There is a fine line between tastefully modifying your car for whatever you want it to be. Do you want to it be a weekend warrior or stance queen? Racecar for the road or 1/4 mile destroyer!! We are all different individuals which are reflected in how we modify our cars to our liking. But let’s put this aside for the time being and run through all the modifications that are possible on the second-generation R56 MINI to make it that much better.
I am going to break how to upgrade your R56 from the MINI accessories to Aftermarket parts regardless of how deep or empty your pockets in the pursuit of adding to that legendary road-legal go-kart.
A key component of what makes a MINI a MINI is it handling. The MINI’s suspension is quite firm from the factory and even firmer if you opted with the sport suspension which came with lower & firmer springs and different dampers. Sadly MINI didn’t provide coilovers or lower ride height option from the factory other than on GP2 which came with Bilstein coilovers for a 20mm ride height drop which actually gives a better ride. You can buy else from MINI, however, they have been prone to leak and cease up on GP2s resulting in them being replaced or repairs needed as they aren’t cheap at £400 a corner.
There are a few options for suspension upgrades depending on budget:
Lowering springs – Eibach Pro-Kit lowering springs work with your existing shocks to give you a 30mm lower ride height if looks are all you’re after. Approx Cost: £170
Upgraded Dampers – It’s not all about ride height as lowering for stance points but they way your MINI controls itself over the road which the dampers take care of. Changing over to Koni FSD sport dampers will improve the way your MINI rides regardless of the surface or how fast you’re going. These ‘FSD’ dampers are frequency selective damping which responds differently to low-frequency movement such as that produced by cornering, braking and accelerating and high-frequency movement generated by driving over the uneven road surface. This means that the damper provides excellent body control through cornering and other manoeuvres but becomes more compliant when a bump or dip is encountered without compromising in ride quality. Cost: £550
Coilovers – The ultimate option for stance queens or track warriors regardless of budget coilovers are the best option to improve on the MINI go-kart handling and lowering ride height to your preference. Coilovers offer better control over stock suspension as it offers adjustability in height, rebound, damping or chamber compared to a fixed damper and spring from the factory. This adjustability allows you to set up your MINI to your liking for looks, ride or handling.
They are often the more expensive option for improving your MINI handling as kits vary from cheap and cheerful to sell your kidney prices.
AP Coilovers on the low end at £450 but I have seen many issues and varied quality problems with these. Remember you get what you pay for…
ST Suspension is just KW under another name offering the reinsurance of quality brand at cheaper price option so you are getting more bang for your buck. Cost: £650 to £1,000
Meister R & BC Racing coilovers are another halfway house of price and performance at £800 to £900
Bilstein coilovers are a well-known brand so quality is there with TUV approval and testing on Nurburgring. I have been told with mix opinions that they are firmer than the KW suspension in regards to ride quality. Cost: £750 to £1,500
KW coilovers arguably the biggest & best name and well know brand regards of the ultimate suspension. KW offer different kits at various price points ranging from the basic V1 setup to full-blown racing suspension with top mounts and external reservoirs. Cost: £800 to £2000
Ohlins coilovers is the alternative option but for the more serious and deep-pocketed buyer as they don’t come cheap. Cost: £2,000
In my opinion, stick to the big well-known brand when buying suspension as there is nothing worse than having to your MINI out of action because you went cheap and it broke. I followed my advice when I went for the ultimate and brought a set of KW Clubsports for my JCW : D
Also for the love of God don’t do something stupid like cut springs for cheap lows as will shorten the life of your shocks and might even completely destroy your whole front suspension and everything with it.
Also worth noting if you live in country with varied climates it’s worth getting Coilover socks as they stop salt/grit from killing your springs in the winter months – £35
For the stance nation peeps WHAT WHAT!!!! air suspension is there but will set you back £4000 for the system then everything else is even more money so choose wisely. Don’t pick right and say goodbye to your front end, oil sump and engine with it with low lows and that goes for static ride low riders as well.
