No one but a car geek would spot it, but the 2007 Mini Cooper S gets some big changes over its predecessor. Notably, the new Cooper is about 2.5 inches longer. There are also a few styling differences from the previous generation, a new engine, and an HD radio option. But it doesn't compromise the Mini look at all, and its performance is even better than its predecessor's.
When BMW bought the brand and started churning out the little cars in 2001, we couldn't imagine a better take on an old car. The original Minis are classics, and BMW successfully maintained the look in a larger, better engineered car. For 2007, the extra length is hardly noticeable. A more obvious styling upgrade are S emblems on the front fenders, attached to more substantial chrome insets. Our test Cooper S was yellow with black bonnet stripes and a black cap, a paint scheme that garnered us many envious looks as we tooled around town.
We've tested a lot of small, sporty hatchbacks recently, such as the Mazda Mazdaspeed Mazda3 and the Volkswagen GTI. The Mini bests them all in looks and quality. Although the Mini has a smaller engine, the power train makes the car feel more drivable, with the engine and transmission finely engineered to work together. And this engineering quality extends to other aspects of the car, such as the audio system.
Test the tech: Sport parking
Mini makes a big deal in its advertisements about the virtues of small cars. We, being urban dwellers, can appreciate the sentiment. To test out the size of the Mini, and our own parking skills, editors Wayne Cunningham and Kevin Massy challenged each other to see who could parallel park the Mini in the smallest amount of space.
We first looked up the specs on the car to get its length, which is a little more than 12 feet. Then we marked out a parallel parking spot 5 feet longer than the car. We used pylons to mark the four corners of the parking spot. After each successful parking attempt, we would bring the pylons in by a foot. As soon as one of our competitors touched a pylon with the car, the game would be over.
On a coin toss, Kevin got to go first. He pulled up to the space, then cranked the wheel as he backed up, easily putting the Mini in the parking spot. Wayne followed Kevin's example, dropping the Mini into the spot between the pylons. We pulled the pylons in to reduce the size of the parking spot by a foot, and let the contest resume. Both Kevin and Wayne managed the second, smaller parking space easily. Both editors took note that, although the pylons looked close in front and back, there was still a lot of room to maneuver due to the Mini's small size.
After the second run, the pylons were again brought in a foot. Kevin took his turn, backing the car into the spot while turning the wheel. But a bad start put him too far from the curb, forcing him to go back and forth in the spot to try and get closer. His repeated attempts to get the car within 18 inches of the curb eventually resulted in him hitting the front pylon, either by mistake or a desire to end the frustration. To avoid a tie, Wayne got behind the wheel and put the Mini neatly into the parking spot.
Judging from Wayne's final parking job, the car could have fit into an even smaller spot without touching the fore and aft pylons, but both competitors were happy to end it at this point. Besides proving the superior parker, we also showed that the Mini can fit into a 15-foot parking space.
In the cabin
Along with an upgraded body, the Mini gets a revamped interior, as well. The first indication that this isn't last year's Mini is the key, or lack of one. Just like the BMW 328xi we tested recently, our Mini came with an electronic key, although instead of the BMW's oblong piece of plastic, the Mini's is disc-shaped. We pushed the electronic key into its dashboard slot and started the car by pushing the engine start button. There was also an amusing double beep sound, reminiscent of a video game, when we inserted the key.
As Mini is owned by BMW, we weren't surprised to see the same MP3 and WMA CD interface that we saw on the BMW 328xi. This interface makes good use of a two-line monochrome radio display in classic BMW orange-on-black. Our Mini had a single CD player, and a six-disc changer is available as a dealer option. It also came standard with an auxiliary audio input, which we couldn't find until we consulted the manual. This aux jack is hidden below a row of toggle switches at the bottom of the stack.
Beyond these audio sources, our Mini also came with Sirius satellite radio and HD radio. The interface for Sirius, similar to the CD interface, is good, making the best use of a two-line display. Looking at the car's pricing sheet, we were at first surprised to see that Sirius was a $950 option, until we found out that it's a lifetime subscription.
We were eager to try out the HD radio, but were left unimpressed. We're lucky in the San Francisco Bay Area to have more than 20 stations broadcasting in HD. But most of the stations broadcasting in this format already have powerful transmitters, so it was difficult to hear the difference in audio quality. HD radio also allows more data to stream out with the music, but not every station takes full advantage of this capability. Some stations didn't bother to show song or artist names. And HD radio has the same distance limitations as normal broadcast. As we headed down Highway 1, on the coast, we started to get static on the HD radio station we were listening to.