Part 1: On the Road
The JCW suspension has long been called the most underrated factory MINI performance accessory offered. Yet it remains rather rare and tends to be the last box checked when owners are going the “JCW route”. Why? Perhaps it’s not quite as tangible as the engine or aero-kit for most owners. People don’t roll down their windows to shout “nice suspension!” after all. And while many owners want speed, not a lot of them are actually willing to sacrifice comfort for increased on the limit handling. And then of course there’s the price. With installation included you’d be lucky to get out the door close to…. $2000. The parts alone cost anywhere from $1200 to $1500 depending the dealer. That’s 25% to even 50% more than some after-market set-ups. And yes, entire coil-over systems with can be had for less.
Yet for this money the JCW suspension offers more than any other stand-alone kit. The set-up includes not only the four shock absorbers and springs that are individually tailored to your car’s weight (based on the options specced from the factory) but also both front and rear upgraded sway bars. That’s right, after seven years of owners putting on after-market sway bars MINI, is finally giving us what we want in the R56 JCW Sport Suspension kit.
The result of all these components? Telepathic cornering. The JCW Sport Suspension endows the MINI with responsiveness that seems directly tied into the driver’s brain in as much as it is with the steering wheel. The car takes s-curves and multiple corners in-stride. There’s no lost motion and little to no waiting for the car to settle before setting yourself up for what’s next. Due to all of this, the kit gives the car an eagerness that seems to playfully challenge the driver.
An then there the flat cornering that not only gives you more grip in corners but (more importantly on the track) more while accelerating out of them. Where the stock MINI’s rear suspension (both R53 and R56) can feel ponderous in high speed cornering and braking, the JCW suspension gives you much more feedback and ultimately much more control. In low-speed cornering the car is quicker to react and tends to have much more grip entering and exiting. Yet the R56 doesn’t lose its magical ability to rotate in corners on lift-off (similar to an R53 w/an after-market rear sway bar) that is completely addicting. It would seem that the addition of larger front and rear sway bars retains the balance of the stock set-up while improving the turn-in.
For my money, if I were driving a track like the Nurburgring two or three times a year, the JCW Suspension would be far and away my first choice in the way of factory mods over the JCW Engine Kit.
The JCW Suspension also fixes one glaring issue I personally have with the current crop of R56 MINIs: ride height. The suspension lowers the car 1cm or about .4 of an inch. While it doesn’t sound like a lot, I’ve found that it’s a sweet spot between the high-riding stock set-up and bottoming out over expansion joints.
Of course there’s a downside to all of this increased control and grip; decreased ride quality. In fact it could be called something closer to medial torture on some Chicago roads. While it’s true some owners will consider it a great trade-off, I’m guessing the majority will probably infinitely prefer the more comfortable stock set-up or the “middle of the road” factory sport suspension.
Yet the ride quality is still a (small) step ahead of the stock R53 SS+ suspension. Especially around town there’s a noticeable difference in the way it soaks up road imperfections. The JCW suspension feels closer to an M3 in the way it’s dampened than any other MINI set-up I’ve ever driven save for the JCW GP. However (and this is a big however) on the highway quality tends to deteriorate to R53 levels. This is a huge difference to the stock (non-sport) set-up standard on the R56.
And speaking of the GP. Yes, R56 JCW suspension is basically the same exact set-up that we saw on the 2006 JCW GP. The JCW suspension combined with the aluminum rear control arms was one of the key character points of that car. Now it can be had by anyone with an R56 willing to throw down some cash and give-up some comfort.
So is it worth the money? As with all MINI accessories (after-market or factory) that’s a very personal question. If you’re looking to get more aggressive but want to do it with value in mind, there are some great choices out there and this isn’t one of them. Likewise, if you’re looking to slam your MINI and nothing more, look elsewhere. However, if you want the ultimate suspension set-up from same people that created and developed the MINI and don’t mind dropping at least $2k (including install) this is your clear choice. And on-top of that pedigree, the JCW suspension also carries a full factory warranty that matches your MINI’s warranty in terms of length.
Yet I can’t help but feel that product and install costs (4 to 7 hours recommended) are going to be the biggest challenge for potential owners to overcome. The aforementioned costs are frankly hard to swallow when there are other competent choices out there for less. While there are great arguments for the kit, it’s simply not going to appeal to most enthusiast owners let alone casual ones. Making the kit a factory option would surely go along way in helping this issue. But don’t look for that to ever happen outside of a full-on JCW car a la the GP.
Rating a product like this is somewhat difficult. Price aside, the performance and ride quality trade-offs are right on the money. Because of this, it’s easy to overlook price and give the kit a 4.5 or even 5. However I don’t think you can lose site of what else is on the market for less. And since we save our highest ratings for products that we feel are must haves for most of our readers, the score (as you can see below) reflects our general buying recommendation. This doesn’t mean we didn’t love the performance and that the kit didn’t meet and exceed all of our expectations. It just means that we feel the vast majority of our readers will prefer the factory sport suspension and the trade-offs that come with when comparing final costs and everyday drive-ability.
But for those that don’t mind the price or ride trade-offs, we have little doubt you will absolutely love this kit.
MF Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)
Look for “Part 2” of the review next week when we’ll be taking the new JCW Sport Suspension kit back to its roots; the track.
The JCW Sport Suspension kit is available from the following MotoringFile sponsors:
– Knauz MINI (where the kit in this review was installed)
– MINI of Manhattan
– Morristown MINI
– Patrick MINI
For some context, here’s a peak at how the entire MF Rating system plays out:
5 – Perfect and a must have.
4 – Excellent with little downside.
3 – A Solid buy with one or two trade-offs.
2 – Okay but there’s room for improvement.
1 – Why am I reviewing this?