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New Car Review: Mini Cooper and Mini Cooper S (2002)

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2003 Mini Cooper S

SEE ALSO Mini Buyer's Guide

 CLICK4Video Mini Cooper S North American Introduction(20 minutes)(223kps)at LA Auto Show 2002 
CLICK4Video Mini Introduction(16 minutes)(100kps)at Detroit Auto Show 2001
CLICK4Video Mini Introduction(16 minutes)(300kps)at Detroit Auto Show 2001


The specifications sound familiar, today: transverse engine driving the front wheels, and a unit-construction chassis with four- wheel independent suspension, with the wheels pushed out toward the corners of the car for maximum space efficiency. But when the Austin Seven and Morris Mini Minor debuted in 1959, no production car had ever been built that way. British designer Alec Issigonis started a revolution. The Austin and Morris versions were virtually identical. But the cheeky little cars soon were known as Minis no matter what the make, and became more than immensely popular in England. They were a cultural phenomenon - the mini skirt of 1960s fame was allegedly named after the Mini - and people of all walks of life, from commoners to royalty, racing drivers, and rock stars, drove them. Formula One constructor John Cooper was called upon to hop up the Mini in the early 1960s, and the Mini Cooper was born. Despite multiple changes of ownership by merger, from British Motor Corporation (BMC) to British Leyland to Rover Group to BMW (which bought Rover Group in the mid 1990s), Minis were produced in more or less their original form until 2000. The second generation debuted here early in 2002. Mini is the brand, Cooper is now the model name. The Mini comes in two models, the Cooper and Cooper S. Both use a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, with the S's being supercharged. With 115 hp for the Cooper and 163, power doesn't seem excessive on paper. But on the road, as I discovered during time with both, it's another story. Relatively light weight is the secret, as it was originally. Don't be fooled by the small size, either. The interior is not so mini, and it is one of the more comfortable small cars on the road today. At the time of this writing, Mini Coopers are desirable and fashionable, but there is more than trendiness to recommend one. For starters, Minis are eminently functional, economical, comfortable, and way, way too much fun. APPEARANCE: The basic functional ``flying shoe box'' lives. The new Mini follows the design concept of the original, albeit with considerably more styling, and in 4/3 scale. At just under 12 feet in length, it's small, but the original was an even 10 feet long. The original had an upright arched grille and projecting sealed-beam headlamps; the new Mini's grill pays homage to the old, and its rounded nose gives it a bulldog look, appropriate for a British car. The hood scoop found on the S is functional, as it feeds the intercooler. If the proportions of the new Mini are not quite those of its ancestor, they're close. The wheels are still at the corners, and fill the flared arches well. At 15 to 17 inches, depending on options, they are a little larger than the 10s of the original. The vent grilles in the front fenders subtly say ``BMW'' (M3, Z8, and 507), but the rest is pure Mini. COMFORT: As was the case with the original Mini, the new version seems to have more inside than can be possible given its diminutive exterior dimensions. No magic, just exemplary space utilization. Six-foot-plus people fit easily in the superbly comfortable and supportive front buckets, with room for two real humans in the rear as well. The design is contemporary, with the main nod to Mini nostalgia being the placement of the speedometer in the center of the instrument panel, as it was in the old Mini. The steering wheel tilts, but not to the 45-degree tilt of the original, and standard power windows are an improvement over the 1959 Mini's sliding plastic side windows. Trunk space is limited, but the rear seat folds 50/50 and hatchback access is far superior to the original's bottom-hinged trunk compartment. Despite its small size, the Mini Cooper is a fully-functional car. SAFETY: The new Mini has a rigid central structure with front and rear crumple zones, front, front side, and side head air bags, and a bevy of contemporary electronic safety devices. ROADABILITY: Ever wonder what a front-wheel drive BMW would be like? Look no further. In regular or S trim, the Mini Cooper is one of the best-handling front-wheel drive cars ever made. As proven by the original, a rigid chassis, good weight distribution, and well-tuned independent suspension add up to nimble handling, flat cornering, and big-time fun. My Cooper had the sports suspension, and the S had its firmer variant. Both were firm but not harsh, and, no surprise, not all that far removed from a BMW sports suspension tuning in feel and comfort. In any form, a Mini is usefully small around town, and works surprisingly well for distance as well. PERFORMANCE: Because of its small size, a Mini feels quick. That's no illusion. Thank you, light weight. In either regular or supercharged S trim, it is quick enough to be thoroughly enjoyable. No surprise there for the Cooper S, with 163 supercharged horsepower and 155 lb-ft of torque. What is surprising is the regular Cooper. Its' 115 hp and 100 lb-ft don't sound like much on paper, but on the road it doesn't feel all that much slower than the S. Its naturally-aspirated version of the 1.6-liter Mini engine doesn't have as much go as the S, but that is no problem. Just keep the revs up, shift more (the wonderful shift linkage makes this a pleasure, anyway!) and, as the saying goes, drive it like you just stole it. The Cooper is available with a five-speed manual gearbox or a continuously-variable transmission with six manual-mode ratios. The S has a six-speed Getrag manual gearbox. CONCLUSIONS: The Mini Cooper and Mini Cooper S are maxi fun on four wheels. SPECIFICATIONS 2002 Mini Cooper and (Mini Cooper S) Base Price $ 16,850 (19,850 S) including 550 destination Price As Tested $ varies Engine Type inline single overhead cam 16-valve 4-cylinder (S: supercharged) Engine Size 1.6 liters / 97 cu. in. Horsepower 115 @ 6000 rpm (163 @ 6000) Torque (lb-ft) 110 @ 4500 rpm (155 @ 4000) Transmission 5-speed manual (6-speed manual) Wheelbase / Length 97.1 in. / 142.8 (143.9) in. Curb Weight 2524 (2678) lbs. unladen Pounds Per Horsepower 22 (16.4) Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded gasoline minimum Tires varies Brakes, front/rear vented disc / disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 28 / 37 / 32 (24 / 33 / 27) 0 to 60 mph 8.5 (6.9) sec - mfg. Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.36 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Because neither car came with option information, this is hard to tell. There are many, many possibilities, with choices of suspension tuning, interior appointment (leatherette or cloth standard, leather available), color (including flag roof schemes), and even fitted luggage - not a bad idea considering the trunk size and shape. Whether you're looking for 60s retro fashion or a contemporary pocket rocket, a Mini can be outfitted to fit your needs.