So I took a trip up to my friendly Mini dealership to take a look at the new Cooper S. I had already confirmed that there was a Cooper S available for test driving, so it took little coaxing for me to make the 1 hour drive. I had to see exactly how small of a package this little thing was.
The Mini is sharp. There's nothing more to it than that. This compact hatch is extremely smooth, everything from the front fascia to the headlights to the fenders to the hood to all that other stuff on the other side of the car... I mean, it's a beautiful design for sure. Not really that "cute" either, so I doubt it will become as cliched as the Beetle has.
The S is about as obviously different from the non-S model as an M3 from a 330ci Sport. The fender badging, the dual tail pipes, the wheels (although if you can figure out which wheels are for which model out of the 90 offered, you're a genius), the gas cap... it's very subtle, yet to the trained eye it's very obvious.
Let me tell you now: it really ISN'T that small.
I brought with me my girlfriend Tara and my friend Tammy. Let's just say that 3 people are comfortably seated in this little rocket machine. 4 people would be about the max, but it's still doable and you can amuse your slightly-cramped rear passengers by offering them their own glass roof.
Stepping into the Mini you're actually well-received by a spacious cabin of appointments. The gauge cluster is radical, yes, but it's also very functional. When you're pushing this car, that center-mounted tach is the only thing you're watching (other than the road, I hope) and when you're cruising, it's actually easier
to glance over than down. By the way, the speedo is HUGE. It's gotta be about 7" wide.
The seats are very very comfortable. They do have a tad of "cheapness" in their appearence; not sure if it's just the smoothness or the actual leather on them, but it doesn't look natural. It may not have even been leather as there was no window sticker to review. The controls are all very well laid out, and the stereo sounds great (about as good as the 330's HK). It even has some decent bass.
My only real issue was the lack of a center arm rest. The shifter is kind of suspended in mid-air, and so is your arm. Other than that, the windows are auto-down but not auto-up.
Driving the Mini
One word comes to mind: FUN. This little thing scoots around town with the best of 'em. Plenty of power on tap past 2000rpm, and lots of gears to choose from (6!). Of course it is FWD, so the fun is limited to mostly understeer, but send the car to the left and swiftly back to the right and some oversteer can be felt. I imagine a sway bar would correct this quite nicely. I was fortunate enough to find a parking lot to play with.
The supercharged engine allows for plenty of muscle flexing. Shifting towards the 7000rpm redline yielded seemingly-on-par 0-60 time trials. Even in 5th at 45mph, the car has plenty of "umph" to move you through traffic with ease. Granted the torque factor isn't there like with my 330 (obviously), it is still very peppy. I didn't drive the non-S model, and didn't really want to.
To all who think the S' suspension will make for an uncomfortable morning commute, think again. This car is JUST as sophisticated as the 3-series suspension, handling pot holes and regular road bumps like a champ. Send it around a corner and it will hold on until the tires start to scream in agony...
To sum it up...
This is a hell of a car. I honestly can say that I believe this will be a huge hit, and I think the price is a steal! $26k fully loaded, this car can and WILL be a hot item. And for as little as what, $16k, you can have one without xenons, heated seats, leather, and all that other yuppy crap most of us love.
The point is, this car is small in a big way. I gotta say though, it really didn't FEEL that small. The interior is massive compared to the exterior. The engine is stronger than you'd expect. The steering is very tight and aggressive. The seats cradle you around every turn. The shifter snaps into gear with minimal effort and movement. The exhaust growls right along with the engine's supercharger whine. What more could you ask for?