The MINI Cooper S took the world by storm in 2002 with its classic styling, incomparable handling and snarling yet efficient supercharged powerplant. Waiting lists were long, cars were scarce and you were lucky to get one. You were even luckier if you only paid sticker. Last year (2007) saw the release of a revamped car, slightly bigger, same great classic look and an even better turbocharged, direct injection engine.
We decided that a week or two in a 2007 MINI Cooper S just wasn't going to cut it. So MINI was gracious enough to give us a new Chili Red S for an entire year. The catch was, we had to pick it up in New Jersey.
I flew out Wednesday and needed to be home the following Sunday. Thirty-five hundred miles of open highway and sightseeing-all packed into five days.
The better part of the first day was spent in East Coast traffic, heading down from the Garden State through our nation's capital to find my route west, Interstate 40. My first thoughts on the S were just how comfortable it is inside. In much larger cars, I complain constantly about being cramped and not being able to find the right seating position. The sport seats are supportive, the driving position upright and near-ideal. Plus, visibility is excellent.
The engine is even better than the previous supercharged unit. There's a touch of lag just off idle, but with an extra few hundred revs, it pulls off the line nicely. Once rolling, the lag disappears. It's amazing just how much low-end pull this tiny 1.6-liter engine has. Considering it averaged 36mpg on this journey, it's even more remarkable. Some credit goes to the low weight and frontal area, but the direct injection and six-speed gearbox help as well.
The highlight of the drive had to be Memphis, Tennessee. Birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll and home of the Blues. I took the MINI to visit Sun Records' studio-it seemed fitting to bring such an innovative car to a place were a whole new style of music was invented and championed.
Driving around downtown Memphis, following the banks of the Mississippi, I discovered just how good the MINI's chassis really is. Handling is tight, it turns in better than any other front-drive car I can remember. This makes it feel little hyper on the freeway, but not too concerning. Body roll is more than I'd like, but part of that is due to the almost comical ride height. Apparently, the concern of getting hit by the three-foot-high SUV bumper is just too much.
So far, the S has been a huge hit with everyone at the magazine. You can't drive this thing and not fall in love with it. I expect even more positive responses once we get it up to the canyons or to a track.
2007 Mini Cooper S
* LayoutTransverse front engine, front-wheel drive
1.6-liter in-line four, dohc, 16-valve, turbocharged and intercooled
Peak Power: 172 hp @5500 rpmPeak Torque: 177 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm0-60 mph: 6.7 sec.Top Speed: 139 mph
* Base Price: $21,200
* Price as Equipped: $29,600
Audio Package: $1,400Convenience Package: $1,400Cold Weather Package: $300Sport Package: $1,400Limited-slip differential: $500Sport steering wheel: $350Automatic air conditioning: $300Navigation: $2,100Destination: $650
At A Glance
+ Great handling, good torque delivery, good mileage
- jacked-up ride height, no auto-up windows, cheesy speedo
"The engine is even better than the previous supercharged unit. There's a touch of lag just off idle, but with an extra few hundred revs, it pulls off the line nicely. Once rolling, the lag disappears."