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Mini Cooper S 2007 Review

Based on the cold, hard facts before us, forking out more than $50,000 for a Mini would be a ludicrous act. Mad. Wasteful.

Unimaginable considering the costs involved, size of the car and unremarkable set of numbers that come out from under the bonnet.

But after a wonderful drive in the all-new, 'all-BMW' Mini Cooper S, we've a dilemma.

When we rationalise the decision, and recall the fabulous moments we've had in cheaper and faster hot hatches, this R56-series Mini misses the mark. If we're honest with ourselves, however, the raw data tends to take a back seat to feelings that linger long after we hand the car back. This is hard to explain.

It has nothing to do with nostalgia — this writer has more emotion invested in Coopers beer than Cooper cars — but relates to the warm, comfortable and familiar feeling we'd get whenever we looked at the Mini, whenever we sat inside the whimsical cabin, and whenever we thrashed the little turbo to hear its sweet, smooth revs and its exhaust pop like a penny banger.

To some extent its also about the trust we have in BMW to build a safe and solid car, but which in this case has a fun and immature character that the German maker would never dare emulate with cars under its own label.

It is reassuring to know the Mini has achieved a five-star Euro NCAP crash-test result, has six airbags, has the latest ABS brakes (with electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and cornering brake control), that cabin fit-and-finish is first-rate and attention to detail, in most respects, is outstanding.

Further vindication came recently when the 1.6-litre turbocharged engine won its class at the renowned International Engine of the Year Awards. Built in collaboration with PSA Peugeot-Citroen, the lightweight aluminium engine features a twin-scroll turbo, direct petrol injection and infinite variable valve timing. It does not have the emotive whine of the previous (Chrysler-sourced) supercharged engine, and has none of the burble and crackle that arose on the overrun, but more than makes amends with its extra smoothness and strength, lower emissions and consumption.

The figures themselves are moderate for a three-door hatch priced from $39,900 in standard Cooper S form, rising to $43,500 in Chilli trim and $49,260 as tested here (without on-road costs).

The engine produces 128kW of power at 5500rpm and 240Nm of torque from 1600rpm to 5000rpm, with the latter increasing to 260Nm via an overboost function when given a full dose of the accelerator.

The result is 0-100km/h in 7.1 seconds and fuel consumption of 6.9l/00km (according to a theoretical test). Our real-world average of 9.4l/100km was nowhere near the latter, but wasn't bad considering the manner in which the Cooper S encourages the driver to explore its boundaries.

As was the case with the previous generation, sheer performance is less critical in the front-drive Cooper S than the all-round amusement it provides.

The engine is flexible, delivers its power in linear fashion, reveals a forceful nature when revved hard toward its 6500rpm redline and, above all, creates the basis for the fun-filled drive. But no test drive around the block from a showroom will do. It took our favourite winding roads for the Cooper S — which was optioned to the hilt with sports suspension (no cost), a limited-slip differential ($280) and DSC traction electronics ($840) — to deliver the taut, engrossing drive that has, in part, created the dilemma over its net worth.

There is some torque-steer when powering out of corners, some chirping from the low-profile (205/45) 17-inch Dunlops when shifting from first to second under hard acceleration.

But these add to the experience rather than detract as the Cooper S remains fastened to the road, shows excellent balance and poise and steers with tremendous precision.

The firm and unforgiving suspension can be tiresome over a long distances, thumping across road reflectors, bridge seals and broken bitumen, while the run-flat tyres — which, like it or not, negate the need for a spare wheel — roar across coarse bluestone and gravel surfaces. But there is little room for criticism in the driving department.

Inside, the cabin is even more idiosyncratic with new features such a monumental dinner plate (20cm diameter) speedometer in the centre of the dashboard, along with single-zone climate controls in the form of the Mini motif and, in the roof lining, a second row of toggle switches for functions such as mood lighting when the large optional sunroof ($1840) or a lights package is specified.

There are some problems. Despite its size, the speedo is hard to read at a glance and forces the driver to program a digital speedo on the small LCD screen inside the tachometer, the latter continuing as a large (10cm diameter) gauge glued to the steering column.

The trip computer and audio controls on the bottom third of the speedo are far from intuitive. The climate controls further down the centre stack make it easy to send the fan whirring at full-pelt when intending to block out fumes with the air recirculation button.

Set inside the speedo, the fuel gauge's “windmill blade” design forces the driver to refer to one of three other screens for a more accurate reading. There are no coolant or oil temperature gauges. No variable intermittent wipers. No lock on the glovebox. And nowhere near enough attention paid to storage, although the back seat tends to be used as part of the load space given the severe shortage of space there.

Despite the four-seater Cooper being about 60mm longer than the previous R50 version, there is no rear-seat legroom to speak of if the driver is taller than, say, 6ft (1.83m).

But this is a self-indulgent vehicle. It shows that no compromises were made in driver's seat travel, and the driving position as a whole.

The aluminium-faced pedals are better placed than before, the thick-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel has buttons for cruise control, telephone and basic audio functions (for the Chilli's thumping 10-speaker stereo), and the ignition fires via a start button.