Often the most overlooked part when modifying or upgrading your car yet it is most important that keeps your pride & joy on the tarmac and not in a ditch. Tyres are often the most expensive upkeep on your car if you daily drive or drive everywhere like a bat out of hell as they are the fine line of cost per tyre versus all the requirements need from it ranging from tyre width, profile, mileage, dry grip, wet grip, noise, and fuel economy.
One the first things to do on a MINI is to get rid of the run-flat tyres are these ruin a lot of things with most importantly being ride quality and tram lining as they reinforced tyres which have been designed to run on with no air in the tyres. The major benefit is outweighed quite quickly by the key negative of the high cost of replacement tyres is often nearly twice as much the equivalent normal tyre.
Quickest and easiest option to gain more grip when switching to normal tyres would simply get a wider profile tyre of 215/45/17 which will reduce torque steer, give a better ride and more efficient way of transferring power to the asphalt plus they are cheaper than the 205/45/17 tyre! MADNESS!!!!!!
With the wider profile, you will need to increase the PSI in a tyre to 34psi from the standard 32 psi recommendation as a greater amount of air is need to fill the tyre. Me personal I tend to go for higher speed-rated tyres at Y or Z from the standard W rating as I know I will not reach the limit and it is always better to under stress something than overstress anything.
Let’s run through the tyre options available for road use:
Uniroyal Rainsport 5 – Great all-around road bias tyre that is epic in the wet and at the price it is totally unbeatable! – £70
Kumho Ecsta Sport KU39 – All round tyre for fast driving at a great price – £70
Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3 – Great performance tyre with all road ability with great wear rate – £90
Continental Sport Contact 6 – Epic tyre whatever you throw at it but they ain’t cheap and they will wear out quicker than rivals -£104
Michelin Pilot Sport 4 – Arguable the best road trip which has the greatest pedigree as given they made the tyres for the Bugatti Veyron & Chiron. Along with this, it is reign champion of EVO magazine’s tyre testing – £104
Yokohama AD08R Advan Neova – More of road bias tyre but sold more for a track option given it has a B wet rating making it a great choice for driving to and back from the track – £80
Federal 595 RSR – More track orientated than the AD08R as heat is needed for these tyres to work properly – £85
Nankang NS2R – This tyre comes in two forms with medium and hard compound allowing you to choose for road orientated or track the only tyre. The Hard compound will need a lot of heat to get the tyre working on track mean a sightseeing lap then maximum attack. Yet in both cases, they are both road-legal and have a wet rating of B allowing you still attack corners in the wet – £89
Kumho V70A Ecsta – The OEM fitment of the GP2 which is track-focused tyre but it’s not your friend at all in the wet from what I have been told by owners/friends. But for the price, they have been overpriced given the competition are cheaper and don’t wear out after 2,000 miles on the road – £120
It is all fantastic doing fast but you will need to stop and it is often overlooked as everyone is chasing more power. Again depending on your budget improvements and overhauls can be made to scrub speed off as easily as heavy right foot can manage.
JCW – £800, Copy JCW Budweg £500, GP2 – £1500
Aftermarket – £1200 Brembos or Ap Racing
Simple upgrade on an S or JCW would be to upgrade to drilled or slotted discs from MINI which will aid cooling or bite plus they look cooler.
OEM Front Plain Discs – £200
OEM Front Grooved & Drilled – £220
But remember the standard JCW Discs are bigger at 316mm and the S are 294mm under normal brake calipers for each model variant.
However, a lot of money can be saved by buying Brembos replacements discs for your MINI.
Brembo Front Plain Discs – £100
Brembo Front Grooved & Drilled – £120
As per the above, the Brembo replacements are better than the stock in every way with better bite, less brake dust and cost less which is everything you need changing away from OEM.
Brembo Front Pads – £160
OEM Front Pads – £120 (JCW) £80 (Cooper S)
Alternative pads such as MINTEX M1144, Tarox, Ferodo DS2500 or even making Nissan 350Z pads will fit the JCW Brembo. FYI Mintex is the supplier of the pads for the MINI Challenge race car.
If you’re planning some track time then changing your brake fluid to 5.1 dot will reduce brake faded as it has higher boiling temperature than OEM fluid at 4 dot. Along with this going for braided brake lines will give a better brake feel and reduce brake fade as do not expand/stretch under heat like the OEM lines. Both offer improvements and are no more expensive than your standard replacement parts.
