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August 14, 2007 > Auto Review - Mini Cooper S

Auto Review - Mini Cooper S

The Mini Cooper, available in four versions, is built in England by its BMW parents. The Mini Cooper's engine is normally aspirated, and the Mini Cooper S gets a turbocharged power plant. You can get a convertible model with either engine.

Today's Mini Cooper is a modern recreation of the 1959 original available in England although quite a bit larger.

Our test car was a 2007 S version. Its 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder motor develops 172 HP and 177 foot pounds of torque. The normally aspirated engine in the base Mini Cooper develops 118 HP and 114 foot pounds of torque. Engines in convertible versions develop about 3 HP less than the hardtop car's engines. The Mini Cooper's EPA numbers are 32 mpg city and 40 mpg on the highway cycle while the S version numbers are 29/36.

A 6-speed manual transmission is the base unit for the entire Mini series although a 6-speed automatic is available.

The 2007 Mini, when compared to the previous 2002 to 2006 model, has a newly designed engine and the S version is now turbocharged (the earlier ones were supercharged). The car is almost 3 inches longer with a completely redesigned interior.

The interior is well planned with the largest speedometer in any vehicle made today. In the center, it dominates the dashboard adding many functions besides showing your speed. It houses an innovative gauge that shows current fuel level. The all-important tachometer is directly in front of the driver, as it should be, but the shift knob seemed too big for the car.

You have five choices of interior background lighting from orange to blue. The front seats are good, and I liked them but the back seats are just about useless for people with legs. However, it's a great place for small kids in car seats.

The base Mini Cooper hardtop starts at $18,700. The S version starts at $21,850. The Cooper convertible starts at $22,600 with the S convertible starting at $26,050. An automatic transmission adds $1,350 to the price. A panoramic sunroof is $850 and air conditioning is $300. Navigation systems cost between $1,700 and $2,100. Minis have a choice of five or six option packages.

One feature I really liked was the "Hill Assist" system. It works with the manual transmission. This system keeps the brakes on for a few seconds while you are on a hill and trying to start out from a stop sign or red light. It gives you plenty of time to get the motor revving and let out the clutch before rolling backwards into the car behind you.

Our test car had the $500 sport suspension option. It made the ride firm and probably a little rough for most people. Sports car people would love it. The Mini weighs in at a trim 2,546 pounds with the S only 122 pounds more.

My only complaint about the Mini Cooper S was the torque steer. Cars with a transverse engine driving the front wheels are subject to torque steer because the drive shafts to each front wheel are different lengths. As you accelerate the car hard, it tends to want to dart left or right, not straight. Up to about 80% power levels the torque steer was not a problem. Under hard acceleration it was very noticeable, and you had to plan for it. I drive test cars on a twisty, bumpy, mountain road. The Cooper S was quite a handful when the engine was on boost. It wanted to dart from side to side depending on bounce or rebound position of the shocks.

The Mini Cooper S is a cute, fun car for two adults. But if you want to drive it hard, you need to ratchet up your concentration level and be acutely aware of what the Mini wants to do.



By Dick Ryan
Freelance Automotive Journalist
Member of the Western Automotive Journalists
RRYAN@FRK.COM

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