Per Schroeder
Per Schroeder PowerDork
4/8/09 11:38 a.m.

The entry-level MINI Cooper has a lot going for it. You don’t need to go for the more expensive supercharged Cooper S to get a car that handles amazingly well, gets great gas mileage, and has a healthy aftermarket. In fact, we think the base Cooper is closer to the concept of the original Mini, since it uses its small size and light weight instead of raw power for giant-killing performance.

The basic MINI has been a favorite of ours since we built up a 2002 model as a project car a few years ago. Now we’re working on our second one, a 2005 model that our technical editor is autocrossing nationally. Using this car as an example, we outlined quite a few tricks and tips in the April issue of GRM to get the Cooper and Cooper S to handle even better. Now it’s time to upgrade the straight-line performance of the Cooper—without breaking the bank.

Since we’re running our MINI in SCCA H Stock autocross competition, we’ll be sticking with just those modifications that are legal under the class rules. Those allowed modifications include fluid changes, a different air filter element, and an aftermarket exhaust system after the catalytic converter. While these changes may appear mild, they are a good starting point for any range of modifications—whether the end use is street, track, autocross or whatever. Here’s what we found:

Baseline Testing

zero-to-60 mph: 8.5 seconds
horsepower: 106.1
torque: 102.3 lb.-ft.
The MINI Cooper isn’t the quickest car on the lot, but it accelerates very strongly in first and second gears—especially when you consider that it only has 1.6 liters of displacement.

The 2005 and 2006 cars have a new Getrag gearbox that has slightly tighter gear spacing than the 2002-’04 models, meaning that our later car requires a shift to third gear for the zero-to-60 mph sprint. Our average time for five starts was 8.5 seconds, which is slightly quicker than the factory spec of 8.7 seconds. Credit the cool, 60-degree Florida winter day or our extra-grippy asphalt for the two-tenths difference.

Once we had recorded baseline acceleration numbers, we drove to nearby Holly Hill, Fla., and strapped our MINI to the rollers at Projekt 7 Tuning for some baseline chassis dynamometer figures. The Cooper is rated at 116 horsepower at the crank from the factory, so once you figure in driveline losses, our starting figure of 106 horsepower at the wheels is within the normal range for a Cooper. This is actually very close to the baseline numbers that our 2002 model put to the ground when we tested it on another Dynojet chassis dynamometer.

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