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Mini 3-cylinder Cooper Tuning

113335 Views 55 Replies 28 Participants Last post by  Robert Allen
Hi guys,

I must say I'm impressed with the performance that the Cooper's 3 Cylinder engine outputs. After having driven it on mainly B-roads for over 2000km It's given me some smiles. However, I'm sure a lot of us would share the urge to explore how far we could take this beautiful piece of modern engineering.

Everyone is talking about the tuning of the Cooper S, and there's been some success in improving performance and so forth... but to me the most revealing fact is that our engine is practically the same or very similar to the one found in the new BMW i8:

"Then, at the rear, a new 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine, rated at 231 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque drives the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. The same engine is also used in the new 2014 MINI Cooper Hardtop, albeit in a slightly lesser state of tune"


Now, I'm far from being an expert and have limited knowledge and info about this particular case and tuning in general, but if the actual mechanics and physical parts of the engine are identical to that of the i8, this would mean that with a performance tuning of the ECU a whole lot of power could be unleashed!

Cooper 134 hp VS. i8 231 hp... Even if we could only tap into 20-40% of those potential gains in performance (due to other restrictions and components that are not part of the engine, eg/ exhaust, air intake, etc). It would make our Coopers and absolute Hoot to drive and potentially rival the performance of a Cooper S. Too good to be true?

If i were a tuner, I'd be digging deeper into this, because it 'sounds' promising.

