We've all been there- trying to tell someone how good their cooking is while a full plate still sits in front of you. You can expound all you want on the virtues of culinary creativity, but the real answer lies in how much you eat. Everyone that has driven the MINI has said how much they love the car, but the real story is how much it's been driven. Our year with the little turbo hatch isn't quite up yet but we have already set a new record for miles on an ec long-term tester. We just turned the quarter century mark and it's time to celebrate with a few select aftermarket parts.
The only real performance-related complaints we've had were ride and torque steer issues. From the beginning I suspected it had a lot to do with the factory run-flat tires and with the outside edges now looking more like race slicks than all seasons, it was time to find out. The Cooper S isn't equipped with a spare tire, so the run-flats make some sense. Ours was originally meant for New Jersey, so I guess the all-season part also made some sense. But having all-season run-flats on a performance car is like a stripper wearing Birkenstocks. They may be utilitarian, but they aren't going to excite anyone.
Because of the lack of camber gain in the front suspension we were in need of tires around the 22,000-mile mark. We held off until we had secured a set of 7.5x17 Rota RBs with gunmetal centers and a polished lip. And since we weren't impressed with the factory tires, we decided something more performance-oriented was called for. Having tested the new Dunlop Z1 at a recent press event, we ordered a set of 215/45/17s that are slightly taller and wider than the factory fitment. The height is about a half-inch difference, as is the width. Luckily, the car only looks at the difference in rotational speed from one tire to another, so the computer never knows the difference.
The reduction in torque steer is amazing; what was a cramped forearm wrestling match is now barely a nudge. Even with the extra torque from the GIAC software and Alta MINI bolt-on upgrades, acceleration is straight and fast. The Dunlops grip corners like a DOT race tire. Release is abrupt and the tire tends to skip and jutter at the limit. Some of this is cured with higher tire pressure, but you may give up a slight amount of absolute grip. The Rota wheels have a great retro look and really change the car's aesthetics. They weigh roughly 18 pounds each and are reasonably priced. Our only complaint with the wheels is that they aren't hubcentric, meaning they are centered with the lugs and not the hub. Any time we have installed the wheels we've been extremely careful with the torquing procedure to try and keep them centered. Even with our best efforts, we still feel slight vibrations at speed.
With the added grip, we began to notice that the brakes just weren't up to the task. We had considered a big brake kit earlier on, but deemed it overkill for our needs. After talking to the tech experts at Stoptech we decided on a stage-two setup that included pads, rotors, lines and new fluid. The pads are from Hawk and use a street compound that works well when cold or wet and isn't overly aggressive. The rotors are from Stoptech and the cross-drilled pattern looks great behind the wheels. If this was a racecar we would have gone with slotted rotors, but for the street, cross-drilled are perfectly fine. Motul supplied the fluid that will easily handle the extra thermal loads of the new assemblies. For those interested in the juicy details, check the ec website for a detailed article covering the brake installation.
As for the driving, we now have far more braking capacity than with the stock equipment. Braking distances haven't necessarily been improved, but we can do them all day now. Brake dust has been seriously reduced, but there is definitely more noise. The factory pads have noise shims on the back that the performance pads do not. We tried a little anti-seize on the backside of the pad, but to no avail. We may have to look into some aftermarket shims or other means of stopping the squeal.
Our MINI is now even better than it was before. We continue to pile on the miles; just last weekend we made a quick trip back and forth to Vegas. On the first half of the trip, we averaged an amazing 37 mpg due to traffic moving along at relatively sedate 60 mph. on the second half, we were able to swing the needle just a little past the legal limit and still averaged 32 mpg. All this while driving in total comfort with the car packed full of stuff.
At A Glance
+ Improved performance with even more potential - Still can't find aftermarket dampers without doing full coilovers
Fuel Economy: 31.1mpg