MF Review: MCSa w/15% Pulley

First thing’s first: I Love The MCSa. Of course I’m a sucker for all things MINI, but this car seems to have super powers. It can turn regular driving into a near video game with its paddle shifters, and it has also sparked more debate amongst the MINI faithful than any topic I’ve seen on any message board. While some love to bash it for not having a manual shift (which still boggles my mind to this day) others have grown to love it for the truly unique experience it provides. I am one of the latter folk, and just may be the biggest proponent of the model around. I love it so much in fact that I have gone on a bit of a crusade to turn it into the best possible MCSa that I think it can be. This review is the culmination of that year long quest to perfect a car which (in my opinion) is pretty damn close to perfect to begin with. But first, a little history…

After walking away from a near-deadly head on collision in 1991 (I was driving a 1989 Saab Convertible – pre airbags – with the roof down and my seat belt on) I took a hiatus from driving for over a year. When i finally did get back behind the wheel, it was in a big ‘ol Ford Explorer. It turns out I was to keep on driving Explorers (exploding tires and all) until 2004, when my love of the MINI got the best of me, and my financial situation would allow me to walk in to my dealer and plunk down for what turned out to be the car of my dreams. With 13 years of automatic tranny driving under my belt, the last thing I wanted to do was to throw down for an S and start crunching gears – so the MCSa was a perfect fit. Truth be told, I always liked the paddle shift concept to begin with, so it didn’t feel like a concession to me. But enough about me, let’s talk about the car.

As many of you are, I am a full blown MINIac. I feel like I am preaching to the choir as I sit here writing this, so it goes without saying that I did a ton of research when I got my car in the beginning of 2005. It became clear to me that more MINI is better than less MINI, so I set my sites on the John Cooper Works package. Now just in case you aren’t aware of this, the JCW package was promised in the spring of 2005 by MINI for the MCSa. In fact, it was released in the UK at the end of last summer (pretty on-time by manufacturer’s standards) so the release for the USA looked like a sure thing. Sadly, it was not. While I am told by reliable sources that the kit is indeed in the pipeline somewhere – and MINI is anxious to release it here – the reality is that it just hasn’t appeared – yet. This sinking feeling actually hit me last summer as hopeful release windows continued to open and close without as much as a JCW floor mat, let alone a Works kit for the MCSa. My calls to the JCW Garages in the UK were met with enthusiastic tales of how their JCW MCSa’s were a total blast and had been tearing up the english countryside for months.

Suffice to say I was getting frustrated. It was at this point that I decided to take matters into my own hands and start the mod process with whatever I could get my hands on. The good folks at Prestige MINI in Mahwah, NJ really took to my desires on this one and proceeded to hook me up with every available part which was available for the MCSa. In a matter of a month or two I had installed the JCW Intake, JCW Exhaust, JCW Brake kit and my personal fave, the JCW Suspension Kit as well.

The folks at Prestige were so willing to work with me, that they told me not to worry about the parts which I had installed which were already part of the Works kit, and that we’d figure out an arrangement when the Works kit eventually showed up – if at all. (A big shout out to Vasili, Chris and the entire gang over there…you guys are a class act. Muchos Gracias!) I won’t go over or review any of these previously mentioned JCW bits as any avid MotoringFile reader knows exactly what they do. However to sum up briefly: the JCW intake behaves exactly as it does in the manual car, with its flap opening up at 4500 rpm and letting all that god air in and glorious supercharger whine out. The exhaust is fantastic as well, and provides that classic british sports car burble and throatiness while still sounding refined and … well… like a MINI of days gone by. The brakes are top notch and working with the suspension actually provides a more comfy ride than stock. It’s weird: you’d think it would be harsher, but somehow the car feels tighter, lower and just more “present”… go figure. I can also tell you that with the addition of the JCW Intake and Exhaust my performance definitely increased. I cannot say by how much, but there was a period where we were diagnosing another issue (later resolved, no big deal at all) and swapped out the JCW Intake for a stock box. I had to test drive the car (we were listening for a swooshing air sound – turned out to be normal throttle body stuff) but I can tell you that going back to a stock air box was quite the revelation. The car didn’t feel nearly as peppy, so I do believe that the combo of intake and exhaust does indeed get you something. If I were to guess I would say that it’s probably around 10 hp combined. (MINI says the intake gets you 7hp, and i will conservatively estimate the exhaust at another 3hp).

