BMW had the right idea when it took over the Mini brand and redeveloped its iconic sub-compact car: Make the new one look retro and cool, make it fun to drive, make it handle well, and make it affordable. The Mini scores a 10 on all counts. But with just 115 horsepower in Cooper trim and 163 in Cooper S supercharged form, the Mini rates only adequate in the power department. Mini Mania offers the hardware to extract significantly more thrust without extracting a significant amount of greenbacks from your wallet.
Although a variety of upgrade levels is available, we tested MM's big-gun Stage III package. For just under $5000, the Stage III delivers 245 horsepower from the Mini's micro 1.6-liter I-4 -- that's an impressive 50-percent gain. Upgrades include Mini Mania's cold-air intake system, a new super-charger pulley for more blower boost, a custom water-to-air intercooler with pump, Nology plug wires, a
ported cylinder head, and an ECU upgrade.
Downstream, the engine benefits from a custom header, a special high-flow cat, and a free-breathing cat-back exhaust system. Helping get those 87 extra horsepower to the ground are a Fidanza lightweight flywheel and a Phantom Grip limited-slip differential. As expected, the Stage III components increase the Mini's fun factor to near carnival-ride proportions.
The stock Cooper S is already a wonderful handler, but Mini Mania ups this bar, too, with a more aggressive suspension kit, including Mania's lower/stiffer coil springs, adjustable Koni shocks, adjustable rear-control arms, adjustable rear anti-roll bar, and titanium front strut tower brace. You'll also get cross-drilled and slotted brake rotors shod with EBC Green Stuff brake pads -- all for just $1800. If you want something other than the Cooper S's standard
wheel/tire combo, Mania can set you up with the same BBS RK alloy wheels wrapped in Kumho Ecsta 215/40ZR17 tires (as fitted to our Stage III tester) for another two grand.
At the track, Mini Mania's power and suspension upgrades proved a well-enginered package. The Stage III Cooper delivered results that crushed a stock Cooper S. Senior Road Test Editor Chris Walton notes, "You gotta love a front-driver that can get into the elite 70-mph-slalom club. The secret to the Mini Stage III is to drive it like you're running from the cops. You must trust that the tires will eventually regain grip -- and they do -- on the way to the next slalom cone where you gotta slide it by that one, and so on. I could really feel the limited-slip
working at the exit. Where the stock Cooper S hesitates before all the wheels are going the same speed in the same direction, the Stage III says 'Right now!', everything hooks up, and the car blasts out the other side."
On the street, the Stage III is docile, but attack your favorite switchbacks, and it becomes the Tasmanian Devil. Mash the gas and push it into a corner, and you'll be amazed at its prowess. It's so much faster than a stocker that we overcooked the factory brakes.
Mini's Cooper S is a terrific piece, a sales success, and serves up a lot of fun for the buck. If you just want more, Mini Mania has just what you need to get your fix for mini-mum cash outlay.
Article by John Kiewicz
Reprinted with permission from