Hangin’ With Mini Cooper

March 5th, 2007 by William

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This weekend was the best weather we’ve seen in the Bay Area for quite some time. Fortunately for me the unseasonable shorts and t-shirt temperatures coincided with a stint behind the wheel of an ‘07 Mini Cooper S. As a lover of old cars I had a really hard time loving the “new” Mini’s when BMW first released them. The original British made Austin Mini’s were so cool and functional, and it seemed to me that the new BMW incarnation of had sucked the lovable English soul out of the car. But I couldn’t ignore the hard facts: the car handles well, has a powerful engine and although it is quite a bit larger than the original Mini, the BMW designed Mini is small when compared with other modern cars. These are all qualities which I hold in high-esteem so I figured it was only fair that I give the new Mini the benefit of the doubt.

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While the 2007 Mini is actually physically larger than the previous model year it is nearly impossible to tell at first glance. As I walked around the 2007 Cooper S I was impressed by how much more aggressive the S model is when compared with a base Mini Cooper. A bolder front fascia combined with larger wheels and a tougher stance gives the Cooper S a purposeful look. Even though I’ve never been crazy about the new Mini’s aesthetics, especially the back, I have to admit that the ‘07 Cooper S is good looking vehicle, especially the dark grey version that I had the privilege to test. Inside, the car is comfortable and roomy enough for a tall guy like me to take on a long road trip without complaint. Certain appointments, such as the central gauge cluster, suit the retro-themed car quite some of the buttons and switches looked like they belonged on a Disneyland ride instead of inside of a road going vehicle. The controls were also a bit counterintuitive at first, but to be fair most new cars are like this now, and a few minutes is all it takes to figure things out.

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For the 2007 S BMW stuck a turbocharger on top of its new 1.6 liter Valvetronic engine. This gives the Cooper S pretty good kick with roughly 175 horsepower and slightly more torque. The turbocharged motor replaces the old supercharged Cooper S of the previous generation and provides slightly more kick with improved fuel economy and reduced CO2 emissions. The car is available in both 6 speed manual and 6 speed automatic trim. While I’m not one to complain about test driving any new car, I would have preferred the manual gearbox to the slush-box that came with the car. Like many of the sportier automatic transmissions these days this one featured a manual mode allowing you to select gears via steering wheel mounted paddles. But even in sport mode the up-shifts had the same slow and slippery engagement that a normal automatic transmission provides. Aside from that the gear box was great, down shifting quickly and never missing a beat.

On the road the Mini is a blast. As long as you are comfortable with your man hood you can rip around in this car all day and maintain a fat grin on your face. The turbocharger is almost unnoticeable delivering smooth power without the normal quirks that turbochargers often bring to the table. The suspension is taught but not at all rough. The steering is a bit elastic, but has more than enough precision to point the Mini wherever you want to go. With 175 horsepower there is a bit of torque-steer when you are hard on the throttle in a turn, but I never found it unnerving or unpredictable.

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As I piloted the Mini Cooper S in the East Bay hills I had a good dice with a late model GTI VR6. To his credit the driver, who had a kid on board, put up a pretty good pace allowing me to really see where the Cooper S shined and where it came up a bit short. In all honestly I found very few short comings. More than enough power, predictable and grippy handling, a comfortable ride, and with the sunroof open and the warm air coming into the cockpit I could think of only a handful of vehicles that I would rather be driving.

All in all the 2007 Mini Cooper S really impressed me. Its combination of performance, practicality and fun make it the type of car that I might buy new off the lot if I could afford it (in the $30,000 dollar range to get behind the wheel). And while the original English Mini will always remain a proper Mini in my mind, the new Cooper S has certainly earned my respect and admiration.

-Bill Mertz

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About William

I am a twenty something car enthusiast. I spend most of my days working in a small restoration shop in Northern California that specializes in vintage Alfa Romeos. I also manage to do some freelance writing for a handful of automotive publications. When I'm not at the shop I can usually be found working on one of my own project cars, out driving on a good windy road or good jeep trail. Despite what my girlfriend says cars aren't what defines me, they are only what I do. When I have a chance I also love to go camping, play sports or generally do any type of outdoor activity. I don't take myself to seriously, so I hope you don't either.

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