MINI. And once you
get behind the wheel
of the new second
generation Cooper S
youll love it all the
more. Because its the
same. Only better...
THE MINI COOPER S is one of
the few cars where any "My other car's a Porsche" sticker displayed in its rear window
is likely to be genuine. Full credit must go to BMW for creating such a classless car. As with Rolls-Royce, they
have captured the essence of 'Britishness'. In fact, our German cousins do seem to have a fortuitous knack of reinventing famous British brands not only BMW and Rolls-Royce, but Aston Martin too. Aston's chief executive, Ulrich Bez, who happens to hail from Germany, has transformed Aston Martin into Britain's 'coolest' brand while Volkswagen has also worked the Germanic magic on Bentley.
But back to the MINI. Sales have rocketed to 200,000 a year, are still accelerating and BMW expect to see this figure hit 300,000 in the not too distant future. With the MINI, BMW has imbued a modern machine with the mischievous sense of fun and adventure of the Sixties a car that can be enjoyed as much by a one-car family as by somebody who also owns a 911.
Some pundits have criticised the second-generation MINI for looking
so much like its iconic predecessor. There are just two points that you should note. First, that's exactly the gripe made about each sub-sequent (but always provably better) 'new' 911. And secondly, that's precisely what MINI (and 911) customers worldwide want.
Sure, the new model's nose is slightly longer (38mm), higher (60mm) and a tad more pronounced. And every single body panel is entirely new, as is just about everything under the skin. The foregoing owes much to new crash-test regulations for pedestrian impact; the latter
to the fact that BMW could see a way of building an even better mousetrap. Although the bulkhead and floor structure have been carried over, the second-generation MINI is essentially a totally new car because almost everything else between the front bumper and
the rear light units has been changed or substantially improved.
As keen drivers we're always thrilled to road test a new performance car, whether it costs £235,000 or far less. We were lucky enough to be among the first to road test the Ascari KZ1 and now we're one of the first to fully evaluate the new turbocharged Cooper S. Both generated huge smiles all round. But before you race down to the showrooms, be aware that for the moment you can only buy a new Cooper or new Cooper S. A new diesel MINI, MINI One and Convertible will follow in due course.
The first wedge of good news is that the new model has retained its appealing to both sexes boxy charisma. Walk up and grab a door handle. The first thing that's different is that you don't need a key to unlock the door. That's done automatically for you by the new keyless entry/start service. Next, the frameless window drops half an inch
for easier door opening. Swing open the door and drop into one of the new-design seats and you'll feel even more at home. The visual ambience has cranked up a notch, too, with improved fit and finish. However, many of the original's cheeky and unique design clues
such as the retro toggle switches and the large central speedometer remain.
Keen drivers will be pleased to note that, as well as more room in the footwells, the seating position remains one of the best around. The front seats are noticeably more comfortable and supportive, with first rate bolstering. And even if they're only manually operated, they're still smoothly adjustable. Another plus: the chunky leather-rimmed wheel adjusts for height as well as reach and also improved are the stylish door trims which are now sturdier and offer easier access to the pockets.
The dash and fascia design continues the previous theme and the larger central speedo houses fingertip audio and trip computer controls. Graphics are dark grey on silver that turn a restful orange at night. Below this, in a centre stack narrowed to yield more legroom, sits the climate control panel flanked by notched vertical rotary-wheel controls for the fan speed and temperature selection. You do, however, need
to take your eyes of the road if you want to see what temperature you're setting.
By contrast, the stand-alone rev-counter mounted atop the steering column is exactly where it ought to be. The digital road speed read-out incorporated into the rev-counter is spot-on and can, should you wish, display the external temperature. So good in fact that I don't think I glanced once at the central speedometer! Also earning a thumbs-up are the four fascia 360-degree swivelling air vents.
Totally new is the Star Trek-style circular key for the keyless entry and start. Before pressing the START button you need to activate the ignition circuit by 'docking' the circular key into a slot in the dashboard to the right of the steering wheel. Another new cabin function is the adjustable-tone ambient downlighting that, dependent on the mood of the moment, can be cycled from pale purple through orange to blue.
The MINI definitely feels bigger inside and there's more knee-room in the back. The built-in outer rear armrests and oddments pockets are equally welcome. Note, too, that there were no complaints from adult rear passengers less than six feet tall all of whom had good things
to say about the rear sunroof. The boot has gained a little extra but remains compact, accommodating a couple of large holdalls but not much more. Don't forget it's a MINI! Extra flexibility is offered by the 50:50 split folding rear seats which increase capacity from 160 to 680 litres: you'll be amazed by what can be fitted into the back of a MINI with them down.
Getting down to business, this new MINI comes with a brand-new drivetrain. The BMW-designed all-aluminium 1.6-litre twin-cam four-cylinder engine features direct injection and a twin-scroll turbocharger, and serves up 175bhp and 177lb ft of torque between 1,600 and 5,000rpm. Under full-bore acceleration there's more: an 'overboost' system pumps out another 15lb ft to make a storming 192lb ft. With such a broad spread of torque, 2nd 3rd and 4th gears are vividly entertaining when you're pressing on. Enhanced by a Sport mode,
a six-speed manual Getrag 'box takes good care of gearchanging.
