So after a year and 23,750 miles, what advice can I offer someone in the market for a new MINI? Here are some observations in no particular order:
- Storage. You will need help to organize what little storage space is available inside of the car. Start with an organizer for the glove-box; add a cubby organizer under the toggle switches; replace the knee-bolster under the steering wheel with a parcel shelf; and finish up with an arm-rest. All together that will set you back about $500 but you’ll have room for your sunglasses, CDs, cell phone, charger and owners manual.
- Tires. Ditch the run-flats for lighter rims and tires. Originally I bought some lighter 15 inch rims for winter use, but found the look was wrong and the performance weak. The ironically-named 17 inch “S-Lites” with Goodyear RS-A runflats (205/45R17) tires weigh almost 50 lbs each. I replaced them initially with 15 inch “Silverstone” rims and Falken ze512 (195/60R15) tires weighing 40% less. I’ve noticed an improvement in stopping distance, turn-in and ride quality, but have lost some grip. The runflats were very harsh. Now I don’t live in fear of every pothole and bump. My passengers appreciate the change as well. Thinking about 16 x 7.5 inch rims as a good compromise.
- Music. XM Radio and the AUX input jack. Both of these are easy add-ons for the do-it-yourselfer. I originally used a Delphi Roady going through the AUX jack for XM, but last week upgraded to the XMDirect/Blitzsafe unit directly to the radio booster in the boot. It makes for a very clean install (completely hidden) and you can use the steering wheel controls to control the XM radio. I also have the jack available for my iPod. Just don’t buy XM from your dealer. It takes less than 10 minutes to install and they will charge you $299 plus an hour of labor when you can get it on the internet for about half of that.
- Cold Air Intake. I haven’t ventured into many mechanical mods yet while still under warranty, but this is one I can highly recommend. I immediately noticed an increase in throttle response without an appreciable increase in noise.
- Shift-knob freeze. The stock shift knob is pretty cool looking, but unfortunately it’s too cool. It is quite massive and in the winter it will never warm up. Even through gloves it would make my hand numb it got so cold last winter. And in the summer if in direct sun it will scald. I replaced it with a leather Momo Anatomic short shift knob. What it lacks in style points it makes up for in functionality. The stock knob pulls straight up, but to get a good fit with the Momo knob, you have to remove the plastic stock collar. The easy way would be to use a dremmel tool (and make a mess in the car). My way was to use a pocket knife and make a mess of my fingers. While you’re at it, replace the cheap shifter boot with a nice leather one as well.
- Repairs. I think the 2002 and 2003 model year cars had issues with fit and finish. I’ve gone to the dealer for a bunch of oil changes (every 5K miles even though the interval is 10K) but I think only two warranty repairs. The passenger window leaked air at speed and that took them two attempts to fix (but it turns out you can adjust the window in about six ways so it’s sort of hit or miss to get right). While there, they did a software upgrade to fix an emissions issue and replaced to hatch latch which hadn’t been a problem. The other issue was a tinny sort of rattle from the door speakers in the front. Some sound deadening took care of that and that was covered too. I’ve been very happy with the service I’ve been receiving.
- Yo-yo. The 2004 model year MCS suffered from a condition called “yo-yo”. The drive-by-wire throttle would sometimes feedback and cause the car to buck under moderate acceleration under 2500 RPM. My car had a minor case of it that got worse with a software upgrade in the spring (v. 36). The latest software (v. 39) has completely eliminated it. I decided to buy an OBDII cable and some software commonly used by so-called “chippers” to be able to download the current software and archive it in case I get updated in the future and want to go back to the one that works. Late when I’m off warranty I’ll think about modifying the ECU programming, but until then, I’m happy with the way it’s driving, so “why mess with a good thing” is my thinking.