Drivetrain & Differential
A limited-slip differential (LSD) allows faster cornering by shuffling torque between the driven wheels. This lets the car use its engine’s output in the most efficient way possible by preventing wheelspin and maximising traction.
There was a great time where MINI offered a limited-slip differential from 2005 to 2010 but it was sadly dropped because of cost, weight and lack of uptake. This was a genuine shame if they just held on or gave it some marketing push people would have brought it at £500. However, the underlining issue was price as they could replicate it using electronic software – Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC). EDLC emulates a diff by putting on the brakes or limiting to manage power to the ground without all the complexity, install or warranty issues.
Fear not the aftermarket to the rescue with Quaife with their LSD which is the best name in the business for road and light track action so quality is where you want go especially as installation takes £500 due the gearbox coming out.
Quaife ATB Helical LSD differential – £726
If you’re more of track warrior then Wavetrac is the more track-oriented diff as it has more aggressive locking.
Wavetrac ATB Helical LSD differential – £1152
If you hunting power you will need to change your clutch will the victim as the stock Cooper S/JCW will let go after 230 bhp running through it. Lohen a long time MINI specialist has formulated the right package with clutch experts TTV & Helix for all power levels of MINI either for road or track usage. Go for an organic clutch if your road user and if it’s track then 4 or 6 paddle one will be the correct thing for your application – £200 to £260. Whilst your there if you want your MINI to rev quicker go for a lighten flywheel which will 7kg lighter than stock dual mass one – £450.
It’s all fine and well making your car faster in every conceivable way but not looking after it will have drastic effect if do not pick up faults/issues or keep to the service intervals.
MINI UK recommends oil changes every 20,000 miles but I can’t iterate enough how idiotic this is move is as MINI USA recommend oil changes every 10,000 miles. What you have understand is that the oil that feeds the turbo also feeds the engine, therefore, it is imperative that oil is clean and regularly changed to keep the engine & turbo running as it optimum efficiency. So if you a low mileage user change it every year or 10,000 miles whichever comes first to keep it running smoothly. If you have tuned it then every 8,000 miles as your engine will be running hotter given the extra load/boost it will be at degrading the oil a lot faster every component in your engine is running under greater pressure. Oil change should be £90 and Oil & filter being £120.
The cabin air filter is overlooked filter as people don’t know it exists and the effects it has on the air and heating system within the car. What’s a cabin filter and when should you replace it? It catches dust, pollen and other airborne material from outside the car. It should be replaced between 12-15,000 miles dependent on how often you drive and where heavy traffic city or off-road driving would require annual changes. Telltale signs that you need a new cabin air filter are reduced air flow through your air con/climate control when the fan is on high and you get more noise or persistent bad odours. It will take you a few minutes to change the filter which is located under the glovebox and you just need a flat screwdriver to open the filter housing plus filters are cheap at £10.
The fuel filter is the most forgotten filter on the R56 as it is said to be ‘lifetime’ by MINI but after changing my own at 89,000 miles it was PITCH BLACK and clearly not really filtering anything. I would advise changing the filter at 50-60,000 miles to be on the safe side and this was small cost at £135 with the new filter kit (£53) and fitting from MINI (Part number: 11252754870).
Spark plugs have become less so an issue as modern platinum or iridium spark plugs can last 60,000 miles but if your running more boost then running a colder spark to stop pre-denotation/pinging is advised. If you own a JCW make sure the dealership changes your spark plugs at every service as it recommended per MINI service bulletin and is often missed as Cooper & Cooper S are the motors they normally work on.
Gearbox oil another lifetime item which should be changed but isn’t because of MINI’s advisement that it shouldn’t be. Changing the oil will have a drastic effect on how smooth your gear changes are along with prolonging the life of your gearbox. You might think gearbox oil is an expense but what is more costing than refurbing or replacing one? You will need to 2 litres of oil for a complete change and this oil will set you back about £45 with about £50 for labour.
