CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK?
Posted by Neil Mckay on Saturday 01 December 2007
Is the new R56 Cooper S going to uphold the mantle as THE small car to tune? Morego’s 216bhp ‘T-Spec’ car makes a convincing case
Like tea and biscuits, Starsky and Hutch, or fish and chips, the words ‘Mini’ and ‘tuning’ are made for each other. For, as even the most ardent Mini hater must admit, the original Issigonis masterpiece created a whole cottage industry that’s expanded, matured and is still going strong today, a full 48 years after the groundbreaking car’s launch.
Then, as history repeated itself, BMW’s new versions spawned a host of businesses hoping to cash in on a wave of punters eager to throw pots of money at their new MINIs. But it didn’t quite work out that way, as for starters most owners over looked tweaking the cooper, as the MINI one and the Cooper S were better bets for those seeking affordable extra horses. Then BMW’s cast iron ‘TLC’ service package, high residual valves and the official Cooper S ‘John Cooper Works’ tuning package took some of the wind out of the sails of the new MINI modding market. Indeed some new MINI specialists started on a wave of optimism, only to go to the wall as the reduced extent of the BMW MINI tuning market became clear. Yet recent evidence suggests that as the cars start to age and fall out of catch-all warranty, interest in tweaking the R53 MINI seems to be reviving.
With good reason too, seeing, as it’s well documented the 168bhp supercharged Cooper S was begging to be tweaked. How else can you describe the ability to produce the high side of 200bhp from an ECU remap, a smaller supercharged pulley and a suitably free-flowing exhaust, allied to ample low down torque. Add a Mad Max-esque whine to the equation and a playfully handling chassis too and you’d got yourself a real PT style small car hero.
And now we have the new R56 MINI Cooper S, which looks largely similar, but looks can be deceiving as it’s a very different prospect from the previous car, thank to the all new direct injection, light pressure turbocharged 1.6-litre engine it shares with the Peugeot 207 GTi. Given the vast differences with the new version clearly it’s not going to be a case of ‘rinse and repeat’ so the burning question on every enthusiasts lips is: in tuning terms, is the R56 MINI Cooper S a good ‘un?
Now Brackley based tuner Morego reckons it has the answer with this, its ‘T-Spec’ Cooper S. To the best of our knowledge Morego is the first UK tuner to have launched a package of tweaks for the 175bhp Cooper S and the result looks promising on paper, as power is hiked to an impressive 216bhp at 6200rpm. That easily eclipses the 192bhp of the soon to be launched ‘official’ John Cooper S works R56 tuning package and what’s more, pulling a relatively lightweight 1205 kilos, it offers a mighty 178bhp-per-tone, all for a cost of £1640 fitted including VAT. Yes it’s a hefty increase, but Morego’s Neil McKay reckons it’s well within the bounds of total reliability.
So how does Morego produce the extra ponies from BMW’s Valvetronic 1.6-litre turbo engine? As you’d expect there’s a spot of careful ECU trickery with a revised map, but given the Cooper S’s tiny twin scroll turbo, it’s not simply a case of turning up the boost and watching the dyno curve climb. Mechanically it’s just not possible on the R56, partly due to a high 10.5:1 compression ratio, but also because the diddy turbo swiftly runs out of puff and starts overspeeding. To that end, McKay reckons most of the gains come from tweaking the fuelling and ignition, while the torque limiters in the low gears are removed, sharpening the Cooper S’s urge. Consequently, the boost increase is a mild one as it’s upped from around 14psi to about 16.8psi peak, an increase that the R56’s efficient front mounted intercooler can easily handle. On its own (priced at £580) Morego’s map ratchets the Cooper S’s power up to 205bhp, with the remainder of the increase courtesy of a stainless steel Milltex cat back system. Combined with a high flow emissions compliant sports cat, allied to further map tweaks and a K&N panel filter, the full 216bhp is released, allied to 235lb ft of torque. That’s way up from 192lb ft as standard and usefully it’s produced between 2200 and 4600rpm, which should make for flexible performance.
As you’d expect from Morego, the modifications to this demonstrator extend beyond the engine bay. Specially developed lowering springs drop by front 1.25 inches and the rear by about an inch, with a rate specified to improve the R56 low speed ride. Added to this, a set of fabricated modified front wishbones add 1.75 degrees of negative camber to this Cooper S’s front wheels aiming to reduce understeer during hard cornering. This is a favoured Morego tweak, but unlike other conversions, the R56’s drive shafts are too short at the ‘hub’ end to accommodate the revised geometry, so a pair of bespoke longer shafts are included as part of the handling package, which weighs in at £1170 fitted.
Tyre-wise, Morego has ditched the Cooper S’s 17 inch front run flat Dunlops in favour of Goodyear Eagle F1’s. Neil McKay reckons they offer superior grip and a softer sidewall than the Dunlops and being 215/45/17s have a slightly wider footprint than standard rubber. Plus they run on a wider track than the stock MINI Cooper S, as Morego’s version uses 15mm wheel spacers, which are required to provide sufficient clearance for the ace up this R56’s chassis sleeve, a whopping set of AP racing brakes. This Morego designed package uses 304mm vented disc, clamped by four pot calipers shod in the track oriented pads, which promises significantly improved stopping compared to the stock S’s 20mm front items.
