2007 Mini Cooper S Review
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2007 Mini Cooper S Review
The original Mini lasted nearly unchanged for forty years. The pace of life and automotive evolution is a little faster today, and so the first-generation new Mini gave way to its replacement earlier this year, after a mere five years.
The original Mini was largely designed by one man, Alec Issigonis, for the transportation needs of post-World War II Great Britain. When it debuted in August 1959 as the Austin Seven (a direct homage to the car of the same name that was Britain's equivalent to the Ford Model T in the 1920s) and Morris Mini-Minor, it was revolutionary. With four tiny ten-inch wheels pushed to the corners of its boxy ten foot-long body, unibody construction with fully independent suspension in an era when most cars were still built like trucks, with separate body and chassis, and the engine mounted transversely in front, driving the front wheels, it was unlike anything that came before. And very prescient - just look at nearly every car built today.
Quickly just called "the Mini", Issigonis's brainchild was the perfect vehicle for Britain in the mod Sixties. Its appeal cut across class lines, and Minis were bought and driven by the working class and royalty alike. They were also enthusiastically raced, often humiliating larger and more-powerful cars by virtue of their excellent suspension and nimble handling. Formula One constructor John Cooper was called upon to make a hot-rod version, and the Mini Cooper was born in the early Sixties.
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 new Mini Cooper - Mini being the brand and Cooper now the model - debuted here early in 2002. The second-generation new Mini, still made in England, made its European debut on November 18, 2006, which would have been Sir Alec's 100th birthday. It made it to these shores in early calendar year 2007.
(And a quick parenthetical footnote - to gain a quick foothold in the small-car market in 1927, a German manufacturer then based in Eisenach began building Austin Sevens under license, to be sold as the Dixi 3/15 DA. That company we know today as BMW.)
Unless you are a confirmed Mini enthusiast, you may not have noticed the new models. Visually the differences are subtle, more akin to the usual mid-product cycle "styling freshening" than the look of an all-new model. But inside and out, nearly every piece and panel is different. Underneath are new and more-powerful engines for both the naturally-aspirated Mini Cooper and the forced-induction Mini Cooper S. The old S-model engine's supercharger has been replaced by a turbocharger. Both now come standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, with six-speed automatics optional.
The good news is that despite all the change, the Mini's basic character has been left alone. It's still quick, economical, and cheeky. And in that, it is a direct heir to the original, which was one of the most important cars in automotive history.
I first drove the second-generation (or would that be third?) Mini Cooper, in S trim, at a journalists' street and track event last Spring. It was just like the original, only a little more so - quick in acceleration, especially at higher engine revs, and entertainingly fun whether driven moderately on the street or harder on the track.
I've just finished a week with one at home, and it works just as well around town and on the highways and byways. A MiniS makes quick work of merging into traffic, and its fierce acceleration, good roadholding, and fine brakes work just as well on the scenic route. In town, parking is a snap because of the small size - but there is more room inside than you might think, and the appointment level is several steps ahead of your basic economy hatchback.
Driven with no regard for fuel economy whatsoever, and with as little highway droning as possible, I still got 28 mpg, and far more smiles than miles per gallon.
APPEARANCE: The current Mini is large only in comparison with the original. Version 2.1 has grown a couple of inches in length, mostly for improved front crush space for collision and pedestrian safety reasons, but that's hard to see even parked next to an older model. Don't mess up a good thing - the overall shape is nearly identical, two boxes with the wheels at the extreme corners - the "flying shoebox" lives! - but all panels are just a touch different, as are the headlights, taillights, and grille. The "letterbox" air intake on the S continues as the major visual differentiation between models, although the grills and other trim bits also differ.
