Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Improving Your MINI Cooper

You’ve probably already been impressed by how good the MINI Cooper is at what it does. It’s quick off the mark, fast on the highway, and can zip around corners at an enviable clip with almost no body sway or looseness.

What’s to Improve?

To be more specific, the stock MINI Cooper S can get from zero to 60 in just under seven seconds, which puts it easily in the middle of the pack of what are called “performance cars.” Top speed is north of 130 miles an hour, which also makes the car quite respectable in the sports car league. That speed is much faster than most of us should be driving, even on a closed course, though it does mean that at normal highway speeds the engine is right in the middle of its power band with lots of reserve power when needed.

Cornering is where the car really excels. BMW has a well-deserved reputation for suspension engineering, and it is really reflected in this car. Compared to even the best of the performance cars, this car chews up corners without looking back, leaving most of the rest of the pack at its rear.

However, there are still areas where the MINI’s performance can be improved. That’s not surprising, of course, since the design and development of a modern car is a balancing act. A wide variety of vehicle specifications are affected by laws and regulations. Fuel economy, smog emissions, and crashworthiness requirements all challenge designers by adding weight and putting limits on engine performance.

Designers also have the problem of deciding what the market actually wants in a car. Most auto journalists and some potential customers want a car to be fast off the mark, capable of high speeds, and able to corner without body sway. At the same time other buyers simply want a car that is quiet, comfortable, and smooth-riding.

And all of this regulation-following and customer-pleasing has to be put together into a car at a price that will be competitive in the marketplace and still produce a reasonable profit. So automobile designers and engineers have to make compromises.

The great thing about the MINI is that the basic platform is well-designed and very well put together. So once you’ve decided what kind of a MINI owner you want to be, you can make the changes you want so that your car won’t be just some product planner’s package of compromises. And with some knowledge and care, you can make your changes without having any bad effects on the overall quality and reliability of the car.

So if you will all take your seats, we’ll start the first class in “Maximizing Your MINI 101.” In this first class, we’re going to focus on the principles of making the MINI make more power. We can do that because the steering, handling, and braking are all well above average, so we can save those factors for a later class.

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