JCW Badge

In the MINI world three words stand between mediocrity and the top level performance trim: John Cooper Works (or JCW for short), but what makes a JCW? Way back in the 1960s John Cooper’s eponymous workshop became famous for building bonkers race cars and the most bonkers of these were the Austin MINI Cooper S that went on to win the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, 1965, 1967 and would have swept 1966 but were disqualified on a technicality (headlights). Needless to say, motorsport history was made and a giant slaying legend was born.

Paddy Hopkirk and 33 EJB

The car world has changed a lot since then and ownership of the Mini brand, the Cooper name, and the John Cooper Works brands have all changed hands several times; all winding up in the hands of BMW and brought together under the MINI brand.

The last of these brands to make a comeback was actually John Cooper Works which came to market as an independent race tuning partner of the recently resurrected MINI brand in March 2003. JCW tuning kits were sold and installed by the MINI dealer network and unlike other kits it retained the full factory warranty (BMW partner Dinan being the only other exception) until late 2004 when the MINI John Cooper Works became a factory trim for the 2005 model year.

The First Generation Cooper (R50)

The JCW Tuning Kit for the R50 MINI Cooper (yep, the base model) actually existed.

The Cooper kit included the following items:

  • Machined cylinder head
  • Cat-back sport exhaust system
  • Cold air intake
  • Cover injection tube
  • ECU programming
  • Badges for the engine cover, front grille, rear bumper, and side scuttles
  • Certificate of authenticity

This kit is so rare that I have literally only ever seen it once. The price was steep in the US at $2600 and it only added 10 horsepower and 4 lb-ft of torque. Predictably it didn’t do well and was canned after 2004 (though the exhaust was still available). You will probably go your entire life without ever seeing or hearing one.

The First Generation Cooper S (R52 & R53)

The JCW tuning kit for the Supercharged Cooper S was much more popular thanks to it adding a lot more power at a somewhat reasonable price.

There were actually two dealer kits and the first contained:

  • Machined cylinder head
  • Revised supercharger with 11.3% reduction pulley
  • Smaller diameter belt
  • NGK BKR7EQUP Spark Plugs
  • Cat-back sport exhaust system
  • ECU programming
  • Intercooler cover
  • Badges for the front grille and rear bumper
  • Certificate of authencity

Power figures were brought up to 197 hp @ 6950 RPM and peak torque was 177 lb-ft @ 4000 RPM.

The second kit included all of the above, plus the following additions:

  • Cold air intake
  • Bosch 380cc fuel injectors

These two additions brought power up to 207 hp @ 6950 RPM and torque to 180 lb-ft @ 4500 RPM.

Needless to say, these cars were obnoxiously fun, but spotting one requires a bit of detective work. All of these parts except the ECU tune were publically available through the BMW parts network so the only guaranteed way to know is to take the VIN to a dealer and have them verify that this car is noted as having JCW engine software in their system. Unfortunately, this still won’t tell you if you have the first version of the kit, or the second. For that you would need to open the hood and see if you have the JCW air box and pull the fuel rail and check if your injectors are blue.

Regarding the JCW brakes and suspension:

The factory JCW included two additional changes not present in the tuning kits above. Namely larger brakes and stiffer suspension springs that dropped the car 1.25 inches front and rear. These were commonly retrofitted onto other cars so neither is a dead giveaway that you are looking at a JCW.

A note about the factory aero kit:

The first generation also had a factory aero kit, but that actually had nothing to do with John Cooper Works and everything to do with the MINI Challenge racing series. Even if you ordered a JCW from the factory this kit was a separate option with only a few rare exceptions (the Canadian market only Competition Edition for example).  As a result, this body kit can be commonly found on any first generation car (there is even a version for the base Cooper). Heck, I even had it retrofitted on my Dinan tuned R53 almost as soon as I got it because it was too good looking not to.

Second Generation (R55, R56, R57, R58, R59)

Amazingly, for the second generation MINIs with the PSA Prince engines things actually managed to keep things just as confusing as with the first generation (if not moreso because they switched engines at the Life Cycle Impulse or LCI refresh).