Carbon build is an issue that has plagued the 2nd Generation MINI engine from its conception as the move to direct injections. Direct injection engines brought about improvements efficiency, power, mpg and emissions but have negative side effects of carbon build up around the intake value and inside the engine. The problem with this is you can only slow it down with an oil catch can but this issue will always be there regardless of what you do. The only way to reset this problem is decoking/walnut blasting or full engine cleaning but again carbon build will return like an unwanted guest. A decoke will set you back around £200-240 while a full engine clean will set you back £1000 minimum.
The timing chain is a known issue on this generation of MINI’s in the S & JCW which diagnosed by a loud rattle aka ‘Death Rattle’ that is particularly prominent from start-up/cold and lack of go/pick up when applying throttle. This happens because of the chain tensioner becoming less efficient or failing which leads to a slacking of the timing time which in turn hits timing chain guide rails and as lead to damage to these guides or damage to the engine internals. The issue affects the N14 engine found in the MINI R56 Cooper S between 2007 and 2009, and JCW’s from 2008-2012. However, the issue has been resolved with the N18 engine in the later MINI Cooper S/JCW/GP models. A MINI specialist can fix this at £600 or MINI will charge you £1200.
The fuel pump is another common issue so they only last between 50 to 80,000 miles before a replacement is needed. Replacements bounce in the price bracket of £220 and keep it going on for a long period do not let the fuel level go below 3 bars. The fuel in the tank acts like a lubricate for the pump and when the fuel is lacking it increases the wear and burns out the pump thus resulting in premature failure.
Valve Stem Seal Set is an annoying german car problem as the wear out and lets oil into the combustion chamber resulting in white smoke into your exhaust and vastly increase oil consumption.
If your MINI is starting to burn oil at a high rate this will likely be the case as it ages – £64 part and £300 install
ECU Remapping & Engine
I have never been an advocate of ECU tuning as I have seen it end in tearless one too many times hence why I have personally avoided it as you asking the engine to work beyond its manufacturer’s state of tune, tolerance and long-term durability. Also tuning boxes and race chips are a no no no no no given what they do by lying to the ECU in tricking it in my more power.
MINI JCW Tuning Kit was available from MINI if you want it for the Cooper S to bump up the power and keep a warranty but we are kind of beyond that now.
I can’t really recommend anyone now given Miniac have folded and the only thing I can say is to go to a MINI specialist like Lohen or 1320 given their long-run history with getting more power of them and racing them.
If power is still on your mind you will need to forge your MINI ‘s engine as they cope will with higher power levels than stock as they weren’t overengineered like old school cars of past years. So dig deep and prepared to the cost to run into the thousands of pounds in parts then labour rates.
Silicone hoses will be a worthy upgrade over the stock rubber pipe which will split over time as rubber degrades. These hoses will not flex under boost or load as they are stiffer giving better airflow from resonator delete pipe or noise maker delete pipe which is not expensive at £80.
JCW turbos are a good upgrade for Cooper S to gain more power the S turbo runs out of puff and Hybrid will be the way to if you want 270bhp upwards power levels – £1200.
A good cheap mod will be the Alta stiffy spring which is stiffer spring which will hold more boost between gear changes so less lag – £20
Don’t bother with fancy diverter values like forge as they leak boost and it will run like crap instead get a genuine GFB DV+ from an official stockist as fake ones are floating around now – £120.
The sweet noise of the turbo spooling, intake noise and bleed value is the noise of my people so here is how to get more!!!
Panel filter is the best bang for the buck as it gives like 2-3 BHP and more induction noise. However, do not buy an oil-based air filter as these will ruin your MAF airflow sensor but instead get a dry flow air filter.
JCW Airbox is the mid-range option for Cooper S on N14 as it’s a simple plug and play
AEM Induction kit is the ultimate as I have run once since they came out in 2014 and I have zero issues in every weather and over 60,000 miles covered on it – need I say more?
An extra 15 BHP on a Cooper S or JCW is welcomed along with the induction and blow-off noise but a surprised and welcome extra is increased mpg by 5mpg works a wonder so the kit actually pays for itself over time – £400 Just an FYI the OEM JCW strut brace will not fit after adding in this induction kit so you will have to buy the AEM one as it goes around the box – £280.