Against the clock, that means a 0-62mph time of 7.1 seconds and
a top speed of 140mph (the supercharged S ran to 138mph and took
7.2 seconds). Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are also better: 40.9mpg combined and a 20 per cent improvement to 164g/km respectively. Urban and Touring figures are 31.7 and 49.6mpg. Admittedly we caned it, but still recorded an overall test figure of 35.9mpg.
While the eager-beaver whine of the old model's supercharger went with the territory, the new turbocharged powerplant puts on a far
more sophisticated show. On the move, the free-revving new engine smoother and sans whine feels every bit as eager as the super-charged unit. Throttle response is crisp and pressure from your right foot is answered immediately (there's no discernible lag) by a palpable surge of power. It's a real joy flicking up and down the six well-spaced gear ratios and the crisp Getrag 'box offers constant opportunities to indulge the engine's enthusiasm. And yes, the soundtrack at full chat remains grin-inducing.
Yet around town it can be as sweet as a puppy and it cruises motor-ways with an air of refinement and big-car fluency. Now that's pro-gress a long drive in the supercharged Cooper S was not something to be undertaken lightly. But in the new turboed S it's as gratifying
as a bat-out-of-hell, rocketing along the back roads. For the record, during our week-long test there wasn't a single rattle or squeak any-where inside the cabin. Wind, road and tyre noise are all well supp-ressed at speed. Legal limit cruising calls for 2,800rpm in sixth and pick-up from 70mph is clean, even left in top gear. The longer sus-pension travel takes the sting out of potholes and speed humps
and that's with the beefed-up optional Sport suspension.
All this, and we haven't used the 'F' word yet! Actually, we've been saving it for the handling. The lighter engine and re-designed front suspension help endow it with real front-end poise. Combine that chassis-led sure-footedness with a low centre of gravity and instant-aneous reactions (Hint: leave the Sport mode engaged to enjoy even sharper throttle and steering responses). And there you have it
a guaranteed recipe for driving Fun!
The Cooper S eats twisty roads for breakfast, changing direction
with a tidy eagerness few other cars can better. But you know, the really, really clever thing about the new S is just how accessible it is. Whether you're a novice or the next Nuvolari, its quick-witted reactions make it thrilling drive at all speeds. Throw in beautifully weighted controls and the new S's roadholding dynamics are like a
five-star one-meal menu. And all the ingredients end up making
a double helping of Fun.
Much of the latest MINI's superb front-wheel drive chuckability is down to the steering. The new electrically-assisted rack is communicative but lighter at the rim. And with just 2.4 turns lock-to-lock, it's precise and turns in crisply which makes placing it accurately on the road an absolute doddle. Running 17-inch light alloy wheels shod with 205/45 section run-flat tyres and the optional Sports suspension, it's always wonderfully eager to change direction.
Not only does the Cooper S dart into corners with a gleeful 'me-first' attitude, but it powers out the other end with equal commitment. Clever traction and stability electronics are on hand to keep every-thing shipshape without spoiling the fun, and the all-round disc brakes (vented at the front) supply reassuring stopping power. Add to that
a compliant ride that's a vast improvement on the last model and it's easy to see why getting behind the wheel of the new Cooper S is
The basic Cooper S costs £15,995. For that you get, amongst other things, sportier styling, sportier seats (with cloth upholstery) and sportier suspension, 16-inch alloys with Run-Flat tyres, Run-Flat Indicator, Easy Entry function, electric front windows (one-shot up/ down driver's) and door mirrors, tinted glass, roof spoiler, Sport mode gearbox function, stand-alone rev-counter, radio/single CD, auto-
matic rear wash/wipe, automatic drive-away central locking and twin chrome exhaust pipes. There's also a host of safety-related kit including ABS, Automatic Stability Control + Traction, Corner Braking Control, Electronic Braking Distribution, smart airbags for driver and passenger, front side airbags and curtain head airbags.
Our test car was fitted with £4,000 worth of options, including the comprehensive Chili pack that for £1,875 adds 17-inch alloys with
Run-Flats, bi-xenon headlights with powered headlamp washers, cloth/ leather upholstery, manual air conditioning, an on-board computer, Sports suspension and a three-spoke Sports leather steering wheel. Dynamic Stability Control, metallic paint, multi-function for the steering wheel, a very nice panoramic twin panel electric glass sunroof (that doesn't eat into cabin headroom), two-tone leather upholstery and some upgraded trim account for the other two grand.
Built in Britain and brimming with 'Britishness', the very quick new Cooper S may be more refined, but it still oozes that 'Fun' more than enough to attract both new and repeat buyers. In fact, many reckon that it's the best riding, best handling front-wheel drive car you
can buy today. We're just pleased to be able to report that the zippy second-generation Cooper S continues the tradition established so successfully by its predecessor. It's a real hoot to drive. Owning one
is also almost as enjoyable financially, thanks to retained values that are about as good as they get. And MINI is continuing to offer the incredibly good value for money 'tlc' servicing deal for a bargain £150. What more could you want?
MINI Cooper S (2007) | £15,995
Maximum speed: 140mph | 0-62mph: 7.1 seconds
Overall test MPG: 35.9mpg | Power: 175bhp | Torque: 177/192lb ft
Visit MINI's website