recent post
about newbie mods left a number of
readers clamoring for a similar list aimed at
performance. The ability to change the character of a
MINI from pleasant ride to pocket rocket is a reality,
and with the MINI now in it’s 4th model year, there’s an
aftermarket just brimming with gizmos and gadgetry to
help you get there. To help those new to the MINI
world (and spark some debate among veterans, I’m
sure), based on research, information gleaned from
forums, message boards and conversations with tuner
shops, I’ve whittled innumerable performance upgrades
down to just 5 essentials. Each mod is ranked on a 1-5
scale in terms of difficulty, with 1 being easiest:

5. Intake/Exhaust – Usually the first
mods performed, simply because of their ease of
installation and immediate change to the car’s
character. Nothing beats the whooshing sound of an
intake pulling in fresh air and the off-throttle
burbling of a cat-back exhaust. Cost can be an issue
however, from options (hot
air intake
, one-ball
, etc.) that don’t cost much, to
factory-warranted JCW components that can set you back
quite a bit. Whatever your choice, the difference in
the seat-of-the-pants will be relatively subtle, as
both mods usually deliver single-digit horsepower
gains. The car will feel faster, but that’s probably
because you’ll be stomping the gas pedal a bit more
just to hear that sweet music! (3)

4. Pulley/Engine Management – If
you’re looking to make serious power, and get the most
bang for the buck, these are the mods to go for. While
the pulley is only applicable to S versions, both
upgrades provide the most increase in horsepower per
dollar than any other. They also come with issues
regarding warranty compatibility. They can be somewhat
costly, as there is high initial cost or additional
labor involved – however, most say cars with these
modifications alone feel the way they should have felt
from the factory. So if more low-end grunt and
increased oomph across the entire powerband is what
you’re after, these are the mods to look into. (5)

3. Rear Swaybar – If you’re looking
to improve your handling, installing a a larger
diameter (and maybe adjustable) rear swaybar is a good
choice. Our cars have a tendency to understeer. A
larger diameter bar reduces body roll, provides
quicker turn-in, increases lateral stiffness and
improves the car’s handling as a whole and makes the
car a lot more neutral feeling. (4)

2. Wheels/Tires – I agree with Gabe
on his previous
about ditching the runflats. But I would
also add that while looking for better performing
tires, look into pairing them with lighter rims. Most
of the stock MINI rims are pretty heavy (the S-Lites
alone weigh over 25 pounds each!), and your car has to
use some of it’s power to overcome that weight. By
replacing the runflats with a combination of lighter
wheels and tires, you’ll notice much better response
in off the line launching as well as in overall
handling. The downside is in the event of a flat – if
you have an S, be sure to carry flat fix, a spare or a
cellphone. A suggestion would be to keep your current
stock wheels/runflats for the winter weather (if you
get such stuff where you are) and pick up a separate
performance set for the warmer months. (3)

1. Driving Instruction – Far and away
the best modification available – tightening up the
nut behind the wheel. Works on all models and all
years too! Seriously though, power increases and
handling improvements mean nothing if you can’t
harness and control them. Check out a local autocross
or sign up for a track day where instructors will be
on hand. Seek advice, get an instructor to go out with
you, or better yet, have one drive your car while you
observe from the passenger seat. You’ll be amazed the
difference a single event makes. You’ll pick up skills
that can be directly translated to your everyday
street driving. You’ll have fun, become a better
driver, and if you’re not careful, you could become
addicted! (2)

The preceding list is just a top five grouping of the
most commonly suggested modifications for MINIs. I
know I’ve probably opened a big ol’ can of worms here,
as there are a bunch of great modifications not
represented (such as short shifters, plugs, wires,
harnesses, etc)… So let’s hear what would be on your list…