(Now it's when I wait for someone to burst my bubble and tell me I'm an ignorant ;) )
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How to keep your turbocharged car alive for a long time
By Zsolt Gobolyos
There are multiple things you can personally do to keep your turbo healthy and alive, and to make your reconditioned unit last as long as the original one.
There is a contemporary trend of downsizing nowadays which is leading to more and more engine failures. This trend favours small capacity turbocharged engines. Turbocharging is needed for an obvious reason: turbos provide a better degree of charge, giving the engine higher specific power. However, these contemporary turbos are about half the size of those used two decades ago. They now rev up to 250,000 a minute, as opposed to 80-100,000/minute back then. Smaller weight means smaller inertia and thus, less turbo lag. High rpm, on the other hand, demands precisely engineered and manufactured bearings, high-precision assembly and an exacting balance. All of these mean however high manufacturing costs and proneness to failure.
Modern turbochargers – small sized and fast-revving – usually employ journal bearings and oil cooling, meaning there is no need for a separate water circuit. Instead of regular journal bearings turbine shafts are equipped with floating journal bearings. These bearings - both on the outside, on the housing; and inside, at the shaft - run on a thin film of oil, so when optimal hydrodynamic lubrication is achieved there is no metal-on-metal friction, only fluid friction. This is necessary because, without cooling the bearing from both ends, the rotating piece would overheat too fast. Heating and cooling are two fundamental concerns in the operation of a turbocharger; the third being the lubricant.
Once oil pressure and volume flow rate are built up to an adequate level within the turbocharger, there is optimal hydrodinamic lubrication, resulting in negligible wear. The reason is there is absolutely no metal-on-metal friction; oil mediates between the stationary and rotating parts. Of course oil deteriorates in time and needs to be replaced. Hypothetically a turbocharger should live much longer than the engine driving it with its exhaust gases. Hypothetically!
However, real life is altogether different. Turbochargers usually fail relatively early and their failure is almost exclusively due to an operating fault. Analysing the most common causes you will find that, more often than not, failures are related to lubrication: either to the inferior quality of the oil; or to the complete lack of oil at the place of intended lubrication: the journal bearings. The quality of oil is important for two main reasons: to provide adequate performance levels, and to ensure proper viscosity. Performance level is not only important in relation to the additives in the oil. There is correlation between soot generation, the cracking of the oil, the disintegration of its carbon chain structure and its performance levels. Fill your turbocharged engine with an inferior quality, lower performance oil, and negative consequences will invariably include damages to the turbocharger. If you choose some cheaper mineral oil instead of a synthetic one it is bound to have lower heat tolerance. And this means that when the heated turbine shaft meets the oil film, the edges of the latter will heat up to a degree where oil begins to burn. This generates soot which burns onto the shaft, right under the sliding surface of the bearing. This, in turn, will reduce the bearing gap, block the free flow of oil, causing the bearing to run warmer. What you see here is a self-aggravating process which invariably results in the bearing getting either stuck or completely worn. As a result the turbine will no longer run coaxially with the turbo housing, vanes will begin to touch the housing and get shredded down. This is a highly typical fault caused by a poor choice of lubricant.
Just as important as the quality of oil is the proper volume flow rate of oil within the turbocharger, over the bearings. I didn't say oil pressure but volume flow rate on purpose because you can have oil pressure if the returning oil tube in the turbocharger gets clogged or narrowed some way. This however puts the oil up at a dead end street. There will be no oil circulation, the lubricant will overheat and generate soot – and so forth, as described above.
When I once disassembled an almost brand new, yet failed turbocharger that had been installed on a used vehicle I could immediately see the problem. The shaft was covered in soot, while both the front and the rear end of the journal bearing was scratched and worn. There was no trace of oil on either the turbine or on the compressor wheel but the latter was already touching the housing and had begun to wear it. All of this meant a rather expensive repair as we had to replace the entire housing, not just the central section, because if you put your new wheel into the old, worn out house you will have too wide a gap and efficiency would be poor.
This damage was clearly caused by insufficient lubrication. Either someone floored the accelerator pedal during assembly, before oil pressure could built up, resulting in the turbocharger running practically dry; or oil feed / drainage was not sufficient, resulting in a lack of lubrication or low volume flow rate at the bearings.
After sustained, high-engine load turbochargers needs active cooling down. My experience is that most drivers do not pay attention to this, shutting down the engine almost immediately after pushing it hard. You can of course see the other extreme of the spectrum as streetracers keep their engines running at downtown filling stations to “cool the turbo”
Why the turbocharger needs cooling is obvious: its shaft gets so hot under heavy load that, with the oil pressure gone (because you have killed the engine), stagnant oil will be rapidly overheated, thereby propagating soot formation. However it you let the engine run just a little while longer, the 100°C lubricant will quickly cool down the much warmer shaft and bearing. You want to keep the oil from being heated to the temperature point where cracking could occur. That temperature should never be reached, not even locally, in smaller volumes.
When you drive flat out on the highway or tow your caravan up a steep incline, the turbocharger will heat up. If you shut down your engine right away, that'll take a heavy toll on your turbocharger seriously reducing its life expectancy. That is probably the single worst thing you could do to your turbo. If you want to help it survive you can engine break you way to your final destination: this feeds the turbo plenty of oil yet it does not have to do any work, and will subsequently cool down instead of heating up. Even better if you can operate the engine at idle for half a minute. That means oil pressure is less but still adequate ensuring a proper cooling down of the turbocharger. Mind you, this does not mean it will be cold. Touch the housing and your fingers will sizzle as they fry on the hot metal. But the bearing inside the housing will be no warmer than 150°C and that's all that matters.
If you have a car equipped with start-stop, worry not. You will rarely arrive at a situation where heavy engine load is immediately followed by the computer stopping the engine. If you want to protect your turbocharger, use high quality oil, keep lubrication, oil feed and discharge lines clean and make sure crankcase pressure isn't too high because that could inhibit the back flow of oil. Also, don't allow anything to enter the turbocharger. After subjecting your engine to extreme loads, let your car slow down with engine braking and then after stopping let the engine run another 30 seconds. Do all of that and you will not be giving much work to turbocharger repair workshops.

Miss any of these and your turbocharger will be short lived.
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I'm interested in the instructions in the manual. They tell you NOT to idle for an extended period of time, but to drive at a moderate pace when you first start the car. What are the procedures for that?