The JCW tuning kits for the N14 and N18 engines included the following:

  • Cold air intake with cone filter
  • Updated exhaust manifold
  • Cat-back exhaust
  • ECU programming
  • Front and rear badges
  • Serialized sticker for the valve cover
  • Certificate of authenticity

Despite containing many similar parts, the ECU programming was not cross compatible between the two engines and the CAI box top required a matching bottom (though this will mount to either engine).

Power figures were slightly different mostly because of the different specific outputs of the N14 (172hp) and N18 (181 hp) engines owing to the laters more advanced double VANOS system, revised head, timing, cam and positive crankcase ventilation system. Horsepower figures went up to 189 hp and 197 hp respectively while torque figures jumped to the same 184 lb-ft for both engines (and 199 lb-ft during overboost). Interestingly, the exhaust tips on this tuning kit are actually much nicer than the ones that came on the factory JCW…

Factory JCW mechanicals vs Cooper S:

The differences on the second generation JCW from its Cooper S counterpart are actually far more pronounced than previous generations for both the N14 and N18 engines (2013-onward). Starting at the fuel preparation system and moving backwards.

  • Same air box and filter as the JCW tuning kit above
  • Larger air mass sensor
  • Larger turbocharger capable of a maximum boost level of 25.5 PSI  (vs 21.9 PSI)
  • Common rail direct injection system from the MINI Challenge race car
  • Revised valves and valve seat rings on both intake and exhaust side
  • Same exhaust manifold as the JCW tuning kit above
  • Revised turbo-back exhaust with larger catalytic converter
  • Revised clutch plate with more aggressive friction material

Regarding the JCW aero kit:

Prior to the 2011 LCI the JCW aero kit was only available as a dealer retrofit. The entire design was lifted directly from the JCW Challenge race car with a smaller version of the integrated 2-piece front splitter.

In 2010 MINI introduced a different aerokit exclusively for the factory JCW, but the take rate was very low. MINI quickly noticed that most JCW customers were still ordering the dealer retrofit above and the kit found itself promptly cancelled and replaced by a revised version of the original retrofit kit for the LCI. As a result, the 2010 JCW body kit is extremely rare.

Starting in 2011 with the MINI John Cooper Works World Championship 50 Edition (yep, that whole thing is it’s name) all factory JCWs would come with the JCW Challenge aero kit and wheels as standard equipment.

JCW Challenge race car for reference…


Sometimes life requires a car that is bigger than a MINI Cooper (shocking, I know), but you don’t want to buy something boring and clunky (or slow for that matter). This is where the MINI Countryman comes in handy (and in some respects, the Paceman too). Even a shiny new car from any brand (except maybe Toyota) can be a lemon (looking at you Range Rover), used cars just have an even better chance of leaving you disappointed, or stranded, or both.  This guide is meant to help you mitigate those chances, though nothing is foolproof.

mini paceman vs countryman

Countryman vs. Paceman

There is little difference between the driving dynamics of these two cars and how they make you feel while driving them. However, the two cars are worlds apart in terms of practicality and style; because of this I routinely joke that the Paceman was “too cool to live”. The Paceman’s roof and door lines make it appreciably less dowdy than the Countryman, but also make it understandably less spacious in the rear.

The cool looks of the Paceman will cost you 20 litres of boot space with the seats up, but the inability to option the 60/40 folding rear bench seat costs you a further 80 litres with the rear bucket seats fold down. It’s also important to note that the Countryman’s entire rear bench can slide forward and tilt to offer up an extra 40 litres of space with the seats up and this has come in handy for me in the past.

The Paceman didn’t fare well in the Canadian new car market and towards the end MINI Canada was offering $4500 and $6500 cash back on the ALL4 and JCW versions respectively. Meanwhile most Countryman’s rolled off the lot for at or near MSRP, if you got a deal on a Countryman before 2015 then it’s probably because they were allowed to knock off up to $1500 for returning customers.

From here on out, just assume that when I write “Countryman”, I meant “Countryman and Paceman” unless I write otherwise, or I specifically mention the Paceman.