COMFORT: Issigonis's original concept has been validated many times over, but perhaps nowhere quite as well as in the Mini, original and new. Two boxes, a smaller one for the drivetrain and a larger one for the passengers. The laws of physics have not been broken, there is not more space inside than out, but it might seem like it. And with an interior redesign, there is a little more space inside this year, if only in fractions of inches here and there. A little more front legroom, a touch more width - but four people can fit in reasonable comfort, although rear-seat access is typical of two-door cars. The seats are as good as any from corporate parent BMW, which is to say great. The front buckets are manually-adjustable, with multiple-texture leatherette upholstery, optionally heated. The rear seatback flips down 50/50, and leg and head room are comfortable up to about five-ten.
As before, luggage space with the rear in place is tight, but as a two-passenger car the Mini is quite spacious, with cargo access aided by its hatchback design. The tach is still on the steering column, the oversized white-faced speedometer in the center of the dash, and the window lifts are in a "rack mount" enclosure, but all instruments, and the instrument panel have been revised. Climate controls are humorously shaped like the Mini logo.
Individuality is the Mini way, especially in interior fittings, with a wide range of materials available, including wood, brushed aluminum, chrome trim, and various color and lighting options.
SAFETY: The Mini meets worldwide safety standards, not only current but for the foreseeable future. An extra-large front deformation zone, another one at the rear, and a strong safety cell around the passenger cabin form the basis, and are assisted by six airbags. Nimble handling and excellent four-wheel antilock disc brakes with traction and corner braking control help out in the active safety area.
RIDE AND HANDLING: As ever, a Mini is about as close as you can come to a street-legal shifter kart. It's short, wide, and has a low center of gravity. MacPherson struts are still used at the front (just like in BMWs), but the rear suspension has been completely revised. An aluminum-intensive multi-link design called "central axle" design by Mini, it ensures maximum tire contact. The S is tuned a little firmer than the regular Mini, and it's plenty firm but not jarringly so. It sticks well, and if more is desired, an even firmer sports suspension is available. Tires are run-flats.
PERFORMANCE: Mini engines still are 1.6 liters in displacement, but they are different engines than before. Dual overhead cams, with four valves per cylinder, replace the old single overhead cam design. The regular Mini's makes 118 horsepower, up a bit from the previous 115, and uses BMW's "Valvetronic" variable valve control system. The S now has twin-scroll turbocharging with direct fuel injection, variable cam phasing on the intake cam, and a high 10.5:1 compression ratio for maximum efficiency. For short periods of time in full-throttle driving, it can operate in an "overboost" condition, which increases torque from 177 lb-ft (from 1600 through 5000 rpm, a nice flat and fat torque curve) to 192 for extra acceleration. Response increases with throttle application - press gently on the accelerator, and the Mini will be quite civil, and reasonably quick. Foot to the floor it's a nasty little hooligan in the best way, with a definite tug on the steering wheel and a strong desire to head forward very quickly. Character at its best, no boring appliance here! The smooth-shifting six-speed manual gearbox adds to enjoyment. The Mini Cooper S has a definite supermotard personality. Despite that, fuel consumption is modest. My 28 mpg overall average was with a heavy foot.
CONCLUSIONS: Maximum fun, minimum size? Must be a Mini, especially the Cooper S.
2007 Mini Cooper S
Base Price $ 21,200 Price As Tested $ 26,170 Engine Type turbocharged 16-valve aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection and variable intake cam phasing Engine Size 1.6 liters / 97 cu. in. Horsepower 172 @ 5500 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 177 @ 1600-5000 rpm (192 with overboost) Transmission 6-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 97.1 in. / 146.2 in. Curb Weight 2668 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 15.6 Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline recommended Tires 195/55 VR16 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 29 / 36 / 28 0 to 60 mph 6.7 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Laser Blue Metallic paint $ 450 Convenience Package - includes: universal garage door opener, comfort access system, auto dimming rear-view mirror, center arm rest, rain sensor and auto headlights $ 1,400 Premium Package - includes: multifunction steering wheel with cruise, dual-pane panoramic sunroof, automatic climate control $ 1,400 Chrome line interior $ 200 Color line dark gray $ 200 Interior surface brushed alloy $ 300 heated front seats $ 270 Rear fog lamps $ 100 Destination charge $ 650