Thursday, August 7, 2008

Improving the Handling of your MINI Cooper

Having fun with a car isn’t just a matter of how quickly it accelerates or how fast it will go in a straight line. Really enjoying the driving is also a matter of how easily the car can be driven around corners and how stable it is at speed. We’ve been very impressed with those aspects of the MINI Cooper since it was first introduced. We certainly wouldn’t argue if you decide to wait until you’ve gotten some miles on the car and maybe had a chance to really push the car around a race track or autocross course before making any suspension changes.

However, if you’re looking at the car now and thinking you’d like to make some changes in its appearance to give it a more custom appearance, or if you’d like to make a few improvements in its handling right now, we suggest the first thing you consider is replacing those tires and wheels that came with it.

When we were giving suggestions on buying the car, we recommended that you not spend the money on bigger wheels or fancy tires, so if you did take our advice and took delivery of your MINI Cooper S with the standard 16-inch wheels, and didn’t opt for the sport package, you’ve got at least $800 in your piggy bank to buy new tires and wheels.

If you bought the MINI Cooper model before reading this book, changing the wheels and tires is one fast way to give the car a similar appearance to the MINI Cooper S. Going to 17-inch wheel from the original 15-inchers will make a major change in the look of the car, immediately giving it that “performance” style.

If you’re ready to do it now, look at the wheel and tire suppliers, like Tire Rack or the MINI-specific suppliers and pick some sharp 17-inch wheels. Just remember that you want light wheels, so check those specifications. Look for a wheel that weighs 22 pounds or less, to get the greatest improvements in handling.

The same weight consideration applies to the tires. Those run-flats that came with the car may make you feel a little safer since you won’t have to worry about changing a flat tire on the interstate, but they just weigh too much for good performance, and they aren’t as responsive as regular radial tires. They also give a rougher ride than regular tires, even the low-profile high-performance tires that you’re likely to buy.

Most owners upgrading their wheels are likely to prefer 17-inch wheels, mounted with low-profile tires, because the larger wheels offer more stability, ride more smoothly, and will put more rubber on the road. The larger wheels also are more likely to have the space to fit larger high-performance brakes should you decide to do that later. The low-profile tires also give less squirm in the corners, one of the factors that contributes to that “razor-sharp” handling the car magazines often go on about.

The specific brand of tires is largely a matter of personal preference. Kumho, Yokohama, and Bridgestone and other manufacturers all make tires with good performance reputations. Talk to other MINI owners about theirs and we’re sure you’ll get some good suggestions. MiniMania mounts their wheels with Kumho Ecstas, a good all-around choice for street, autocross, and track use.

As an example of cost, a good set of wheels and tires for your MINI Cooper can be purchased for less than $1500. Of course, if you want to get into fancier wheels, the sky’s the limit, though much past $1500 you’ll be paying for looks more than performance.

As far as the risk of flat tires is concerned, modern tires actually have very few flats under any circumstances, so you don’t really have to worry about not having run-flat tires. Nevertheless, several accessory suppliers make a kit that will fill the hole in the flat tire and an air compressor that will plug into your car’s power outlet to inflate the tire. It certainly is a good idea to have one of those kits in the back. But we’ll bet that you’ll be much more likely to use the inflator to fill up your beach ball or air mattress than ever fill up a flat tire.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Total MINI Cooper Engine Upgrade System

Those are the four areas—Mini Cooper air intake, supercharger boost, the ECU-controlled fuel mixture and ignition timing, and the cat-back exhaust—where the performance from your MINI engine can be upgraded easily to go from very nice to wow, while still being street-legal. If you don’t want to go the whole improvement route all at once, you could install these four upgrades in any order you prefer, and with each upgrade you’ll notice performance improvements that will make your street driving and touring more fun and exciting.

However, since the components all work together, it would be nice to do them all at once. The total cost of the parts and installation should come to around $2000. The total system, based on performance tests, will significantly improve mid-range driving pleasure and increase peak performance to approximately 215 horsepower.

By comparison, the MINI dealer-installed John Cooper Works option brings performance to 210 horsepower and will cost about $6000 installed.

Of course, installation of the JCW option won’t affect your factory warranty, which is a good thing. On the other hand, the aftermarket equipment from some suppliers is good enough that they are confident it won’t affect the performance of your engine, so they are willing to offer their own warranty on the installed components.

Mini Cooper Forum

With these aftermarket warranties, if something goes wrong with the engine after you install the components while the engine is still under warranty and the dealer won’t pay to repair it, their warranty may very well pay the costs of the repairs. (You’ll want to ask your supplier about the details of their warranty, of course, and read the fine print, but at least you know that you have an alternative to the dealer-installed performance upgrades.)

Street and Touring Engine Upgrades for the Cooper S
(Approximate costs including installation)
Mini Cooper Cold Air Intake System $250
Mini Cooper Supercharger Pulley and belt $250
Mini Cooper ECU Upgrade $400
Mini Cooper Iridium Spark Plugs $ 32
Mini Cooper Cat-Back Exhaust $850-$1000

Typical Total Cost $1800-$1900