The Mini has been busy of late, racking up both a good amount of miles (it’s now through 75,000, meaning more than 5k with me) and, well, a good amount of invoices as well. But nothing has been completely unexpected (honest) and the car that’s resulted from the money spent is only becoming more likeable. I never thought I’d enjoy Mini ownership this much.
With a couple more bits to remedy - I still haven’t got around to the air-con, which felt very silly during the heatwave, and a piece of window trim was jetwashed off - OYJ is pretty much sorted. With a lot of its miles on the motorway or going to the train station, it would make sense to create a more focused track car. Which is good, because I can’t afford to do that. But with a couple of parts renewed or replaced, it’s doing a great job of being fast, fun, usable and useful transport. The realistic to-do list is looking very short.
Changing the tyres was one of two significant jobs undertaken recently. I knew the fronts were running a tad low, and were highlighted as an advisory on the MOT; no tremendous surprise given it’s a fairly powerful little FWD car that implores you to drive with a bit of vim. With Michelins all round doing a decent job so far, I saw no reason to change from the 205/45 R17 Pilot Sport 4s already on the Challenge alloys. But Bibendum (or his PR team, at least) could do one better than that, and supplied a set of Pilot Sport 5s for the Mini.
Now, any new tyre day is exciting, especially when it’s all four. And I’ve no doubt that box-fresh anything on the Cooper S would have made a difference. Initially, at least. That being said, the change in the car’s behaviour really is marked, a reminder of just what an influence very good tyres can have on a car.
This might sound odd given the remit of the tyre and the car: the most noticeable immediate improvements are in comfort and refinement. Not exactly Mini strengths as standard, so perhaps that’s made the uplift more noticeable. I can now hear more induction roar and exhaust pop than road drone, which is great, and having fresh rubber on a reasonable sidewall has helped smooth out some of the worst imperfections encountered. It’s still a busy B-road blaster, just not quite so crashy, which is most certainly very good news.
And when the tarmac isn’t so battered, the Mini and its Michelins are a match made in heaven. That lightning-fast turn in is even sharper, with a welcome bit of extra weight to the steering in normal mode, grip is stronger (now more evenly spread around the car, too), and traction is demonstrably better. Despite lacking a limited-slip diff or any kind of especially clever traction control, the Mini does a mighty job of romping away from bends. I’m looking forward to driving it again now more than ever. Which is long way of saying that when it comes to buying my own tyres again - could be sooner than hoped, given how much fun it is - it’s hard to imagine getting anything but Michelin. Even at about £150 a tyre.
Also contributing to this enthusiasm is a nifty performance upgrade known as… a new clutch, flywheel and service. Not a cheap undertaking, for sure, at £1,650 - so it’s not being sold for a few miles yet! - but always likely to happen at some point during ownership if you have an old car for a few years. That’s how I’m justifying it for now. That and the vastly better feel of the car.
Presumably now with reduced losses from engine to wheel, the little 1.6-litre turbo feels so much stronger than it ever did, punching hard in every single gear and revving more freely as well. It feels properly rapid for a car only meant to be 184hp/177lb ft strong. A rolling road session seems silly given there’s no eivdence in a decent wodge of paperwork of any tuning, but I remain intrigued of true power. On top of that, the gearshift is now more positive, the bite less vague, and the judder at manouevring speed is gone. The old clutch probably would have held out a little longer, and spending so much in the first year wasn’t exaclty in the plan; on the other hand, there shouldn’t be any more big jobs in the immediate future, and the car feels brilliant for the money spent on it. I’m starting to see how improving little bits here and there soon morphs into a full-on rework, because it’s such a joy to be given back a car tangibly better than how it was left. Just a shame about the expense, really…
As if to say thanks for lavishing what is quite a lot of money (certainly relative to the overall value) on it, the Mini has rewarded me with no warning lights of late. Which is nice. As I don’t really believe in fate, I’ll say things have never been better (hope we all enjoy reading this back next time around). Here’s to some nice, cool autumn air for the turbo, more resurfacing of the roads near me, and any opportunity possible to get behind the wheel - I can’t wait.
Car: 2011 Mini Cooper S
Run by: Matt Bird
On fleet since: February 2023
Bought for: £6,400
Last month at a glance: Freshly Michelin’d Mini much improved!
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