Usually I let the car run till it idles normal, and then drive without going over 2k until the BC tells me that it's in the "OK" temp range.

All modern opinion seems to be to drive off immediately after starting . Idling =slow warm up and potential sooting on rich running, drive off and the engine reaches operating temp as quickly as pos .Be gentle though till the oil warms.
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The 1,5 Mini petrol might share the engine block and a couple of other components with BMW I8, but turbocharger, rods, pistons, cams, injectors, downpipe, etc. Will all be different and without changing those components the usual "chip"-tune will most likely only give the standard 20% power gain.

Apart from the obvious smaller turbo and injectors on the Mini, the internals will also be weaker (rods, pistons etc.). There are several resons for this besides cost of more expensive components.
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Hey guys,

Bumping this thread. Any news on ECU tuning for the 3-cylinder Cooper F56??
All modern opinion seems to be to drive off immediately after starting . Idling =slow warm up and potential sooting on rich running, drive off and the engine reaches operating temp as quickly as pos .Be gentle though till the oil warms.
That's it.
Warm it up as quickly as possible by driving it normally, but not hard, until the temperature is normal.
On the F56 you can scroll to the engine temperature gauge which will show 'LOW' until it is fairly warmed up. It's interesting that the stop/start begins to work while the temp gauge still says 'LOW' - I suspect that the stop/start working means the engine is warm enough to start being worked normally, though not thrashed.
ECU tuning is now available for Cooper. I'm considering ZIP tuning, they offer 165 hp and 300 Nm.

Add a simple exhaust mod like resonator delete and I think this will be a very fun car.

Muffler and resonator deleted, I will go for muffler only:
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Hi Swede,

Those figures look very impressive. They would definitely make the car very fun... It's practically turning a cooper into a cooper S, without the nose weight. How does ZIP tuning work... Do you have to visit them for a remap, a DIY thing, or do they actually sell a removable tuning box. Checked the site but can't seem to figure how it works.

In my particular situation I can only consider something removable or over-writeable as I'd like to keep the waranty of the car intact and due to the MOT (ITV) regulations in Spain.
This American vendor is offering F56 tuning kits form $379 (about £230) and it's interesting that they say the boost increases are:
- from 8psi to 11psi on the B48 (4 cylinder, ie 2.0 Cooper S);
- from 17psi to 20psi on the B38 (3 cylinder, ie 1.5 Cooper).

Which suggests that the Cooper is 'working harder' than the Cooper S - which is surprising considering the S has a higher specific output of 94.5hp/litre compared to the Cooper's 89.3hp/litre.
Directly comparing PSI is only valid if the turbos are the same. The b48 uses a larger turbo which means it will provide more total volume of airflow at any given pressure.

As for the i8, "practically the same engine" actually says very little. It likely uses cold forged pistons and connecting rods as well as other beefed up internals plus a much larger turbo charger. The i8 has electric motors that can fill in the gaps created by the larger turbo's inherent lag.
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Hi Swede,

Those figures look very impressive. They would definitely make the car very fun... It's practically turning a cooper into a cooper S, without the nose weight. How does ZIP tuning work... Do you have to visit them for a remap, a DIY thing, or do they actually sell a removable tuning box. Checked the site but can't seem to figure how it works.

In my particular situation I can only consider something removable or over-writeable as I'd like to keep the waranty of the car intact and due to the MOT (ITV) regulations in Spain.

Hi DonDraper,

The initial ECU tuning will be done at ZIP, but they offer an optional (200 Euro) handheld device for going back and forth between stock and tune.

I understand your warranty concerns but personally I think I will take the risk. I have used piggybacks before with good results before but I don't want to spend time on updating maps etc this time.

Regarding dealers ability to detect a car that has bern tuned but is back on stock map, I honestly don't know...

What do you think about replacing the muffler with a straight pipe?

