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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.
Our Mini fits neatly into our competition parking space.
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.
The electronic key for the Mini is a unique disc shape.
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.
The HD radio tuner brings in HD broadcasts from local radio stations.
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.
The Cooper S gets a fancy S emblem on the side of the automatic 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.