After a lot of work my car was becoming a full on Works car – and I was very happy – but I wasn’t done. Months continued to roll on by with not so much as a peep about the JCW kit for the MCSa. Rumors were flying that perhaps there was an issue with US Emissions testing, or even with the kit itself. But the bottom line is that it just hasn’t appeared yet, despite being readily available in Europe for months. And because it is available across the pond, it became possible to study it and see exactly what was happening with the kit in relation to its big brother, the previously released and now factory available JCW kit for the manual Cooper S. So what was happening? What was the difference? Well if you look at the specs and the parts, nothing! Same parts, same pulley upgrade, same supercharger swap, same injectors, same exhaust, same head…you get the idea. Of course the software download is anybody’s guess, but from where I was sitting, the interesting thing to note was that (at least from a layman’s point of view) the parts were/are exactly the same. To me this spelled out that the MCSa’s tranny was more than capable of handling the JCW Kit’s power….and that got me thinking. Already frustrated by the Works Kit’s vanishing act, I began to read up on all of the MCS owners who’d installed 15% reduction pulleys in their cars. Again, I will assume that the majority of you know all about this extremely popular and cost effective mod, so I won’t go into a long dissertation on it here. But all of the positive feedback, the seemingly bullet-proof nature of the upgrade, the lack of reported problems and lengthy conversations with Randy Webb at Webb Motorsports and Eric at Helix in Philly lead me to one inescapable conclusion: whether the JCW kit showed up tomorrow or not, I was getting pulled in….by the pulley.

Living in New York City, you’d think it might be tricky to find an installer for such a serious job. Fortunately I just happened to live an hour and 45 minutes from Philadelphia and Eric Savage, the owner, engineer and mad scientist behind Helix Minisports. I had spoken to Eric briefly prior to making my appointment just to pick his brain on all of this and by the end of our conversation I was ready to roll. Eric assured me that his work was (and is) fully warranted and that in his experience this mod seemed all but bullet-proof. I was sold. A few days later I made my way down the Jersey Turnpike and landed at the converted stable that is Helix.

Watching Eric perform the upgrade felt a lot like watching brain surgery, but was as casual as a back yard bar-b-que. There was my engine, cranked nearly all the way off of it’s mount and ready to have it’s pulley swapped, and there is Eric, asking me about what bands I’m into lately! In all seriousness though, his expertise really put my mind at ease as the process went on. I cannot emphasize how completely confident I am in his work and would whole-heartedly recommend him to anyone considering this upgrade. Now that I’ve sat through all two hours of it, I can assure you that you really want someone who KNOWS WHAT THEY ARE DOING to do this. (Eric, just in case you’re reading, you da man!) So accolades aside, how does the 15% pulley perform in an MCSa? Well let me quote Eric first: After returning from a brief test drive following the install, Eric commented to me that all of the same power he would expect from a 15% pulley upgrade on any MINI was readily available. He also mentioned (after I encouraged him to the test drive with the paddles only) that the tranny on this car easily bested the tiptronic on one of his fave Porsche 911’s. At this point all I really wanted to do was jump in the car and find out for myself. And did I ever find out…

WOW! Everything good you’ve read, heard or seen about a MINI Cooper S with a 15% pulley mod is true. The car really sprung to life. It pulls like mad. The power band is much more rounded and even – offering more power at lower revs – and gobs of power where there was solid power before. 2nd, 3rd and 4th are a total revelation – just a completely different car. 5th also has more powered throughout its power band and pulls where it didn’t use to pull before. 6th is still a highway cruiser and shows no real benefit from the upgrade. I saved 1st for last because that gear gets wrung out really fast now – but it sounds a lot cooler! I would agree with Eric when he says it’s as if the power band has been shifted over: Where the MCSa used to really come alive at, say, 3800 rpm, the car now wants to fly at 2500 rpm. It’s eager. It’s urgent. And it’s definitely, beyond the shadow of a doubt, a lot faster.