JCW Engine Bay

The engines N16 vs. N18

The Countryman lucked out by coming with the same revised engines as the Life Cycle Impulse (LCI) I Cooper from start to finish. The naturally aspirated N16 and turbocharged N18 engines are a marked improvement over thier predecessors (the N12 and prolblematic N14). Both engines were more powerful and efficient than thier predecessors thanks to VANOS infinitely variable valve timing (Valvetronic) on both  intake and exhaust valves and a redesigned positive crank case ventilation system.

The N18 further benefited from a new map-controlled oil pump, a lighter/stronger composite camshaft, and revised pistons. These changes served to solve two potentially fatal flaws; coking of the intake valves, and the catastrophic failure of the timing chain assembly colloquially known as “the death rattle”. If the N18 has a drawback, it’s that the induction system lacks the noise maker that lets you hear the whoosh of the turbo sucking in air so that you can go faster and the “choo choo” of the charge recirculation valve. However, it more than makes up for this lost element of fun with a more pronounced “burble and pop” from the exhaust.

If I am honest, the decision by MINI to field a manual Countryman with the N16 engine was a mistake. When paired with an Aisin automatic transmission this engine is merely anemic (0-100 kph in the same 11.6 seconds as a Toyota Corolla). Yet pairing it with the Getrag 6-speed is an exercise in frustration due to the lack of torque, grabby clutch and higher weight resulting in stalls unless you rev it aggressively and wearing down your clutch in the process. During my hill start test I needed to rev it through 1800-2200 rpm just to avoid stalling, in an normal MINI Cooper I could make it up a hill stall free at a modest 1200 rpm. There is a reason MINI Canada cancelled this engine offering with the LCI Countryman; it was a pairing that just didn’t make any sense at all.

DSCF0172 (1)

FWD vs. ALL4 vs. JCW

The Countryman S came in front wheel drive and an all wheel drive system known as ALL4 while the JCW only came with ALL4. Having driven both systems in the wet and the snow I can safely say that the ALL4 system was worth the $1000 premium when new and in the used market it’s a no-brainer as FWD and ALL4 cars command nearly identical prices. A Countryman ALL4 with the TCS and DSC turned off and sport mode on is a bundle of laughs in the snow, the wet and the muck. The car is nicely poised and with the right tires it drifts around effortlessly in first and second gears all the while leaving total control within easy reach. I’ve never had a problem with heavy snow or ice in our Countryman ALL4 on the factory Pirelli Sottozeros, even when other cars were stuck or in the ditch. The TCS and DSC systems are so seamless that only the lack of drama on an icy surface gives the game away.

The Countryman JCW still commands enough of a price premium ($4000-5000) over similarly equipped S ALL4’s on the used market that it is still an emotional buy. It’s important to note that non-MINI dealers often sell S’s with the JCW Appearance Package for the same price as other Countrymen without. This package gets you the JCW aero kit, sport suspension, 18″ JCW Twin Spoke Wheels, JCW steering wheel, JCW shifter, power fold mirrors, anthracite roofliner and piano black interior trim. The 2013-2014’s with this package will also come with the “dark style” package which consists of micro-checkered mirror caps, side scuttles, and down tubes, white side indicators and anthracite scuttle trim instead of chrome. If you can’t find one with the JCW looks, the front spoiler lip and some beefy exhaust tips will only set you back at most $600 and you can install them in your driveway.

Park Lane Interior

Packages and options

Key options include Premium Package (dual pane sunroof, rain sensing wipers, heated seats, climate control, automatic headlights, fog lights and Bluetooth calling), Lights Package (adaptive bi-xenon headlights, white turn signals).

Options that are really nice to have and are prohibitively expensive to retrofit include Wired Package (MINI Connected, navigation, voice recognition, Bluetooth audio streaming), HK Sound, Black Headlights, Comfort Access, rear bench seats, cargo package and the sports gauges. Get the interior you want, lounge leather can be had on the used market for only a modest markup over the base leatherette or punch leather.

