The Robinson family R53 Mini Cooper S is finally getting closer to where I want it to be. A painfully expensive MOT sorted out some areas of neglect including the brake lines, and two of the three modifications I’ve long had in mind for the car are in place.
I don’t have any particularly drastic plans for the car, as it’s predominantly a daily driver for my other half. It still needs to be useable, but that’s not to say there aren’t areas to make a meaningful difference.
A reduced supercharger pulley, which will increase power and the whine from the Tritec engine’s Eaton E45 Root blower, has to happen at some point. But as it’ll ideally coincide with the 100k-mile dreaded supercharger service, which involves taking off much of the car’s front end, I’ve been putting that job off.
What I have done is switch the comprehensively rotten standard exhaust for a Milltek resonated stainless steel cat-back system. So far as I can see it’s regarded to be the best system for the R53 both in terms of fit and sound, and it was a relative breeze to fit. Well, it was after I called around a less mechanically inept petrolhead mate of mind to kindly help me.
The factory system must have had one hell of a hole in it, as I swear the Milltek cat-back is a tad quieter. It’s a more satisfying, muscular sound overall, and the volume level is perfectly acceptable inside and out.
Change number two wouldn’t be considered a modification at all by some - tyres. But tyres certainly can be thought of as an upgrade if you choose the right set of boots. Only the Bridgestone Potenzas at the rear of our Mini needed swapping, but this seemed like a good opportunity to switch the whole set, particularly since the front wheels were shod mid-range Nexen Nferas.
Changing all four to a matching set of premium ‘ultra high-performance’ tyres seemed a great way to test just how much difference good boots can make to a relatively ordinary performance car. For this purpose, Michelin supplied a set of its Pilot Sport 4 tyre, and the difference could be felt immediately.
The slightly dull sensation on the initial turn-in I had before has now vanished, replaced with a much more engaging feeling off the central point of the steering. Traction in the wet was always an issue with the Nexens, but on the PS4s, I can boot it to my heart’s content and have nary a mild grumble from the front wheels. In performance terms, this is a far more effective mod than the exhaust I splurged on.
Whether it’s wet or dry, I can be very greedy with the throttle mid-corner, ensuring the tyres will help me make the most of my R53’s factory-fitted limited-slip differential. Finally, comfort seems to have improved a little, although, with some pretty harsh damping from the factory, the R53 is still far from cossetting.
As for whether or not the PS4 is the ultra high-performance tyre you should stick on a car like the R53, that very much depends on what you’re after. Speaking to Jonathan Benson of Tyre Reviews, CT’s friendly neighbourhood rubber tester had this to say:
“My latest test had the PS4 and the Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 5 tied for the win. The Goodyear always felt a bit more sporty, but they tie up pretty well in the wet. The Continental Premium Contact 6 came fifth, but that’s what I’d fit on my car because it’s a little more sporty handling with a stiffer construction, meaning it turns in quicker. It wasn’t quite as good as the other two in the wet, and it doesn’t quite have the comfort.
“To sum up, the Goodyear is the best all-rounder, the Conti is the one if you want for more sporty driving, and the PS4 is the one you pick if comfort’s your thing. It’s very close between all of them, and gone are the days when Michelin had a big wear advantage.”
You can’t go wrong with any of the premium options from that test, in other words. Your choice might simply come down to what’s available in your size, the deals that are out there at retailers, and perhaps even the one that has the sidewall design that pleases you the best. There’s also the new Pilot Sport 5 to consider, but no one had tested that at the time of writing.
Just be sure to fit something good. In terms of making a noticeable difference to the way your car drives for the least cash, good boots are unbeatable.