Here is what it’s not: it’s not a Porsche killer. It’s not a first-off-the-line drag car. It’s not night and day different. What it does give you is a complete range of power that will surprise you when you least expect it. Even after a three hour drive back (I took the long way!) the car would simply take-off when I hit the go pedal where it didn’t used to before. I would go as far as to say that adding this much power to the car will require some modification of your driving style – at least is has for me. All in all I am 100 percent happy with the pulley mod and would say to anyone on the fence to go for it. WIth guys like Eric at Helix and Randy at Webb Motorsports having done the amount of research on it they have – not to mention literally hundreds of cars with thousands of pulley’d miles on them, this one seems like a real safe bet.

So there you have it. After a year of tinkering (if you can call it that) I have brought my trusty MCSa up to my own personal spec. I know i’m not the first person to do this, and to that end I’d like to thank everyone who’s ever posted on the subject and helped to educate me on the world of tuning. I’d also like to thank Gabe for letting me post this story as I think that perhaps the MCSa has gotten a bit of a bad rap and deserves some time in the spot light. Motor on!

  • Great write up Drew!

  • mark

    Great story Drew. I too have the MCSa, a 2006 and it is a blast to drive, more so than my previous 2004 MCS and obviously better than the 2002 MC i started with.

    I just popped a K&N filter in the standard box, to see if there was a difference…not much. so your article has come at a good time.

    Auto or manual, a MCS is a wonderful urban tool. The auto really is fun because of the many varied ways to shift it, and i swear it’s faster than my 2004.

    Keep motoring to all.

  • MrV

    Wonderful write up Drew. Thanks for the first hand impressions.

    Next mods for you? I have heard the MTH on the MCSa is very good. And I can’t help noticing that you still have those heavy S-lites.

    It never stops, does it?

  • Robbie

    Thank you for a great review Drew! My wife has a Chili Red MCSa on order as she can’t drive a stick, so naturally I’m very interested in making the auto as fast as possible. Your good words in this review will help persuade her to enhance “her” Mini! Thanks again!


    Well done. Prestige is a class act. Take my car there for all the service. Its no wonder they are rated the #1 MINI dealer in the country and have the top tech in the country, Vasilli working there..

  • Jon

    Yes, the delay of the JCW kit for MCSa drivers doesn’t seem to make any sense. Perhaps it does have something to do with software, versus the parts needed.

    Anyway, I’m glad that the MCSa drivers have the option of going the aftermarket pulley route as well. That is the best performance mod!

    If you’re considering whether or not to do the pulley mod, you owe it to yourself to do it! I had Randy install mine, but came very close to driving 4 hours to Helix in Philly. Luckily, there was a Webb Motorsports pulley party not too far away.

    Replacing the pulley was a bit over my skill level, so I wanted someone reputable to do the job. The best part was picking Randy’s brain about all things MINI, while it took him 1 hour to replace my pulley and spark plugs! He da man!

  • beekman

    nice story drew!

    what I’d like is for someone to develop some upgraded software for the transmission – in my mind, the car really cries out for this. mechanically, gearbox is really very good, but it could be transformed with better programming.

  • DB

    awesome write up! Definitely going to make me think twice when order day comes

  • Micah

    Drew, install a stiffer rear sway bar next – I promise you will have a similar “wow!” or “holy moly I can’t believe I ever drove it without this mod!” moment!

  • thanks for all the kind words everyone.

    this has to be a first: an mcsa thread with NO haters? i should have done this a long time ago!

    so in response to you all:

    • thanks mds.

    • mark, faster than your 2004? could have something to do with the ’05s using a revised supercharger…perhaps?

    • mrv, no it never does stop! i’d be curious if anyone has done the mth tuning on an mcsa – i’d be hard pressed to mess around with my computer…as for the s-lites, i actually love the look of them so they are going to stay. i also had a set of jcw 18″ wheels which were promplty eaten alive by the roads in new york, so its looks like i am to be an s-lite guy forever.

    • robbie, glad i could help sway your wife into more power. good luck man!

    • antsmini – prestige mini all the way! i have actually seen your car in their shop. they are #1 with good reason – glad to know someone else who recognizes their team as well. totally worth my 1 hour plus drive each way from nyc.

