2007 Mini Cooper Review
SEE ALSO: Mini Road Trip Video
By Thom Cannell
The Auto Channel
In just five years the MINI Cooper has become an icon, a desirable and instantly identifiable vehicle that keeps it owners coming back. After selling 177,000 MINI Coopers since USA product launch, almost three times the original estimate, there is a new MINI for 2007, one remarkably similar to the previous model. It’s actually difficult to tell them apart, even in side-by-side comparisons. Yet every bit of sheet metal is new, interiors and engines are new, and the suspension is quite different.
The new 2.36” longer body was changed to meet European Union pedestrian impact standards . That means a taller, beefier, and longer hood line that will minimize car-pedestrian impact accidents. Headlamps and tail lamps are slightly different and the best indicator of the new product.
Inside, changes are obvious to anyone who’s ever sat in or driven a MINI . Most important, the center console was trimmed to increase useful space like knee and hip room. What you see is an audio system whose controls have moved into a massive, and I’d say too-large, speedometer. The reason it’s so large is to provide enough room to squeeze in a navigation screen, which is then surrounded by speedometer numbers.
The new MINI hardtops, the only models yet released, feature a new 1.6 liter engine that utilizes technology from parent BMW, its VALVETRONIC variable intake valve timing. Both a normally aspirated and a turbocharged S model are available. Both versions offer a 6-speed manual from Getrag or Aisin 6-speed automatic that can be manually shifted with the gear change lever, as well as F-1 style steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters.
Another big change is a steering system that is now electrically assisted. One push of a console-mounted button engages Sport mode and alters steering assist, throttle map, and for automatic transmission-equipped cars, the sift map.
Cooper S models aimed at enthusiasts are twin-scroll turbocharged with 172 hp. Exhaust is divided and two cylinders’ exhaust powers each side of the turbo. A maximum torque of 177 lb-ft is constant from 1,600-5,000 rpm which means it pulls like a bandit when you step on the gas. And wide open throttle torque maximum is raised to 192 for up to 15 seconds, a calculated overboost. The normally aspirated Cooper model provides 118 hp and peak torque of 114 lb-ft. @ 4,250 rpm. It’s plenty of fun to drive on the open road, even on a race track where the essential “go-kart” nature of the MINI can be fully exploited. Engines are now all light alloy and use common rail DIG or direct injection gasoline engines. This innovation, direct injection as diesel engines use, offers very sophisticated engine control strategies that increase power while minimizing exhaust emissions and increasing fuel economy. The new engines prefer 98 RON fuel but run on 91; for the few extra pennies, run premium and get the benefit of all the horsepower.
Cooper S models use 195/65R 16” runflat tires, while the Cooper rides on conventional 175/65R15s; a 205/45R17 is optional and there are even larger tires and wheels available at dealers. Suspensions remain similar, with McPherson struts front and a new alloy rear with less unsprung weight. A sports suspension with up-rated springs, dampers and anti-roll bars is available for any model. Brakes are 11.02’’ front (11.57” S) and 10.20” at the rear with ABS, EBD, Brake Assist and Cornering Brake Control. Dynamic Stability Control, Hill Assist, and Traction Control are options.
MINI Coopers all have six airbags, which they say is “one for every two feet of car.” The redesigned interior offers an enormous diversity of seat surfaces, textures, door trim, and colors. Ambient light is changeable from warm orange to blue. MINI says there are over 150 trillion possible factory variations.
Later an upscale audio system and navigation system we neither saw nor tested will be offered, the 6.5” TFT color display fitting within the center speedometer’s circular shape.
Testing both MINI Cooper and Cooper S models on the highway, racetrack, drag strip, and autocross events showed an improved vehicle, one that is far quieter at high speed, particularly in reduced engine noise. It remains unrelentingly sporty when the Sport mode is selected (particularly Cooper S models,) and more pleasant to drive in every situation. However, even equal-length drive shafts cannot eradicate the torque steer of the powerful S model. Noticeable mostly on winding roads at full throttle, it quickly becomes familiar and manageable. On the racetrack and any winding road the MINI is completely at home, displaying its formidable road holding and nearly neutral handling. Brakes seem up to the task of hard driving on the road, but repeated extreme stops on the race course required a quick cool-down lap.
Interior space is increased everywhere and driver and passenger are primary beneficiaries. Roominess for rear seat passengers was never a strength in the old MINI and this remains unchanged. Front passengers of average and taller size reported sufficient room to stretch their legs and height-adjustable seats with variable lumbar support are comfortable for all but the widest drivers.
Prices for 2007 increase only a bit over previous models. Cooper S models go for $21,850, a $400 increase and MINI Coopers are listed at $18,700, a $700 bump. Those MSRP prices include destination.