- Excellent handling for a FWD chassis.
- Decent power to match handling.
- Stand-out styling.
- Acceptable fuel economy.
- Enough interior room for four adults.
- Supercharged engine lacks typical BMW smoothness.
- Non-ergonomic interior controls.
- Stand-out styling.
- Larger wheels and tires cause harsh ride.
- Limited luggage space.
Press Coverage :
The Mini epitomizes British racing heritage. The Cooper used to go up against high-powered rear-wheel-drive machines in numerous rallies, and the little front-driver showed them their place on the podium. The original Mini was such a breakthrough in design back in 1959, that no one dared fiddle with Sir Alec Issigonis's classic right up till 2000. Then of course BMW stuck their German noses in Rover's business and the rest, as they say, is history. The original left the American car market due to tightening U.S. emissions standards. The original Mini go-kart is no more, and what we get instead is a bloated blob of its older self. While this may be heresy for Mini loyalists, the truth is the new Mini is an extremely agile little bugger.
Still built in England, the Mini is no more a poor man's first car. Rather, it is an overpriced sporty hatchback with retro styling appeal similar to the New Beetle and the PT Cruiser. The 4-seat Mini is one of the smallest cars sold in the United States, but priced similar to cars like the Celica and the VW GTI. The base engines are a joke, but the supercharged Cooper S has a 170 hp powerplant for 2005, up from 163 hp earlier. BMW developed these inline fours especially for the Mini. A six-speed manual transmission is standard for the Cooper S, with no available automatic. Antilock 4-wheel disc brakes are standard, as are front torso side airbags and front and rear head-protecting side airbags, along with keyless entry, power windows, CD stereo and split-folding rear seatback. Changes for the 2005 model year are minimal, but the biggest news is the addition of a convertible model.
The fully automatic top will open completely in just 15 seconds and the top will feature an integrated sliding top that can be opened up to 15 inches while driving. To open the top fully, first the sliding roof is opened, then the soft top folds to the rear. The roof columns are automatically retracted and the rear side windows are lowered at the same time. The Z-folding mechanism folds the top compactly behind the seats were it is stowed without a tonneau cover.
The Mini Cooper S is differentiated from the lower slugs by its functional hood scoop and sport suspension with 16-inch run-flat tires. Sport-package options include an antiskid system and 17-inch rims. Xenon headlamps, navigation system, rear-obstacle warning, sunroof, leather interior trim, and heated seats also are optional. Dealer-installed Union Jack or American flag roof graphics are available too. Another option is a pricey performance upgrade by John Cooper Works, which bumps up the power to 200 hp, while also adding styling bits and pieces.
The boosted four cylinder is not short on power or torque by any means, but they lack the smoothness usually associated with Bimmer's inline sixes. The wheelbase is relatively long compared to the overall length, and ride quality is choppy due to the taut suspension. The 16-inch rims, with tires which have nearly rigid run-flat sidewalls, don't help either. However, the Cooper can handle high-speed dips and rises with ease. The Mini can turn on a dime, with outstanding steering response and feel. The low-profile tires pay dividends with sharp reflexes and uncanny grip in turns, exhibiting the road-holding stability of a heavier car. Stopping power and pedal feel is first-rate. The Mini's unique multi-arm rear axle, supported by a reinforced stabilizer bar, ensure optimum road-holding at all times. Balanced weight distribution also aids the stunning road-holding capabilities and razor-sharp turn-in. In fact, on the twistiest of tracks, the new Mini can outrun a new Lamborghini--it really is that good. And if you didn't know, the Minis in both The Italian Job movies did their own stunts.
What you notice first about driving the Mini is that its electrohydraulic speed-sensitive steering is heavy. It's also very quick. You don't often find those traits in the same bed. It'll cause you to hit apexes too early for the first few days, and a strong sneeze on the freeway can land you in a new lane. Tracking is otherwise good for a car with a 97.1-inch wheelbase. Not so the turning circle, which exceeds a Honda CR-V's. As if to match the steering, the clutch and shift linkages are also relatively high-effort devices. The accelerator pedal is adequately positioned for heel-and-toeing, but it emits a nasty metal-to-metal clack every time it meets the fire wall.
Those heavy secondary controls aren't so much disappointing as surprising. We expected the light, airy reflexes of, say, a Civic Si. The Cooper S perpetually feels porkier than its weight suggests. After 10 minutes of driving, you'll forget you're in a small car. That's fine, but at urban speeds the heft begins to translate as a kind of slow-wittedness, notably in traffic. BMW, which owns the company, may well have induced this Teutonicity on purpose, fearful of Yanks who'd reject a Lilliputian runabout unless it felt dense, substantial, able to fend off SUVs.
Climb into the front seats and you'll find them nicely sculpted out of soft leatherette (vinyl made to look like leather). The cushioning seems sufficient at first, but after being beat up for many miles by the Mini's stiff suspension and hard run-flat tires, it no longer seems adequate. The sport seats have height adjustment for both driver and passenger, but the adjustment levers feel cheap.
The Mini's rear seat is surprisingly roomy for such a compact car, but not an area in which you'd want to stow your best friend or spouse for more than a few quick miles. Stashing kids in the back is certainly easier, but anyone over 10 may find something to complain about, especially if full-size front-seat occupants have their seats positioned all the way back.
Obviously, this car is meant for buzzing around town, as there is barely enough room in the rear cargo area to stow a weekend's worth of luggage for two. There's just 5.3 cubic feet of cargo space, unless you fold the 50/50-split rear seats in an effort to utilize every inch of the Mini's maximum 24 cubic feet of capacity.
1964-2000 Austin-Rover Mini Cooper S
1,275 cc / 76 hp / 71 lb-ft / 1432 lbs / 0-60 mph 11.2 sec.