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2007 Mini Cooper S Review - VIDEO ENHANCED

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Model: 2007 Mini Cooper S
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged inline four
Horsepower/Torque: 172 hp @ 5500 rpm/177 lb-ft @ 1600-5000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual or automatic with manual mode
Wheelbase: 97.1 in.
Length/Width/Height: 145.6 x 66.3 x 55.4 in.
Tires: P195/55R16
Cargo volume: 5.7-24.0 cu. ft.
Fuel economy: 30 mpg city/37 mpg highway
Sticker: $18,700 (Mini Cooper base), $21,850 (Mini Cooper S base)

The Bottom Line: Like its original BMC predecessor and the BMW reincarnation, this new Mini has phenomenal power for its size, go-kart handling, and surprising comfort. However, it is also quirky (try to tune the radio) and has one of the most poorly designed interiors I have ever seen.

When the first Mini Cooper came out in the1960s, I liked the car for its practicality, but my wife (wisely) wouldn’t let me get one. She also wouldn’t let me get the larger version, even in MG1100 form.

The reincarnation by BMW (who bought the Rover/BMC names and cars) five years ago brought a new, slightly larger Mini with all the charm and functionality of the original but modernized and made safer. A good redesign for 2007 has refined the Mini even more so that it is still a sturdy compact car with excellent power and go-kart handling.

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In a full day of driving all the mechanical iterations of the new Mini (Mini Cooper manual and automatic, Mini Cooper S manual and automatic), I have no qualms about recommending it to anyone who may have considered either of the previous generations. However, there are caveats and I think anyone considering the car should be aware of these.

For one, no matter which variation you choose, you will have serious problems keeping it below the speed limit. We drove on highways with speed limits as 65 mph, and still had trouble keeping the car below 80. Cruise control is a definite asset. Likewise, on more winding roads, the excellent handling of the Mini almost encourages breaking the law. It’s easier to behave in town, but the driver still must keep on his or her toes.

I found the engine, both in normally aspirated and turbocharged form, to be relatively quiet. It’s a double overhead cam unit, incorporating BMW’s VANOS technology (spell out) that accounts for its smoothness compared to most other fours. Power is 177 hp for the turbo, 114 hp for the normally aspirated, which is more than enough for a car that weighs in at a mere 2650 lbs (see above re: battling the speed limit).

The automatic transmission ($1,350) has a ‘Sport” mode with more aggressive shift points. You can also put it into “manual” mode, where you can shift it like a manual, using either the gear lever or steering wheel-mounted paddles. I did find, however, that in really challenging situations – like a gymkhana, the paddle arrangement wasn’t exactly to my liking, and I did better with the sport mode.

Handling and ride quality were also very good. The Mini has a modified MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link rear. Many cars use this same geometry (or similar ones), but the Mini’s unique configuration, with the wheels pushed nearly out to the corners, improves handling. Much is made of the Mini’s “go-kart” handling. Well, it ain’t exactly, but the size of the car and the ambiance give it the same feel.

The Mini has a decent trunk at 5.7 cubic feet, made better by its squared-off rear end. In addition, the rear seats fold flat to increase cargo capacity to 24 cubic feet. At the introduction, one owner said he’s a mountain biker and can fit his bike, with the front wheel and tire removed, in the car to travel to his destination. In addition, the rear seat, while tight, can hold a child seat and occasional adult passengers. The flat roof also allows two sunroofs, one for front and one for rear passengers.

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Now for the negatives. In keeping with tradition – and a worldwide market that includes right- and left-hand drive – the Mini has a center-mounted oversized speedometer – that’s essentially useless. Fortunately, there’s a small digital speedo mounted inside the tachometer that’s right in front of the driver and is more useful. And for some obscure reason, part of the radio is incorporated into the analog speedometer, while another part is lower, in the center stack. The CD player is also randomly located in the center stack. There’s also an auxiliary iPod input jack, but you really have to look to find it.

HVAC controls are at the bottom of the center stack. If you have a couple of water bottles in the cupholders, good luck at finding these controls. There’s also an array of toggle switches with protective guards around them (thank Nader for that idea) that are inane.

I understand that true Mini cognoscenti love the quirkiness of the i.p., much in the same way Saab owners like their transmission-mounted ignition switches, but this is ridiculous. Maybe I’m complaining too much, but I feel the dash layout is horrible.

There are more than 150 TRILLION different combinations of Mini, what with the colors engines, sport packages, and other options. Unfortunately, all of them include the dash.

Fortunately, all also include one of the most fun driving experiences on the road today. One that shouldn‘t be missed.

2007 The Auto Page Syndicate