    • beekman, maybe mini will update the sofware in a future rev… you never know.

    • db, you mean you’d actually consider leaving roxy for an mcsa? dude! ; )

    • micah, yes…the rear sway bar… i am sure that will be the last piece of the puzzle, but i have yet to drive a car with one installed and would really want to feel it out first. how much different does the car feel? does it interfere with dsc or any of the safety features? wouldn’t want to disable anything that might save my bacon!

    cheers y’all – drew

  • Micah
    the rear sway bar… i am sure that will be the last piece of the puzzle, but i have yet to drive a car with one installed and would really want to feel it out first. how much different does the car feel? does it interfere with dsc or any of the safety features?

    For me the rear sway bar was really “the missing link” to make my car feel/handle like I wanted it to out of the box. With my Webb Motorsports bar the natural tendency of the car to understeer when going quickly around corners is now gone – in other words, it really feels like it rotates around corners instead of pushing through them. The car responds to the amount of steering input you put in, instead of requiring more steering lock or a lift of the throttle to maintain the desired line. It does not interfere with any ASC, DSC, or ABS at all – and personally I think the car is actually safer with more neutral handling.

    The only thing to keep in mind is that the stiffer you set the bar, the greater the car’s tendency to fully rotate (as in swap ends) when you lift off the throttle mid corner. So with my WMS bar, I initially set it about halfway, and have since moved up to about 85 percent of full stiffness. The adjustment takes only a few minutes, and I dialed it in at the last track session to a setting where I liked it.

    If you’re not into full adjustability, then a less extreme piece, with two or three adjustment holes, will work fine, and still noticeably improve the handling of your beautiful MINI Cooper S convertible!

    I went with the fully adjustable piece because I knew that I would want find the ideal setting for my own tastes, and also be able to dial it in a bit more or less for different situations (i.e., tracks – but don’t tell MiniUSA that… 🙂

  • bluzeke

    Great write-up Drew!

    …from a fellow S-lite Liker.

  • Roger

    Hi Drew

    The UK ist the only country in Europe you can get the JCW KIt for the MCSa. My MCSa is waiting since may 05 for it!! But no way so far (I’m from Switzerland).

    Your comment about the MCSa tuning is just perfect. It was just the thing I needed!! Me too, I love to drive my MCSa, but a little more power would be nice! But in Switzerland (the little country in the middle of europe!) every possible tuners are afraid to damage the automatic with the 15% pulley. They don’t want to go over 200hp.

    But now, after reading your words, I’m going to get it!! Thank you very much (Of course I hope your automatic is still working 😎

  • Edge

    Very nice write-up… and I applaud you Drew for setting the pace for others who are less adventurous.

    As for the “MCSa-haters”… I’m sure that most of you would count me as one of them based upon previous posts… however I like to think of myself as reformed somewhat. I do think the MCSa has a place. A good place, even.

    My main “beef” is with people that cannot drive a manual transmission even though there is no reason (such as physical disability) preventing them from doing so.

    Knowing how to drive both and choosing the MCSa for a variety of valid reasons is one thing. Not even knowing (or bothering to learn) how to drive a manual for no good reason is just plain pathetic. Sorry, that’s how I see it. How can you know what you are missing if you haven’t even bothered to learn?

    As for Mark’s comparison with his 2004… I respect his decision to switch to the MCSa (particularly since he knows both), but I would encourage him to try to drive a 2005 or 2006 MCS, because of the revised gearing. I suspect that it will be a more fair comparison… it wasn’t until 2005 that MINI really brought the gearing up to where it should be, IMO… and I suspect a similar mentality went into gearing choices for the MCSa, which was created at the same time as the manual gearing changes were implemented.

    I’m not really an “auto hater”, my current situation (very short commute, therefore very little heavy traffic) allows me to stick to the manual that I prefer. One day there may be a good reason for me to buy an auto, although I hope not.