The Go Pedal is an alternative it will not give as many HP but sure improves the Zip Factor.;)
Hey Swede,

About the straight pipe minus the muffler, I doubt it'll make a noticeable difference in terms of performance, but it will probably make the car sound a lot more like a Cooper S or even more dramatic...The 3 cylinder sounds quite nice so it may result in a satisfying grunt.

Do you know if Zip tuning offer that handheld device/ processor for those who can't take their car to them with standard tuning values? For me it wouldn't be a possibility to take it to their garage...

Evlkarl, Thanks for sharing that link, any experience with it? Seems like a pretty cool little gadget... I wonder how noticeable it really is.

I found this today:

It seems quite promising for a removable device... fairly similar to the Zip Tuning figures (but obviously not comparable to actually taking your car for a remap). I'm tempted, but t's not exactly cheap though...

-Anyone with experience with Racechip?

-Does anyone know what happens with driving modes when you have one of these installed? Does it just increase the performance proportionally (eg/ + 20%) regardless of the mode you're in... or completely overrides throttle/engine response?

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I expect no performance gains from deleting the muffler, just a bit more engine sound so I agree with you. This convinced me:

ZIP requires a visit to their local installer. Have you asked if they have any reseller close to you?

Regarding piggybacks, I have only experience with BMS and the owner Terry since my previous BMW life. They have a great reputation and I would go for them if I went for a piggyback. What I dislike about piggyback companies are their poor documentation and structure of data/maps/downloads...

Driving modes (throttle mapping and steering weight) will not be impacted, the tune will only offer more power.

Gotta say the muffler delete idea is tempting, that article is quite encouraging... I guess I'll wait until the warranty is over and then go for it. Would be great to hear about your results once you've completed the remap and straight pipe and how the exhaust 'operation' went.

Decided I'd be the guinea pig and I've gone for the Racechip Piggyback... will hopefully get it this week and will post results. Excited about it... I hope it was worth the $$$. Pretty good reviews about them online, not as reliable as BMS perhaps but better figures for this box as long as they're somewhat close to their 'up to' estimations. I doubt I'll be able to do a Dyno but will transmit my real world driving feedback.
Great, I look forward to hear about how your butt dyno percieves this tune. Good luck!

A muffler delete will generally not impact warranty as far as I know.
hahaha Butt Dyno... I'm gonna start using that!

One thing I'm not too impressed about so far is that Racechip promises 24hr deliveries across europe... the 'package sent' email I got today says it may be anywhere between 7-21 days. Anyways, let's see.

I'll check about the warranty/muffler thing... can't find any youtube/audio of the actual F56 cooper straight pipe sound, but it'd be cool to hear how dramatic it is.
Got my RaceChip today...

Firstly, instructions to install were extremely poor and generic... there were no model specific instructions apart from a sheet of paper that indicated where the colour coded sensor plugs should be connected. However no pictures of the specific connectors or parts of the motor you had to deal with. I had to research online to see if my instincts where correct and through a mixture of and instructions for the Cooper 'S' I had to Sherlock Holmes my way to dealing with the installation. I'll share more details when I give a more detailed review.

First impressions are decent though... I struggled a bit to figure out if it was a placebo effect or not, but after some fast driving and 3 runs (one with, one without, another with) I can say I so far feel about a 15% improvement... I would say I notice more power delivery between 2000-3000 revs, and there's something nice between 2500 and 3000. I'd say the car feels more energetic, and lively... with some pretty intense moments on curvy roads.

Is it as dramatic as one would hope... probably not. Would the performance gains justify the price... I'll answer that after I give it a longer try.

Mwafik... what attracted me to RaceChip is the fact it seemed more advanced, it was a final version (not a BETA), it's a German company with years of experience and the 'up to' figures were more promising and substantial. Maybe Burgertuning is more realistic with the figures and it's definitely cheaper which is a plus... It has a good reputation amongst BMW users.

Swede have you managed to do the exhaust job or the remap? The Cooper in the video sounds good, but it's not our 3-cylinder F56... I think our car will sound even better, deeper... Can't wait for someone to get it done and post a little video.
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