New R90 Wheels & Summer Tires

My previous solution (15 inch wheels) was a vast improvement over the stock 17 inch R85s with runflats, but they just didn’t look right. I wanted something with a low profile tire, but not too low. I wanted a larger wheel, but not the weight of the 17 inch S-Lites. In the end, my favorite wheel turned out to be the best value as well….

I reviewed the wheel galleries on Mini2 and North American Motoring before finally deciding that I wanted to stick with a MINI branded wheel. I got a great deal from Mini of Sterling. It wasn’t the lowest price I could find on the internet, but since they threw in free shipping on orders over $100, it was as competitive. I knew from my time with the runflats that I didn’t want another 17 inch wheel. The R82s with Falken ze-512s did great in the snow, but the 15 inch wheel just doesn’t look right. I’ve always like the R90s so I decided the 16 inch R90 was the wheel for me. I reviewed many tires and found a summer performance tire that got excellent reviews in both consumer reports and on the Tire Rack — the Goodyear F1 GS-D3. The tire has a very square sidewall construction so the contact patch is huge in the 205/50R16 tire size. So far the ride is comfortable and quiet; the tire has great grip and the wheels look great.

End of MINI Year One

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.

CAI and Thoughts About Wheels

Cold Air IntakeMy old Alfa GTV was very free-reving. You press on the gas and let up and the response was immediate. With the MINI gas-by-wire system, it took much longer to wind down when you let off the gas. Under steady pressure, it responded fine, but with quick changes it seemed to lag. I had read online that this was a function of restricted air intake as much as anything else. To test this, I bought a cold air intake system from with a Green Filter. The kit was very easy to install and only took about 15 minutes with simple hand tools. I was worried the open system would result in increased intake noise, but I can’t say I’ve noticed much of a difference. I do, however, notice a much improved throttle response.

Since I’ve had my Mini, I’ve always appreciated the go-cart like handling, but the 17 inch run-flats provide a harsh ride, especially on the roads around DC. Over the past year I’ve learned much about how the various components of the suspension interact and effect the handling characteristics of a car. I was surprised to learn that the large wheels so popular on cars today are more about “bling” than performance. (“Bling” is a technical term. See: Oxford English Dictionary) Maybe I’m a bit old school, but the large wheels and ultra-low profile tires just don’t look right to me.

One basic approach to suspension engineering is to start from the chassis and go out. What sort of ride height do you want? Stiffness and roll? Sway-bars? How big must the brake disks be? Once you’ve sorted that out, what sized wheels should you have? Remember back to high-school physics where you spun a wheel and used the wheel to spin you on a stool? The same thing applies to automotive engineering. With cars, it’s called un-sprung weight. It’s the total of all those parts that contact the ground and move with your wheels (sway bars, control arms, suspension, wheels, tires, rotors, hubs, etc.) Less weight is better. In general alloy weighs more than rubber, and run-flats weigh more than non-runflats. Heaver wheels/tires take more effort to start rolling, stop, and turn. Wheel size therefore is a compromise between being large enough to clear your brakes, but not too large to present a high side-wall tire which will flex too much on cornering. All this while retaining the same overall diameter of your stock wheel so your speedometer is still accurate.

I enjoy the grip of my Goodyear RS-A Run-flats, but not the harshness of the ride. The R-85 (S-Lite) 17×7 inch wheels and 205/45VR17 tires weigh 50 lbs each. My test wheel is a 15×5.5 inch R82 (Silverstone) wheel with Conti CH95 175/65HR15 tires that weigh 30 lbs each. That’s a savings of 80 lbs in unsprung weight. The trade-off is the loss of 120mm of rubber contact with the road. A 40% weight reduction with a 15% reduction in the contact patch (and possibly traction.) My impression so far is that the harshness is gone from the ride. The car seems to stop more quickly and the steering feels lighter. I’ve also noticed a higher tendency to squeal the tires on corners, but not a feeling that I’ve actually lost traction. That may be due to the dynamic stability control system being more active, but still in control.

What’s next? I’m very satisfied with both changes. I think I want to buy a wider tire, however. I’ve read very good reviews of Falken Ze 512’s (top rating by consumer reports as well.) The 195/60HR15’s are only about $39 each. That size is only a 5% reduction in the contact patch, but the same weight as the Contis. If that works out ok, I’ll sell my S-Lites on ebay.

Actual Size

Several people have asked about the “Actual Size” sticker on the back of my car, just under the third brake light. People at gas stations always comment “It’s so small…” to which I reply, “No, actually this is actual size.” I got it free from a posting I saw on North American Motoring, but there available for a few bucks from a number of sources.


This was a first for me: I found the car I wanted on the web; called to make arrangements to purchase it; then bought it sight-unseen. I’ve test driven several MINIs, but still I was a bit uneasy about making such a big purchase this way, but the whole process went very smoothly. I flew up to Long Island, picked up the car and drove back in one day. I’ve never had a car with less than 20 miles on it before.

Southamptonbeach newmini

What a joy to drive. I don’t have to worry about what system is going to malfunction or if my cell phone has a full charge any more. Just the fact that I can turn the key and not have that moment of panic that it won’t turn over. Life is good.

Now begins the process of fitting in all the nice-to-have things. I installed the Mini Aux Audio cable yesterday. I chose to place it under the toggle switches and it really looks nice there. Now I can play my iPod through the HK stereo.