This edition of Ask MotoringFile is focused on how to best spec a MINI. Here’s the question as sent in by Paul:

>Since you are up to date on all the varieties of MINIs I would like to ask you a question because I value your opinion.

>I am thinking of leasing a new Cooper S for 2 years. I don’t know if I should get a very basic cooper s with the 16″ wheels, lsd, xenons, or opt for a fully loaded jcw coopers with the engine, suspension, brake and 18″ wheel upgrade. I can afford the monthly payments on either cars. Is a loaded jcw car with the 18″ wheels, engine, suspension and brake upgrades really more fun to drive than a regular cooper s, and is is worth it?

>I drive a lancer evolution now, yet I realize the MINI is not as fast. I just want a really quick car that handles and brakes great. I also like the way the mini cooper s looks a lot. I don’t race people from stop lights, and I value a well balanced good handling car more.

>What would you do? You have driven them all, automatic and 6 speeds.

>If you had $35,000-$40,000 to spend on a MINI Cooper S how would you spec the car, and what options do you think I would want? I would like to know your thoughts. It seems like the motoring advisors at the dealerships just want to sell me more options on my new car that I may choose.

Los Angeles, CA

A couple of good questions here Paul.

Options: It doesn’t take much arm twisting to get me on MINIUSA building a $40,000 MINI. In terms of what to get, there isn’t a bad MINI out there. The base Cooper is a great car for the money and I woudn’t hesitate to recommend it. However, if money isn’t really a concern, I’d recommend opting for the Cooper S. And while a stock MCS isn’t a bad choice, I’d also recommend a healthy dose of options if you’re going to make this a daily driver (and with an eye towards resale value down the road). Here are my must have options for a moderately specced MCS:

– Sport Package
– Premium Package
– Cold Weather Package (this depends on climate obviously)
– Limited Slip

Now here are a few nice options that I personally consider hard to live without:

– Chrome Interior and Exterior
– Rear Foglight
– Anthracite Header (depending on what exterior color you go with)

As far as seating goes, it’s really up to your preference. The leatherette typically a great choice if you don’t ever want to think about taking care of your seats. They’ll literally be floating in space when the earth is gone. The cloth is an excellent choice but must be taken care of (that means little if not no eating in the MINI!). Leather is always nice but fairly pricey and has a tendency to not wear well on the bottom cushion. A great compromise (and the one I’ve gone for) is the leather/cloth combo.

Now let’s look at those money is no object options:

– JCW Engine Kit (includes the JCW brake kit)
– JCW Suspension Kit (great way to button down the car even more)
– JCW 18″ Wheels (look amazing and contrary to popular belief, feel great)
– Driving Lamps (sort of a MINI trademark)
– Navigation (if you can handle not having the speedo in the center)
– Convenience Package (why not?)
– English Leather Seats (see above)

Unless you’re on a strict budget, you can’t go wrong with JCW products. Even if you have all the money in the world and want to mod your car to 230hp, a JCW engine kit is a great base from which to start.

You can check out the 2006 MCS I just built (with your question in mind) here.

Lease vs Buy: This is always a hot-button topic. Obviously the final answer will be very specific to your needs. Personally there are a few reasons why I would never lease a MINI. For one the overall pricing srtucture I’ve seen doesn’t seem very attrative when comparing it to simply buying the car. Secondly (for most of us) half the fun is making your MINI unique once you buy it. That’s somewhat difficult to do with a leased vehicle. But, as I said earlier, this desicion is very much a personal choice depending on your needs.

But enough about what I think about accessoies and options. I’m more interested in hearing from some of our readers on this topic…