    For all who doubt me, yes, I drove the MCSa… and while it had its elements of fun, I still managed to quickly discover situations where the computer took over and did not let ME decide the shift points, even in manual mode. For that very reason, I dislike it. Maybe I need more seat time to better get used to it’s quirks… but at least I have driven both before forming my opinion. 🙂

  • roger – everything is working great. i’ve only put a couple hundred miles on the car since the pulley mod a week a go, but i drive it pretty hard and it’s totally solid. good luck!

    edge – i knew you’d chime in ; ) thanks for the kind words.

    cheers – drew

  • Mark

    I have an ’04 CVT, and test drove an MCSa, with an eye to upgrading. Really did not like the new auto at all, compared to my CVT. As prevous posters have said, the computer seemed to want to override the thing at exactly the wrong time. Though maybe, like the CVT it learns your driving style and adjusts. Drove the six speed as well, and what a hoot! I’d have traded in my CVT right then and there. But, alas, in many parts of the U.S. the high Mini resale value bubble has burst. Twenty months ago I paid over 23K for my solid silver Mini CVT – which is still in showroom condition with only 22K miles on it. Now my Mini dealer in Arlington Texas says its worth only half that on trade. They had lots of new Mini’s on the lot, more on the way, and said there was no market for used ones. With that kind of depreciation, guess I’m driving my(last)Mini until it dies 🙁

  • JodyP

    I am very interested in having the pulley mod done on my ’03 S. Can anyone recommend the where to get the parts and where to get the install completed in the Chicagoland area???


  • Jody – the following MotoringFile sponsors sell a pulley for your MCS:




    Helix (mentioned in this article)

    In terms of where to get it installed in Chicago – you may want to give Perfect Power (847 367 8837) a call.

  • beekman

    mark – why not trade it for a used MCS, there some good deals out there.

  • Mark – if you want to get substancially more money for you car try selling it yourself. It looks me four days to sell mine a year ago. I’m sure it can’t really be all that different now.

  • Mark

    Thanks Gabe. Selling it myself is something I may consider – don’t want to buy used, as I always seem to pick the one lemon in the bunch ;P.

    Was just very surprised at the Mini Dealer’s attitude/low-ball trade valuation. Kelly Blue Book for trade-in on mine in this area is supposed to be about $17.5K, with private resale $18K – $19K. The dealer’s trade in offer was 25% below the blue books.

  • Lee L

    If there is a CARMAX near you, you might try them, they love MINIs. They would certainly beat your dealer’s offer by quite a bit, even if they are a little lower than a private sale. I can;t see how they make much money at the priced they buy cars for.

    ALso, a word to the wise. Never buy a car from CARMAX, they are way overpriced. 😉

  • Mark

    Thanks Lee:

    There is one here in Arlington, and I have used them before to “price” an end-of-lease vehicle I was selling to friend. So I might just have to take my Mini in sometime and see what they value it at.

  • The dealer’s trade in offer was 25% below the blue books.

    Unfortunately that seems par for the course.

  • Seth L

    Great writup, thanks!

    Only two months in and I’m itching to start modding my MCSa!

  • Brian

    Gabe – Any idea where in Miami I can have a pully installed by someone that knows about Minis? Thanks.

  • Patrick

    I need to clean out my MINI. Too much junk in the boot and rear seats right now that are making noise. All of the noise is making me think that the car has problems (Things rattling and clunking around).

    Once thats done, it might be time to visit Eric at Helix. I have been on the fence with the pulley since… forever. I just cant get over the worry about it, but now the modding has been going on for a good long while, and the miles have stacked up with almost no trouble for others. I just hit 20,000 miles and this, and the sway bar, might be just the ticket!

  • Mark

    “The dealer’s trade in offer was 25% below the blue books.

    Unfortunately that seems par for the course.”

    Guess your right, Gabe. But Mini owners like to think that their Mini dealers hold true to the Mini spirit, and aren’t just another sleazy car dealership bent on ripping off the customer.

  • Actually I don’t consider this practice sleezy or a rip off. Dealerships need to make money and sales persons need to feed their families and send their kids to college. I don’t fault them at all for doing any of it actually. As long as I have the freedom to sell my car myself, more power to them 🙂

  • Timmee

    When my 2005 MCS was in the shop for repairs I got a 2005 MCSa loaner from my dealer.

