Holiday Romance (Why The 1 Series Trumps JCW)


As you likely noticed, things were a little slow at BimmerFile last week.That ‘s because we were traveling with the MotoringFile crew working the MTTS epic road-trip extravaganza.We drove from Chicago to Indianapolis, picking up two legs from Boston and Atlanta, finally joining the west-coast contingent for a couple days festivities in Denver.MINI provided us the opportunity to drive several models during the trip, reviews to be found over at MotoringFile, but one bares a quick mention here.For three days we cruised through the heart of America in a 2010 MINI JCW Convertible; essentially stock with only cosmetic options.With the LCI MINI ‘s soon to debut there ‘s no sense in speaking to the chassis and interior appointments, well covered and redundant ground at this point.

For those not already familiar, the JCW MINI features a thoroughly revised version of the standard 1.6L, which understates the case.Some of BMW & MINI ‘s best have been after this engine, and it shows.Capable of 208 hp and 192 lb/ft of torque, with 16 available lb ‘s on overboost, this motor rips.Completely comfortable dawdling through town, the engine deviously whispers to you with a subtle growl and pop between changes or moderate to open throttle.Give in and she gets downright dirty.The 1.6 has plenty of power and pulls quickly to redline and into very jail-able speeds (with a great hollow growl along way).It rev ‘s more freely and with more power than any MINI I ‘ve driven in recent memory with great reserves of power at virtually any speed. In fact it does a great job ofhighlighting the only seemingly overlooked aspect of the car, standard suspension.

MTTS 2010 (Dodge City to Denver)

We ‘re generally rational people at BimmerFile, we can accept the “business-case ” for certain decisions and product direction, however for the JCW MINI not specing at least the sports-suspension should be a crime.With the sort of power and braking on tap in a JCW there is far too much dive and squat for this driver.While our use consisted of long highway drives, and for this the standard suspension was probably ideal effortlessly gliding over country B-roads, there was a sense the suspension didn ‘t marry well with the character of the engine and performance capabilities of the chassis.Giving that excellent engine a kick sends the chassis rocking back with some loss in traction, while heavy braking yields dive and some potentially unsettling moments for the less skilled as the rear tires loose traction.I don ‘t think I ‘m being too uncompromising here, it ‘s an unbalanced car in this regard.

Don ‘t get me wrong, we absolutely fell in love with our car.With the top-down the entire way, and sunburn to prove it, you can ‘t help it. Spending this much time with the car over the various roads we encountered: rural back roads, interstate & Colorado mountain twisties, the JCW convertible was exactly the right car for ripping across the country.The sport-suspension would ‘ve been nice, and the aero-kit would help keep it buttoned down at speed.But at $38,300 as equipped do you bring it home, or is it just that, a holiday romance?

MTTS 2010 (Dodge City to Denver)

For comparison, today I ‘ve borrowed a 128i for running a few errands.Similarly priced the 128i ‘s the one to bring home.Maybe I ‘m getting old, but the refinement of the 3L six, balance, & RWD sell me.The six spins sweetly and isn ‘t as aggressive in it ‘s overture for speed, but is no less potent for it with 230 hp and 200 lb/ft of torque.The muted baritone exhaust is a bit tame for my taste, easily remedied through BMW Performance.The steer and handling is unquestionably more balanced, throttle and tiller working in unison to move about with purer feedback and zero torque-steer, of which the JCW has plenty (until MINI eliminated it for the 2011 models).The suspension could use tightening as well, but isn ‘t highlighted in quite the same way as the JCW.As much as I ‘ll fondly remember our week in the sun, I can ‘t help but think the 128i is the better car for me. With a few days between me and the epic drive, it ‘s become clear that the 128i gives me more of what I value as an enthusiast, a more complete package.

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  • JonPD

    I second that Matt, I have had the chance to spend a bit of time in a R56 jcw over the last couple weeks and was driving a base 135i a week before that. To bring the jcw up to handling even partially as well and similar equipped the 135 or 128 both make much more sense.

    Outside of replacing my wife’s 06 R53 with a R59 I can say that I am waiting for the 1M (or E86 M, pending final details on the 1M) to be my next car and would not personally consider another MINI at this time.

    Great article!

  • goat

    Nice review Matt and, as both a MINI fan (preferably R53 Factory JCW, mind) and BMW fan, I generally concur. In fact, I am waiting for my manual transmission 128i Sport / M-sport (no M-sport in Canada for 2011 but you can piece together the best bits with a factory order)… should be here in a couple of weeks!

    As for the R56 JCW, it really does need the JCW suspension. The fore/aft and lateral body control and resulting contribution to torque steer is – even in S form with Sport Suspension – absolutely terrible.

    I find the 128i with Sport Suspension and 18″ wheels a much more “well rounded” driver’s car, and not just because of the balanced RWD configuration and the smooth and “cammy” I6.

    However, as you write, both 128i and 135i benefit from the more assertive-sounding and freer flowing BMW Performance exhaust; it’s priced quite fairly too! And while I have yet to drive one with the BMW Performance suspension fitted, I have penciled it into my “medium term” mod list. 🙂

  • Mason

    It really is absurd that the mini can cost 40K. Thats a lot of of money for a mini. If it was 30K it would be a whole other story. Also, which is better, this loaded JWC vert mini, or a Base 135i? I’d take the 135i anyday.

  • hemisedan


    I just wander over hear and find you, and a BMW ordered to boot. Should be a nice car, too. By the way, my JCW that is on order should come in at about $32K and some change, and it is equipped well enough for me.

