It took the Japanese to really introduce the electric starter to the bike world back in the 1960s. This naturally appalled the British, as the "proper" way to start their oil leaking 500cc was by the manual use of one's foot via the kick start. And so it would be simply unthinkable that a Mini would ever have such a negative as a fully automatic gearbox; VW was having enough problems back then convincing the public its semi-auto box made sense. The word today is stop making sense. The new six-speed Steptronic Mini Cooper S is the new black. So many of us jaded characters who would not accept an automatic slushbox need to spend a few days in the bowels of a major metropolis to appreciate just how good the combo of the blown 1.6 can be with this transmission. Upon my return to L.A. via Virgin Atlantic, I picked up the cheerful hyper blue Mini S at Airport Valet and was immediately confronted with a snarling, backed-up 405 freeway. The 45 miles to my house took close to three hours and I have done this in press cars with manual gearboxes too many times to recount. The lesson learned, judging by the appreciative stares and waves, is a Mini can still be hip even with an automatic. I arrived home without a hint of leg cramps or road rage. Of course, the true proof is how well the new Mini S does with the paddles or shifter in "let's play" mode. A weekend blast through the hills above Santa Barbara and Ojai proved the six-speed manual mode to be up to the task, but my individual preference was to leave the box in the "D" slot. It has superb shift points, plenty of revs and power and when applied correctly, can be as rewarding as the manually equipped Mini Cooper S. Even more so if you are a resident of Southern California. I wouldn't want it any other way, and I have been sold on this package automatically.
From the Hip
+ Responsive shifts in "sport drive" and manual modes
- No 6th gear in "sport drive" mode
2005 MINI Cooper S
Price as tested: $28,170
Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
1.6-liter inline four, single overhead cam, four valves per cylinder, supercharged and intercooled
Peak Power: 168 bhp @ 6000 rpm
Peak Torque: 162 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
0-60 mph: 6.8 sec.
Top Speed: 134 mph
Fuel Economy: 25 city/32 hwy