Clearly, the Cooper S is packing some serious modifications, yet aside from the lower ride height and serious front camber, only some subtle colour coding on the body kit (£640) give the game away, that this is one serious MINI. But just how serious is it?
Once you’ve inserted the round key and thumbed the starter, the Morego S settles into a steady 800rpm tickover, with a pleasing burble from exhaust system. Once underway the difference in power delivery is easily felt, as it noticeable picks up over 3000rpm, pulling hard all the way to 6500rpm, with a beautifully potent yet linear delivery. The magic ton is breached with ease and the free revving, addictive nature of the Morego tuned motor begs you to crack on in typical MINI fashion, yet it’s also happy to cruise in high gears, where the ample torque is enough to maintain licence-worrying speeds without troubling the gear lever. Indeed, it’s quite happy to pull hard from just 1500rpm in sixth, with instant lag-free response, quite unlike a traditional turbocharged car. All told, it’s mighty impressive stuff, backed by a vocal, exciting but refined exhaust note and it feels exactly like a MINI Cooper S should-cheeky, additive and slightly antisocial.
Dynamically, it’s mainly good news. Ride quality is good, being smoother than standard and noticeably less choppy than the factory effort at low speeds, with a touch of roll during turn in. Then as the driving quickens the Morego Mini’s ride stays largely composed-only, getting caught out on epic bumps-making it easy to maintain big speeds across country. Realistically, in the real world few challengers would be able to match it on outright point-to-point pace, helped no end by those AP Racing brakes. Powerful, with epic bite, they help the little projectile lose speed without effort and add a well-modulated firm pedal to the mix, and once warmed up they’re without reproach on the road, thriving on heavy stopping, urging you to push the S harder. Likewise Morego’s negative camber front wishbone live up to their billing, as they help the front Goodyear Eagles stubbornly resist understeer, while the Cooper S’s ASC+T electronic traction control usefully and unobtrusively nips wheel spin in the bud, underscored by the MINI’s fabulous feelsome tiller. Disable the computerised safety net and it takes brutal driving to get the Morego car to spin its front wheels, although a degree of judgement is required on damp tarmac, but that’s all part of the appeal of a tuned car such as this.
Downsides? Well, Morego’s geometry and track tweaks aren’t flawless, as cambers, lumps and ruts see the MINI squirm under hard acceleration, requiring constant steering inputs in order to follow your desire line. So although the grip is a marked improvement on the standard car, ultimately the end result feels less fluid and effortless than it could do. A pity that, but the chassis tweaks have produced a dynamic package that’s not quite as successful as Morego’s Focus ST, which you could throw down bumpy B roads with joyful abandon. Still, this grip aside, Morego’s ‘T-Spec’ Cooper S’s firepower to a level where it sure to scalp many a bigger, brasher performance saloon in the finest traditions of Mini tuning. Phew, that’s a relief then…PT
Engine 1598cc, 16-valve, DOHC, turbocharged and intercooled direct injection transverse four cylinder, K&N panel filter, Morego ECU remap, Miltek stainless steel exhaust system with sports catalyst
Transmission Standard six speed manual, front-wheel-drive
Body & Interior Colour coded bodykit, standard interior
Chassis Morego lowering springs (1.25 inches front, 1 inch rear), Morego fabricated front wishbones with 1.75 degrees of negative camber, bespoke Morego lengthened drive shafts, Morego AP racing front brakes with 304mm x 24mm vented discs, four piston alloy callipers, track spec pads, Morego calliper brackets, braided stainless brake hoses, 15mm front wheel spacers, 215/45/17 Goodyear Eagle F1 front tyres, 205/40/17 Dunlop run flat rears
Power 216bhp at 62000rpm
Torque 235lb ft between 2200-4600rpm
“Looks of the T-Spec are well judged, with only a mild bodykit giving the game away; however, run-flat tyres are ditched in favour of better Goodyear Rubber.
T-Spec MINI is superb to drive and as a modification package works really well; looks like the R56 Cooper S will be as moddable as the old supercharged R53 model was.
Interior of the T-Spec Cooper S R56 is standard, but as MINI cabins are already style statements from the factory, that’s no bad thing.
To get 216bhp from the 1.6 THP engine the timing and fuelling are carefully tweaked with an ECU remap-whack up the boost and the tiny twin scroll turbo will simply over speed.”
David Brodie: ‘As usual we get another great road test from Performance Tuner, but the roads around their test route must be covered in diesel as the last thing our powergrip suspension gives is front end instability! All Cooper S’s have unnecessarily rock hard suspension, where girls need a sports bra and guys need to re-cement their fillings. Our powergrip suspension proven over 3 decades now, piles on negative camber in heavy cornering giving great driver feel as the tyre finds grip and in conjunction with our softer spring rates and Goodyear F1’s give great feel and confidence under hard cornering, something totally missing on the standard car. Just what the serious driver needs on a tuned car.
As an added suggestion we recommend mini customers do not opt for the ‘so called’, sports suspension package the original car is to stiff in the 1stplace, the thicker diameter anti roll bars would not be out of place on a 3litre M BMW!’