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Mini Cooper R50 Performance Tuning Guide

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Table of Contents


The R50 Coopers are powered by a 1.6L 16V engine producing 115hp and 110lbs ft lbs of torque. With these cars only weighing in at around 1150kg, this is an adequate amount of power for daily driving. However you may be wondering what can be done to extract even more power out of this engine to give you the maximum performance possible. 

In this guide, we’ll take a look at the most efficient and proven ways of increasing the power on your R50 Cooper to ensure maximum fun!

Performance Exhaust

We all know a more free flowing sports exhaust makes your Cooper sound better, but it can also increase performance as well. There are various aftermarket exhaust options on the market for you to choose from. 

One of the most simple exhaust mods you can do is the installation of an aftermarket cat-back system. These systems usually replace the centre and rear section of your exhaust, resulting in a deeper sporty sound and enhanced power delivery and torque. These should fit directly on to the standard catalytic converter on the Cooper, unless you are running an aftermarket decat centre pipe. If so, double check the diameters. 

If you are wanting to go further with exhaust modifications, you can purchase a sports exhaust manifold and sports cat that fits the R50. This is a more expensive option than just purchasing a cat-back, but can yield impressive performance gains and of course give you an even deeper engine note. We’ll touch a little more on headers/exhaust manifolds further down in this article.

Scorpion Exhaust Manifold & Sports Cat

For the Mini R50

Scorpion Non-Resonated Catback

For the Mini R50


One of the most significant advantages of remapping is the increase in power and torque. By altering the ECU settings, the engine can generate more power, allowing for quicker acceleration and improved overall performance. A remap can also improve your car’s throttle response, making your Cooper feel more responsive and agile throughout the rev range.

If you have made other performance modifications to your car, such as installing an aftermarket exhaust system or cold air intake, a remap can help you get the most out of these upgrades. By adjusting the ECU settings to work in harmony with your additional modifications, you can maximize the performance gains from your investment. As such, it’s a good idea to have your Cooper remapped after you have fitted other performance mods.

The R50 Cooper comes with 115hp as standard, and a remap along can take this to 130bhp on a healthy engine.

As these cars are getting old now, it’s important to make sure your engine is in good working order and in good health before remapping it. The same goes for adding any performance modification to it.

Cold Air Intake/Panel Filter

A cold air intake (cone filter) is an aftermarket modification that enhances the performance and sound of your Mini Cooper. By replacing the stock air intake system with a more efficient and less restrictive design, a cold air intake allows the engine to breathe better, resulting in improved performance and a more aggressive engine note when on the throttle.

A cold air intake enhances throttle response by reducing air intake restriction. This allows the engine to respond more quickly to changes in throttle input, giving you a more direct connection between your foot and the engine. This can be particularly enjoyable during spirited driving or when navigating tight corners.

In addition to performance benefits, you also get some nice audible benefits. For many enthusiasts, the improved engine sound is one of the most enjoyable aspects of installing a cold air intake. The less restrictive design allows for a more aggressive intake noise, giving your Mini Cooper a sportier, more distinctive character. This can be especially satisfying during hard acceleration.

Another option you have when it comes to intake modifications is installing a panel filter. Pipercross are a popular choice among Mini owners who make aftermarket filters for the Cooper.

Panel filters keep the standard airbox and instead of replacing the whole unit with a cone filter they simply slot in place of the standard air filter. This makes installation a breeze and you can have it installed within minutes.

Similar to a cold air intake, these filters are designed for maximum air flow and efficiency and can yield subtle performance gains. 

Due to the Cooper’s engine bay being quite tightly packed, many owners opt for a panel filter as opposed to a cone filter. This isn’t to do with room as such, but due to the heat soak issues that you can sometimes get from open cone filters in crammed engine bays. While cold air intakes can offer superior sound, some dyno tests within the R50 community have actually shown panel filters to produce better gains!

Pipercross Panel Filter

For the Mini R50

K&N Panel Filter

For the Mini R50

Weight Reduction

One often overlooked, yet highly effective modification is weight reduction. Reducing the overall weight of your Cooper can significantly improve its performance in various ways, making it an ideal mod to consider after exhausting other options.

A lighter car has less mass to move, which means it can accelerate faster, brake quicker and take corners at a higher speed. With the R50 Cooper weighing in at around 1150kg from factory, you can make it a light car with some weight saving modifications. Plus, you can even save some fuel in doing so!

How much weight you can save will depend on how far you want to go and how much practicality and comfort you want to remove from your Cooper. For example, removing  the rear seats will help some weight but then you’ll be left with a 2 seater car which may not be ideal if it’s your daily driver.

Below are some ways you can help reduce the weight on your Cooper;

  • Lightweight battery
  • Removal of rear seats and parcel shelf
  • Lightweight wheels
  • Lightweight bucket seats
  • Performance exhausts which tend to weight less than the standard ones

If you are wanting to go as far as possible for a track car build, you could look into stripping additional weigh by removing interior trim and sound proofing, the air con, audio/speakers, and replacing the standard doors and bonnet with carbon fiber counterparts.

Headers & Cams

As mentioned in the exhaust section further up, there are options for replacing the standard exhaust manifold/headers with aftermarket options. This opens up much more power potential, with some manufacturers like Darksidemotoring quoting power increases of 12hp from this modification. Aftermarket headers utilise straight flowing pipes with minimal bends to expel the exhaust gasses as efficiently as possible.

When opting for aftermarket headers, you will likely want to replace the standard catalytic converter system for the best flow throughout your exhaust. Many manufacturers sell these with sports cats so they are road legal but still offer performance gains. If your R50 is strictly for track use, then you could get away with a decat pipe which tend to unlock the most power gains – at the expense of not being road legal.

If you are upgrading your headers, then you may want to look at upgrading your cams (camshafts) too. You have different aftermarket options available with Newman and Pipercams offering solid alternatives to the standard cams. 

Upgrading to a set of these cams can increase the horsepower and torque of your engine throughout the rev range, although you may need to compromise on where you want the power. Some aftermarket cams focus on generating more grunt and power lower down in the rev range while others are manufactured to provide top end power near the redline. 

Regardless of which type of camshaft you opt for, the driveability will be massively improved. To get maximum gains, you should fit other performance upgrades like a cold air filter and exhaust before investing in a modification like this. A remap should also be done. 

Finishing Thoughts

While the performance gains you typically get from tuning the R50 Cooper aren’t massive compared to the tuneability of some more modern turbo’d cars, you will definitely feel a noticeable improvement from fitting these upgrades. 

It’s not all about the overall power gained either. Many of these mods we spoke about can really transform the driving experience, enhancing throttle response and making your Cooper more lively throughout the rev range. This can be very pleasing for daily driving, giving you additional power and torque on demand.

So, go ahead and give your Mini Cooper the performance boost it deserves.

Happy modding!