The only issues I have seen are numpties removing the OEM heatshield from the catalytic converter which then results in the engine cover melting and damaging everything around. It’s kind of self inflecting problem so just don’t even think about doing it!
For hotter climates, it will be advised to get a turbo blanket to keep engine bay temps down and key the engine cover intact – Forge turbo blanket £125
The sound of the car can make or break it so much so Porsche did a U-turn on the Cayman and brought back the flat-six in the GTS instead of the flat-four turbo. I have listened to all the options to bring the noise at every price point to bolt-on.
Resonator delete is the cheap option which results in chopping out the resonator and welding in a straight piece of stainless steel pipe – £80. In turn, you gain more metallic noise with more pops and bangs but it welcomes in unwanted cabin drone on the motorway so turn up the music.
Sports cat is another way to crank up the volume to 12 whilst keeping it road-legal compared to the decat which will fail MOT/Inspection. The benefits of sports catalytic converter will be the increased noise, more aggressive pops n bangs along with reduced turbo lag while being road-legal.
Decat will reduce turbo lag further but I will make you not road-legal as it will fail MOT/Inspection on emissions. This more oriented for a track car than a daily car as suffer from unwanted attention as the noise levels are too load for road use for you and other people.
Challenge exhaust can be fitted to the road MINI and it will increase noise further than a standard back box MINI but hard it loud enough to set off car alarms – £750 for resonator onwards exhaust system
The Catback exhaust is expensive as it the full exhaust system and will allow a wider 3-inch system the full way down. Honestly not worth the money on an R56 JCW as the stock system is too good from the factory but to a Cooper S it’s a lot better.
JCW back box is worthy addition to an R56 Cooper S as it makes the S sound better than JCW given different compression ratio of the engine. Its will give loud noise with zero compromises and cost is £500.
Larger Intercooler is the easiest upgrade to the JCW or Cooper S to reduce inlet temperatures as the stock intercooler is a tiny thing. This will allow colder air into the engine so it will perform better on-road and track with a few bhp increase and nm increase in torque throughout the rev range – £250 to £450 depending on the brand – Airtec, Forge & Wagner
Waterless coolant is innovation within the market from Evan’s waterless coolant has a larger range of temperatures meaning that heat transfer (cooling) is more effective than water-based coolant that would be in gas form at the equivalent temperature. This coolant helps to eliminate premature detonation this reduces head gaskets and other engine failures associated with overheating. This will require a flush of the system and new coolant which will run you £220.
Meth Injection is an expensive way to keep engine temperatures down when increasing power but it has another benefit of cleaning as well so it will perform even better than stock as it stops coking. There are only a hand full of systems on the market but always go the established name like AEM or DevilsOwn. These full kits hover around the price point of £380 and refill methanol tank costs about £40 (needs filling either every 2 to 3 times you put in petrol) but the car will need to be mapped as well so the ECU can understand what is going on for it work correctly.
The MINI GP2 brought about some aero goodies with the GP2 Front undertray & GP2 Rear Diffuser which actually create downforce compared to another aftermarket aero parts. These parts can be easily installed on to Cooper S or JCW to gain those benefits of increasing stability and downforce as they just bolt-on. GP2 diffuser will be enough for most as they want the look rather than the full ground effect when combined with the front undertray.
MINI GP2 Front undertray – £350 & MINI GP2 Diffuser – £380
MINI GP2 carbon fibre wing is available but its price point of £1500 is going to put off a lot of people but it has been tested in a wind tunnel compared to aftermarket wings.
Aftermarkets ones are all show and no go as just a bolt-on which increase drag and lift as they have never been tested in a wind tunnel…
Bushes – MINIs are epic in the corners for a reason which there complex front suspension but that awesome turn-in fades after a while because the rubber bushes perish over time.
It’s advised to move over to poly bushes as they are put in and forget as they don’t wear down compared to OEM rubber ones which will need replacing multiple times.