    The difference between the two cars was mainly the amount of control the driver has over the transmission. Your approach has to be very differnet when “taking a gap” in overtaking another vehicle, or more acutely when turning across lanes with oncoming traffic with the auto transmission, as the car reacts slower/differently in terms of speed. In these situations the power seems to come through too little too late. I guess that could be said of most auto transmissions.

    This is purely the viewpoint of someone used to driving a manual. There is no doubt that you driving style and time will need some adjustment when driving an auto.

    That said, that same MINI feeling is still there with the MCSa. It certainly is the most fun I’ve ever had in an automatic car.

  • O(=^=)O Capn

    Yeah, it’s called wholesaling. Buy it for a nickel, sell it for a dime. Just don’t sell it for wholesale and sell it yourself. If it is worth it to lose a few thou so you don’t have to market it yourself then there you go.

  • Mark

    Yup, at least we have the choice to walk away from low-ball trade in offers. Just that many dealers actually follow the trade-in values posted in books like the Kelly Blue Book, the Black Book, the Yellow Book, and Manheims Auto Auction guide – makes for better customer relations and repeat business. Hey Gabe, is there anything on the horizon indicating that JCW will ever do chip upgrades (U.S) for Mini’s with the auto trans, like they do for the sticks?

  • Hey Gabe, is there anything on the horizon indicating that JCW will ever do chip upgrades (U.S) for Mini’s with the auto trans, like they do for the sticks?

    There is no a la carte JCW software available for the MINI. There is the JCW upgrade kit meant for 02-04 JCW owners who want the 210hp of the 05-06 kits. This kit includes an intake, injectors, and a ECU flash.

  • Fishbulb

    thank you for the great write up on the 15% on the MCSa.

    After I pulley my 06 MCS, I am sure that my wife will want one on here 05MCSa. I just need to figure out which one i am going with on my 06 first and get that job done!

    also, thanks so much to everyone for keeping this civil. Much love to all the supercharged MINIs!

    …It’s those cooper guys we have to watch out for!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • civil indeed fishbulb!

    still somewhat stunned ; ) – drew

  • Mark

    Now, now, fishbulb — let’s not rate non S Mini owners as 2nd class. I prefer to think of us as all grouped in “Houses” like in Brit schools. Each house member is just as proud of its’ own type of Mini as the other house memebers are:

    Mini Cooper S JCW House Mini Cooper S House Mini Cooper Sa House Mini Cooper House, Mini Cooper CVT House

    And now adding the new Mini Cooper Sa JCW House

  • Edge

    Mark, if you’re going to get that specific, aren’t you forgetting the “open” Motorers, not to mention the wrong generation? 😛 (i.e. MINI, not Mini)

    MINI Cooper S JCW House MINI Cooper S Convertible JCW House MINI Cooper Sa JCW House MINI Cooper Sa Convertible JCW House MINI Cooper S House MINI Cooper S Convertible House MINI Cooper Sa House MINI Cooper Sa Convertible House MINI Cooper JCW House MINI Cooper JCW Convertible House MINI Cooper House MINI Cooper Convertible House MINI Cooper CVT House MINI Cooper CVT Convertible House

    Heh. It does start to seem ridiculous, doesn’t it? Soon it will likely turn into “1st Gen” vs. “2nd Gen”.

  • Mark

    Opps, your right – totally forgot the drop toppers 🙂

    And in true Brit school tradition, instead of 1st Gen, 2nd Gen, it will have to be First Form, Second Form… lol

  • Barry

    I had Eric install a 17% on my MCSa he did the CAI and I went back in 2 weeks for a Miltek exhaust. Need less to say its a different car I have put on 4000 trouble free miles and raced my sons RX8 Manual at Raceway Park and guess who won? MEEEE

  • Way to go barry – sounds like a monster!

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  • Jae

    anyone know a good place to get the 15% pulley installed in the Los Angeles area? I do planning on asking Assael Mini to try in install it but knowing them I know they won’t.

    Also, if the dealer says my warranty is void because of the upgrade… what exactly would they deny as far as warranty goes? Powertrain?

  • MIniMM

    I have the MTH on my 06 MCSA with a 15% pulley and love it. It helps with low end power and generally helps out a little all the way to redline. It lessens the intervention of the DSC if you have it turned on.

    As far as the engine my next mod is 380 injectors.