BBR MINI Cooper S
EVO - July '03
BBR has squeezed 218bhp from the Cooper S - and claims to have improved its handling too
There's no shortage of Cooper S conversions right now. Dave Brodie of BBR reckons he's tried eight in the last six months. Naturally he also reckons BBR's is the best. But then it probably needs to be. Ever since the arrival of the official 'Works' tuning kit, any new conversion has to be a bit special. The simple fact is, the Works conversion is impressive (if rather pricey) and - compellingly - the full MINI warranty and TLC servicing package are unaffected. So an independent tuner has to offer not only lots of extra bhp but exceptional vfm too.
BBR's 'Phase One' conversion speeds up the supercharger and lifts the output from the standard 161bhp to a claimed 218bhp (torque rises from 155 to 206lb ft). That's a serious hike, and the price of £1521 including VAT is good value compared with £1757 for Hartge's 210bhp conversion and around £3500 for the 197bhp 'Works' kit.
BBR also offers a package of suspension revisions designed to reduce understeer and torque-steer. This costs £581. Then there's a cat-back double-exit exhaust with four tailpipes for £934, and a 'ram induction kit' for £93. Or if you're one of the first 50 customers you can have everything fitted, in a day, for £2543, saving yourself over £500.
The four chunky tailpipes are a big improvement visually on the standard Cooper S's weedy looking twin-set - and they instantly give the S a deeper, burblier soundtrack. Even better, when you're going hard, are the crackles and pops on the over-run.
BBR spent months on the software maps that control ignition, fuelling and airflow. The aim was to increase power but not at the expense of drivability. As well as rewriting the software, it's fitted a high-speed supercharger drive pulley and an uprated Cosworth drive- belt idler, and there have been detail changes to the supercharger's boost and intercooling systems.
It's been worth it. Throttle response is significantly improved, the pick-up from low to medium revs sharper than either the standard car or the Hartge S, closer to the Works car in the way it snaps to attention. And all through the mid-range it feels so much keener. More muscular too - this car has serious punch (BBR claims 0-60 in under 6sec). It doesn't have the top-end race-to-the-redline zing of the Hartge car, but that's the way Brodie wanted it, and not just because he believes mid-range torque makes it quicker in the real world, but because it will help ensure longevity too.
The chassis package comprises a set of exchange front wishbones, substantial alterations to the suspension geometry and minor changes to front and rear ride height. The aim was to reduce understeer and keep torque-steer in check, and it works well - with predictable provisos. On seriously bumpy roads with 200bhp-plus going through the front wheels you're still going to feel the steering wheel writhe in your hands, though it's never unmanageable. On most B-roads the BBR Cooper S gets its ample power down very effectively.
Personally I've never found understeer a particular problem with any Cooper - once you get into a rhythm with it you find it adopts what feels like a neutral-to-oversteer stance. The BBR Cooper S is just a little more eager to get to that state - which is fine by us! On the many roundabouts near BBR's Brackley base, it felt nicely throttle-adjustable without snapping into oversteer if you suddenly closed the throttle.
BBR has reached a similar conclusion to us about tyres. The Cooper S's standard-fit run-flat Dunlops don't do the ride or handling any favours, giving a rather dead feel. We've fitted Pirelli PZero Asymmetricos to our long-termer; BBR has gone for Goodyear Eagle F1s - fitted on the front axle only on this car, which retains the Dunlops at the rear. I'll admit I raised an eyebrow at that, but the set-up certainly works.
Harder to quantify is the effectiveness of the ram induction kit - a carbon-effect upper-lip which attaches to the bonnet scoop to increase charge volume at speed. It's a neat idea, suggested by a Williams F1 aerodynamicist friend of Brodie's, though a drawback is that it upsets the airflow over the bonnet and the wipers have to be fitted with tiny aerofoils to keep them pressed to the screen at speed.
The stickers on this car looked a bit naff (you don't have to have them) and the application of the heat-reflecting foil around the tailpipes was untidy - an MG-style heat-shield would be classier. But these are details. The important bits of the conversion work very well indeed - tigerish throttle response, a more muscular mid-range, more characterful soundtrack, and a chassis balance tilted towards the enthusiastic driver. If you want to inject a major shot of excitement into your Cooper S, the BBR conversion could be just the thing.
Text: Peter Tomalin / Photos: Andy Morgan
Engine: In-line 4-cyl, 1598cc, s'charger
Max power: 218bhp @ 6750rpm
0 - 60mph: 5.5sec (est)
Top speed: 140mph (est)
On Sale: Now (BBR-GTi tel: 01280 700700)
evo RATING - 4 Star
†Useful performance gains; good value
†The 'Works' conversion is out there too...