Powerflex is the king of the market so get all their bushes which will come to £230 but the kicker will be labour rate which is £360 give the time to the front and rear subframes which are an 8-hour job. Trust me it’s worth as the handle handles on rails even more but once it’s done its done as Powerflex offer a lifetime warranty on all bushes. Only get the purple or yellow Powerflex bushes for road and the black series ones for the track only as the black series are basically solid blocks so the vibration will resonate throughout the car which will get tiring.
Strut Brace – Are the only school way of increase chassis stiffness by adding a strengthening bar aka a strut brace.
You can go the official MINI route and order the JCW strut brace which is £250 or aftermarket around £200. Be wary the GP2 one will not fit on to your JCW or Cooper S due to the different mounting points for the shocks compared the GP2.
The MINI convertible has the under car bracing due to the roof being chopped off causes body flex so it’s possible to buy these underfloor bracing and add to your hardtop MINI.
Roll cage – Like with a track car that is going racing it will need a roll cage which will set you back £500
Seats – Having a bad or good driving position can make and break a car as it’s where you will be spending your time so make it a nice place. JCW Recaros are the ultimate given they look the business, airbags, heated and they are official MINI part but sadly discounted. They are virtually unattainable as were £1500 each when new and very few people specd them so they pop anywhere they get snapped up so be prepared to have £2000 for a good used set.
Aftermarket versions of the JCW Recaros are available from Recaro without the JCW logo for around £1000 each if you want the ultimate seats. Sparco or Cobra are available at more affordable rates starting from £500 upwards for your booty.
Shifters – JCW gearbox knob is an easy upgrade for any MINI owner as it gives the MINI gearbox through and who does love a bit of carbon and Alcantara – £ 90
Short shifters kit from NM engineering is the next step to reduce the throw length by 20% and is £40 part but the labour to install it will run you £80 given the exhaust has to dropped to gain access to the shifter ball.
If you want to go the extreme then CAE or Coolworx will be the quickest way to shift gears as it’s a stand kit which replaces your gear lever altogether – £750 plus another £50 to relocate your sport, traction and start-stop buttons into the cup holder so you only have one cup holder now
Music – If you didn’t spec the Harmon Kardon sound system I feel bad for you as it £500 option which you should have as it makes the MINI stereo sound soooo good with 1000 watts of all about that BASS BASS.
Fear, not a simple mod can improve the sound quality – Channel swap mod changes were the sound is addressed across the cabin, it transfers the high & bass notes more to the back speakers – £40.
I have left this to last a few MINI should be unique as the owner’s personality transcended to their MINI. Please use a local vinyl specialist to get some stripes or head to MINI for bonnet stripes, side stripes, roof numbers etc. The MINI community can offer some more uniqueness to your ride – Stuck On MINIs, Luxewerx or JCW Adventure all have stores and what better way to support a fellow MINI owner and lover.
Get carbonated with MINI’s official mirror caps, boot lid, diffuser & wing or aftermarket like RSI C6 which make anything from door handles to bonnets. I will most like getting their bonnet and rear boot lid soon…
I want to talk about splitters but they are utterly pointless on a road as they will scrap or rip your front end off as I have seen with many mini owners so save your money and your front bumper.
Hopefully, this guide will give you a stepping stone to your MINI build and look forward to seeing them all at shows soon.
Here are my recommendations for MINI UK & Overseas specialist to visit:
Lohen – lohen.co.uk
1320 Mini – 1320.co.uk
Sussex Road & Race – sussexroadandrace.co.uk
Millys Auto – millsysautos.co.uk
TWG Automotive – twgautomotive.co.uk
MiniWorks – mini-works.co.uk
RSI C6 – rsic6.com
Outmotoring – outmotoring.com
ESC Tuning – ecstuning.com
Detroit Tuned – detroittuned.com
My list is made by own opinions and me speaking to respective companies & other owners across the world and this is not sponsored post for full transparency.
If you got the modding bug don’t forget to check out JCW Adventures Store or Official eBay Store for some stickers for all generations of MINIs or R56 JCW carbon fibre exhaust tips as seen on my MINI R56 JCW to support the blog & YouTube channel.
All your support over the years and please offer that same support by following my Youtube Channel as well : )
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