    Now,k if you all were comparing my little BRG ll JCW with the 135i, then I’d say that sure, the performance is way above my guy. But, I’ve driven a 2009 128i six speed, and was doubly not impressed. To me, it lacked performance, even when running it up to about 4k and coming out of the hole. Old drag racers talk for those in wonder.

    As for handling, it was not even close to a stock regular suspended mcs. Everybody bad mouths the suspension on the JCW in base form. Now a friend of mine has a 2009 JCW with stock suspension, and while he scared the living he** out of me, he take some severe curves/corners at a rather high rate of speed, and I survived them. By the way, I’ll never ride with him again.

    But, in the end, I like the BMW’s, would truly love to be in the financial position to afford a 1 M car, but way out of my league.

    As for my BRG ll, chili red roof and mirrors, chili red interior trim,checkered cloth interior, cold package, black wheels (will be changed to oz’s and non run flats in the Spring) HK sound system, HID’s with adaptors, garage opener, and both interior and exterior auto dimming mirrors. Think that’s about it. I don’t like sunroofs, not into the New Age radio/cell phone stuff, so no NAV, plus I can read a map. Leather is for my 38 hotrod, so the JCW doesn’t need it.

    Most would, and will equip theirs much more elaborately, but to me, mine is just what I want. Oh yes, I have ordered H&R springs to lower and improve the suspension quality. Anyway, just had to answer to the JCW bit.

  • goat

    @ hemisedan – agree to disagree on what constitutes a good OEM sporting suspension. I’ve enjoyed an R53 Factory JCW (built with JCW suspension) immensely for nearly 3 years, an R56 Cooper with dealer-installed JCW suspension before that, and will always hang onto my trusty (modded and roll-barred) miata roadster. I stand by my statement that the stock R56 S has a “lost at sea” feeling relative to its power, and this is amplified by its being FWD (hence torque steer, traction loss due to squat under acceleration, etc.). The 128i with Sport Suspension is NOTHING like that. However, as I wrote above, it too can be further “sorted” by installation of BMW Performance suspension (akin to the JCW suspension).

    Anyway, congrats on the JCW order and spring mod you have planned… it’s definitely exciting to be awaiting delivery for a MINI/BMW isn’t it! 🙂

  • JonPD

    Nothing wrong with your spec at all hemisedan sounds like a good build. A 128 with M-sport though is a very nice little car also. The base suspension with the jcw is good for most driving. However its lacking for really pushing hard however imo. Put the two cars together though and its a tough choice for me.

    jcw base – $29,500 128i base – $29,150

    Both cars are more than capable in the right hands. For me personally a rwd has a driving dynamic that will always feel better than fwd.

    Either way both are competent little cars. To me the 128i is generally better equipped generally speaking.

  • hemisedan

    @Goat….I didn’t mean to step on toes, as this is a BMW site, but it’s just that the 128i that I test drove was a dog. 9k on the clock, and it’s a good possibility that it was never driven right. Of course, a few BMW performance mods would have made all the difference in the world. As for the price differences, well I’ve never been able to configure a 128i for under $35K my way. But, the JCW usually comes in around $31K. Mine is coming in just over $32K, it’s just that there are some things that I like that are new for 2011, like the adaptive headlights. Don’t need them, but I think they might be cool. So you have a Miata, well that’s what I’m driving now. Not a bad car, but I just have never gotten use to those seats. I’ve got a knot in my left side back that I call my Miata knot. I’ll be glad the lease is running out in November. All in all, it wasn’t a bad car, just lacked in torque, badly.

  • goat

    @ hemisedan – a miata too eh? that’s pretty cool… our tastes are quite similar then! What year is the miata you are driving… if a lease I assume an NC (3rd generation)? haven’t spent enough time in the NC to judge the seat comfort, but I can say for certain they must be more comfortable than the NB seats. 🙂

    Mine is an NB, 1999 model year… have had it for 12 years now… currently at ~260,000 km and the sturdiest car I have owned. Still on original clutch at that mileage and I have not exactly driven it gingerly as it has seen PLENTY of fast B-road driving and even some track use. Torque on the miata is actually quite good relative to the “typical” I4 that the japanese manufacturers put out… certainly compared to a Honda S2K. When I drove the NC I found it reasonably torquey, but as the car has gained a bit of weight over mine (2300lb –> 2600lb) it didn’t feel much quicker or stronger at low RPM than mine. I do have intake and exhaust for a small gain on my car, of course, and it has always dyno’d strong, but still.

    OK, back to BMW. To wrap my contribution to the MINI v. 1 series comparison, they are very different cars. Choosing between them depends entirely on what you are looking for from the car. Qualitative performance is quite similar, with the 128 being just a bit quicker but also not as nimble in the really tight lower-speed corners. So it really comes down to feel and packaging, and here they differ immensely and will appeal for different reasons.

    I have absolutely nothing negative to say about my R53 JCW Competition Edition… always ran VERY strong (ask the many cars that were left scratching their heads at how I could get that far ahead!), sounded fantastic (SC + JCW intake + very loud JCW exhaust), and cornered like a champ (JCW suspension, 215-width Hankook RS2 tires) especially at city speeds or medium-speed B-roads. Much joy, like I said, and certainly the most satisfying FWD car I have ever owned.

    Now that I have a frequently occurring long road trip however, and need for a bit more cargo capacity and highway composure, and I wanted greater than 4cylinders for the smoothness of power delivery, and since the majority of my cars have been lower-slung RWD coupes, I knew it had to be a BMW coupe. The 1 was the only “semi-affordable” 2+2 BMW of the current range that appealed to me (since I like small cars with somewhat quirky styling) and delivered the kind of responsive balanced cornering feel on real roads that I look for in a car.

  • goat

    err… meant “quantitative performance is quite similar”… lunchtime distractions = typos. 😉