Modern Mini - November '07
More flow with Morego
A simple engine remap is all it takes to extract more power out of the latest generation Cooper S. But there’s much more to it than meets the eye
Words & pics: Phil Weeden
A stone’s throw away, in a futuristic building, are hundreds of engineers, most with furrowed brows we imagine. We’re referring to the headquarters of Honda Racing, a Formula One team who, let’s face it, has struggled to make much of an impact in this year’s championship. In an ever expensive pursuit of more power and more speed, this motorsport leviathan is still struggling to find the answers. Oh how some of those employees probably wish they could hop over the wall to Morego, a somewhat more modest operation but one that has had a great deal of success of extracting more power out of some of the UK’s most desirable motor cars, such as the Audi TT, BMW M3 and the MINI Cooper S.
With the R53 Cooper S, Morego’s tweaks were more than just an ECU tuneup. Besides an engine remap, there was a lightened aluminium supercharger pulley and a high quality lower idler wheel, manufactured by Cosworth to race specification – it handles the extra power better than the standard item and, claims Morego, eliminates the risk of belt slippage. The net result of these engine tweaks is a claimed power output of 218bhp and 196 lb ft (265Nm).
With the new generation Cooper S, because it employs a turbo rather than a supercharger, a carefully thought through engine remap is enough to raise the boost pressure and therefore increase the airflow and ultimately up the power output to a claimed 205bhp. Bolt on a sports exhaust and that figures rises further to 216bhp with torque at 235 lb ft (320 Nm) – that’s about 30 per cent more pulling power from as low as 2200rpm.
Morego has been running for over two years now, incorporating BBR Power Products, a firm which goes way back with its expertise in performance tuning. Before the company offers such ECU upgrades, the original spec engine is bench tested on a dyno. Morego monitors power, torque and emissions on full and partial throttle loads, and then agrees on its own targets for improvements, which usually lay well within the production tolerances of the powertrain. As Neil McKay at Morego explained: “We aim for the best improvement in power and torque, while minimising the increase in turbo boost pressure required and therefore the stress imposed on the engine.” So there’s probably margin for even more power, but Morego feels it has struck the best balance between extracting more bhp without making the new MINI too much to handle. That’s why the company is confident in offering a full warranty on its upgrade packages for just £150.
So how does the good-on-paper Morego R56 translate on the road?
As we would always recommend, you don’t just add more power without balancing it out with other mods, such as bigger brakes and tweaked suspension. With Morego, you can also spec an AP big brake kit, comprising four-pot calipers, drilled and vented discs, stainless steel brake lines, uprated pads and dot 5.1 fluid. These beefier anchors don’t sit inside the original spec 17-inch alloys, so the brake upgrade also comes with 15mm spacers and lengthened wheel bolts to rectify that.
The suspension is also given some attention and, in this area, there are no off-the-shelf goodies – it’s all machined at Morego. The company’s own progressive springs are fitted which lower the ride height by about 10mm. This is complemented by modified front wishbones to give marginally negative camber, thus providing slightly more contact with the road. So in theory, this should be a pretty well balanced set up. A brief blast around the Northamptonshire/Oxfordshire border would soon reveal all.
The first thing to note is the slightly non-descript engine note has been replaced by a deeper bellow. Jabbing the throttle unleashes the prodigious power, announced more clearly by a bass-laden roar that tells you this Cooper S means business.
Acceleration throughout the rev range on the standard Cooper S is impressive, but here it is even more so. Keep it in fifth gear and appreciate the flexibility this engine offers up. Pulling out from one of the roundabouts on the A43, still in fifth at about 50mph, the engine is burbling at below 2000rpm; watch the needle rise gradually and, as soon as we break the 2200rpm barrier, all the instruments are in tune as the orchestra of power plays out a most magical symphony.
The great thing about this newfound noise is that you can play the hooligan if you wish, roar from one corner to another, revel in the aggressive exhaust roar; or you can let the torque do the talking and make still excellent progress without so much of the tyre smoking antics.
Again, the standard product is fabulous in terms of grip and handling, but with Morego’s Cooper S the steering feels slightly sharper, with more direct feel and marginally better turn-in response. It’s subtle but it’s there.
The suspension didn’t feel a whole lot different if we’re honest, neither did the brakes; we’re sure a more thorough test and comparison would reveal greater differences in these areas but, rest assured, they’re not to the detriment of the car.
What we liked especially about this modified Cooper S is how subtle and yet capable it is. It’s hard to improve upon a package as complete as the standard Cooper S, but, with some judicious engineering enhancements, mated to well chosen chassis upgrades, Morego has managed to achieve a distinct improvement.
And it’s not badly priced either. You can have the full monty treatment for around £4000 fitted, but that also includes the aesthetic enhancement of colour-coded bodykit – which looked great on our demonstrator. You could pare that back by not having the bodykit and brake upgrade maybe, which brings the price down to £2390. We’d recommend this as the bare minimum, but if budgets are pushed, you can always start incrementally with the ECU remap costing just £495 – we think, however, this is like ordering the garlic bread without the pizza.
So if you’re looking to edge your Cooper S out from the rest of the R56 crowd, then Morego’s upgrade package may be just what you’re looking for, especially if you prefer to mask that performance behind a low-key exterior. Less show and more go, you could say…
Morego R56 Cooper S Tech Spec
Engine: 1598cc 16-valve turbocharged, direct injection with Morego StarChip Phase One remap & Turbo back full stainless steel exhaust, incl sports catalyst
Power: 216bhp @ 6200rpm
Torque: 235 lb ft (320Nm) @ 2200-4600rpm
Price: £1395 (fitted)
Suspension: Morego progressive lowering springs, 20mm lowered ride height, modified front wishbones for negative camber and longer driveshaft.
Brakes: Morego AP Big Brake Kit – 4-pot calipers, drilled and vented discs, stainless steel brake lines, fast road/track pads with dot 5.1 brake fluid. Includes 15mm wheel spacers and lengthened wheel bolts (for std alloys)
Styling: Chili Red with white 17-inch Flame Alloys and colour-coded bodykit
David Brodie: ‘It’s amazing how different journalists have different interpretations on the suspension of exactly the same car. I have been tuning engine and chassis for over 30 years now, and pride myself in turning our suspension setups that give the serious driver a combination of great grip and feel. It is a pleasant surprise to find a journalist at last that understands what we strive to achieve, and the term ‘well balanced’ says it all. Thank you Modern Mini!’