Although our Mini came with the six-speaker standard stereo system, we were impressed by the audio quality. It is certainly not the best we've ever heard, but the speakers produce a strong, rich sound. The separation and range are both very good, especially for a stock system. The bass and high end aren't as extreme as on more premium systems, but we couldn't overwhelm the speakers at high volume, attesting to the Mini's all-encompassing engineering quality. For even better audio quality, there is a 10-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio system available.
Although we didn't have the Bluetooth cell phone option in our Mini, we did notice a few details suggesting Mini has done a better job of integrating it. There is a telephone button among the audio controls (which did nothing on our car), and a grille for a microphone on the rear-view mirror mount. Navigation is also available for the Mini, although not included on our test car.
Another detail we found pleasing appeared when we took the Mini out at night. There are lavender accent lights on the rear-view mirror mount and on the B pillars, which add a nice little glow that doesn't interfere with night vision.
Under the hood
Unlike the previous Mini Cooper S, the 2007 version uses a turbocharger instead of a supercharger, so we were thinking it should change its name to the Mini Cooper T. Semantics aside, the new power train delivers powerful acceleration with little discernable turbo lag. Under hard acceleration, there is a little torque steer, but it's very manageable. And the new Mini doesn't compromise on fuel economy or handling.
When we took delivery of our test car, we were at first disappointed that it came with an automatic transmission, as Mini's six-speed manual is very fun. But the six-speed automatic soon won us over with its performance. It has a normal Drive mode and a Sport mode, which can be activated either by pushing a button or pulling the shifter over to the left. The latter also engages manual shift mode--you can manually select gears by using the chunky paddle shifters on the steering wheel or the shifter.
In Sport mode the automatic holds gears nicely, letting the RPMs go up and giving us fast acceleration. We were frequently surprised how quickly we had the car at 50mph after a traffic light turned green. Better yet, in Sport mode the automatic downshifted very close to where we would do it in a manual. As our RPMs dropped when we approached a turn, the downshift would occur just a bit late, although more reliably than any other automatic we've driven. In short, sport drivers who also have to commute in heavy traffic should give this transmission a try.
Although the engine is still a 1.6-liter four cylinder, Mini reworked it, using many of the same technologies from BMW engines and pumping the horsepower up to 172. As we mentioned above, it gets a turbocharger instead of the supercharger. Because the engine is relatively small, we know there has to be some turbo lag, but due to the engine tuning and the transmission, we barely felt it. There seemed to be no flat spots in the acceleration.
During our time with the car, which involved some aggressive driving on windy mountain roads, we got 26.8mpg. The EPA rates it at 27mpg city and 34mpg highway, both impressive numbers for a car that performs like this one. Emissions ratings haven't been completed for the 2007 Mini Cooper S yet. For the previous year, it got a LEV rating from California's Air Resources Board.
Since the 2001 launch, the new Mini has been applauded for its handling, and the 2007 version gives up nothing in this regard. We ran our test car north and south of San Francisco on Highway 1, and along some twisty mountain roads, where we pushed it hard on tight turns. It did very well, although not quite as good as the Mazdaspeed Mazda3. However, a limited slip differential is available for the Mini, an option that should put the Mini right up there, if not beyond, the Mazda.
Our 2007 Mini Cooper S based at $21,200. We added 17-inch alloy wheels ($600), a six-speed automatic transmission ($1,350), stability control ($500), hood stripes ($100), xenon headlights ($550), HD radio ($500), and a lifetime Sirius satellite radio subscription ($950). Along with the car's $650 destination charge, the total comes out to $26,400.
We were more impressed with this Mini than any of the previous ones we've seen. It feels well-engineered inside and out, from its stereo system to the way the engine and transmission work together. With options, it can price up pretty fast, but it's comparable in price to the Volkswagen GTI and the Mazdaspeed Mazda3. Both of those cars are worthy competitors, but none will get the same looks as the Mini Cooper S.