy ) we’re sticking to just the mechanical differences here. And if you’re talking about the overall package, it’s the MCS with the dealer installed JCW accessories (specifically the suspension and engine kits) that feels like the special model out of the two. Yes the Factory JCW is the faster car in a straight line. It brakes better, sounds better and is genuinely a unique car considering it’s classified as a separate model all together. But knowing that approximately the same money can buy you so much more of an overall performance package, it’s hard to overlook the stock MCS specced with all the JCW bits. In fact it would be our choice.

JCW Stage I Gallery

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JCW Stage II Gallery

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