Don’t get hung up on things such as accessories and wheels. Things such as black headlight/taillight rings, stripes, mirror caps and side scuttles are inexpensive to add after the fact. Wheels can be tricky if the car comes with the the ugly 17″ 5-Star Triangle Spokes, or the boring 18″ Turbo Fan Spokes, but any of the other option wheels are relatively easy to sell or trade. The American-sized front and rear cup holders are also an inexpensive retrofit ($120 for the front and $80 for the rear), though the install for the front ones can be tricky (panel poppers are your friends).

Paceman ALL4

Regarding resale values (and getting a deal on a Paceman)

In-warranty and certified pre-owned Countryman ALL4 and JCW have the single highest resale/trade value of any car on the market (averaging 59% after 3 years) because of continued high demand. Particularly well optioned low KM examples can go for as high as 70% of MSRP (which is pretty insane). This also means that there are only around 30-50 of these cars on the used market at any given time and turnarounds can be pretty quick.

If you can live without a rear bench and only two doors, similarly optioned Pacemen can be had for much less and despite thier comparative rarity, there are usually 20 kicking around on used car lots at any given time because they tend to sit there and collect dust. This creates opportunities for serious discounts and they can often be had for $2000-6000 less than a similarly equipped Countryman.


Things To Avoid

Avoid anything before an Aug 2012 build at all cost. These cars often develop electrical gremlins and there was no optional rear bench. The most commonly afflicted parts are window motors that will only go down, interior lights that flicker, door locks and wipers that have a mind of thier own.

If you’re looking for a stick, Countrymen prior to Jan 2013 came with a mushy clutch cylinder and a softer friction material. This resulted in smooth takeoffs, but excessive clutch wear and any car on it’s first clutch won’t be for long. If the clutch pedal is really soft and riding high, walk away. Countrymen built after Jan 2013 got the same tougher clutch plate assembly and stiffer clutch cylinders as the JCW, but this also means smooth launches require much more finesse. Older cars that have had thier clutch and flywheel replaced should be using the updated clutch package, but may still be operating with the old input/output cylinders, this is where service records come in really handy. Note that this more aggressive clutch setup makes non-turbo version of the Countryman even more difficult to drive with a stick than it already was.

Other than the above issues, the Countryman has been the MINI model in need of the least amount of sorting out over it’s production cycle. Unlike the Cooper LCI, the Countryman LCI didn’t introduce any major changes to the vehicle, just some cosmetics and reorganization of the option packages.



Remo Ferri

MINI Vaughn West Invited my wife and I down to attend the launch of the new F56. The day of the event I get a call on my cell phone from the agent that sold me my current saying that they aren’t permitted to give test drives during the event because they will be serving alcohol at an open bar and that I should show up early if I want to try the new car. Understandably, I did what any sensible miniac would do and met up with them an hour before the party was set to begin and found my sales agent and a volcanic orange Cooper S manual waiting for us. We took it out for a flogging and then returned in time for the party to start (more on the test drive in another post).

The dealership was emptied of everything and transformed into a lounge space complete with bar and catering. We were treated to a bevvy of British favourites including fish and chips, stuffed Yorkshire puddings, mini shepherds pies, Pimm’s punch and a selection of British beer and local micro-brews. The club music wasn’t my thing and I would have preferred something current and British like Franz Ferdinand, Lemon Jelly, Basement Jax, Pet Shop Boys,  The Libertines, or just anything British really; regardless, people were having a good time in spite of the DJ’s choice of music.

The lights dimmed and the video wall shifted to the F56 chain reaction promo video and everyone gathered to watch.

As the video finished, the video wall rolled up and the F56 Cooper S rolled onto the floor through the fog to cheers from the crowd. Remo Ferri then took to the floor to reminisce about his days as a race car driver for Alfa Romeo and the stiff competition that he faced from the Cooper drivers. He also took the moment to announce that MINI Vaughn West is going to be rebuilt to give the burgeoning MINI side of the business the space it needs and deserves.

Miniacs were keen to get thier hands on the new Cooper and Cooper S.

Admit it, those headlights are cool.

The new 1.5 L turbo is a big step forward for the base Cooper.

If you don’t like the new LED headlights you can always stick with halogens.