Electric seat adjustment is nowhere to be seen, even with optional full-leather trim ($1460) and electric seat warmers ($490) onboard. But a full range of (effortless) manual adjustment is provided and the bolstering under the ribcage and thighs holds the driver tight.

Luggage space is small. The distance to the upright seatbacks is a mere 38cm, floor width 92cm and height to the parcel shelf 50cm, although metre-long objects can be stuffed in when the 50/50-split seatbacks are folded. There is no fold and tumble action for the rear seats to maximise cargo room.

We have to remind ourselves that this is a Mini. This might be an all-new version, with no shared panels with its predecessor, but BMW hasn't dared mess with a successful formula.

 

Second Opinion

Michael Strachan, 31

Occupation: Recruitment consultant

Location: Hoppers Crossing, Vic

New car: Mini Cooper S Chilli

Previous car: Falcon XR6 utility

Other cars considered: Renault Sport Megane 225 Cup

 

A previous-generation Mini Cooper owner, Michael Strachan almost bought the Renault Sport Megane.

But this time around he went the whole hog with a Cooper S in Chilli trim and a host of extras.

"The Megane turbo is a fantastic car but it still doesn't have the drive or just the appeal of the Minis," he says. "There's no other car on the road that has the smile factor of the Mini. There're also little things, like with the turbo Megane you can't get it with a sunroof — whereas you can get anything you want in a Mini, and that comes a lot into it.

"The ride is probably the most improved over my previous Mini. It's a lot more pliable — there's a little bit more bodyroll through corners taken with great speed, which I occasionally do, but for day-to-day driving it's much more pleasant.

"I find a bit of torque steer (when) accelerating hard but on the whole it's something you learn to just ease on the throttle a little. I've taken it on some spirited runs with other Minis, and it runs fantastic.

"Anyone who buys a Mini does it as a selfish purchase.

"You buy the car for yourself — you don't buy it for lugging a family around."

 

Verdict

Plus: Unmistakable design. Fascinating interior. Terrific handling.

Minus: Engine's aural qualities toned down. Cramped back seat. No spare wheel.

 


How it measures up

Mini Cooper S Chilli

Comment: Mini enters a new era with this 'R56' series. Turbo is less emotive, but the drive still fascinates. Fabulous handling, steering, braking. The run-flat tyres can be harsh. Unique, but expensive. Gatecrasher ... Peugeot 207 GTi with same engine here in August.

Price: $43,500

Warranty: 3 years/Unlimited km

Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four

Power/Torque: 128kW/240Nm

Transmission: Front-drive, six-speed manual (six-speed automatic $2200)

Seats/Weight: Four/1130kg

Fuel tank/type: 50 litres/premium unleaded

Litres/100km: 6.9 city/highway combined

0-100km/h: 7.1 seconds

Turning circle: 10.7m

Airbags/ESC: Six/Yes

 

Ratings

Value: * * * 1/2

Performance: * * * *

Overall: * * * 1/2

 


Volkswagen Golf GTI 3 door

Comment: Mini diehards will call GTI boring, bland. Less garrulous and fewer gimmicks, but GTI is not without heritage. This incarnation offers a rich blend of performance and handling. Great all-rounder. If only ... new GTI concept has a 477kW W12 engine!

Price: $38,490

Warranty: 3 years/100,000km

Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four

Power/Torque: 147kW/280Nm

Transmission: Front-drive, six-speed manual (six-speed DSG auto $2300)

Seats/Weight: Five/1340kg

Fuel tank/type: 55 litres/premium unleaded

Litres/100km: 8.1 city/highway combined

0-100km/h: 7.2 seconds

Turning circle: Turning circle: 10.9m

Airbags/ESC: Six/Yes

 

Ratings

Value: * * * *

Performance: * * * *

Overall: * * * *

 


Ford Focus XR5 Turbo

Comment: Not a "hot four" with its 2.5-litre inline-five turbo, but XR5's Volvo-sourced engine is a ripsnorter. Handling, sharp steering and powerful braking are also along for the drive. No cruise control a sore point. Low heat ... 110kW 2.0-litre Fiesta XR4 on sale at $24,990.

Price: $36,490

Warranty: 3 years/100,000km

Engine: 2.5-litre turbocharged five

Power/Torque: 166kW/320Nm

Transmission: Front-drive, six-speed manual only

Seats/Weight: Five/1442kg

Fuel tank/type: 55 litres/premium unleaded

Litres/100km: 9.3 city/highway combined

0-100km/h: 6.8 seconds

Turning circle: 11.7m

Airbags/ESC: Six/Yes

 

Ratings

Value: * * * 1/2

Performance: * * * *

Overall: * * * *

 


Renault Sport Megane 225 3 door

Comment: Note HSV's Astra VXR and Honda's Civic Type-R. But hot Megane leaves its mark. Impresses in most areas. On 5dr for $44,490 you get stiffer suspension, fatter tyres, drilled disc brakes. Look again ... even hotter Megane 228 F1 R26 due late August.

Price: $37,990

Warranty: 3 years/100,000km

Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four

Power/Torque: 165kW/300Nm

Transmission: Front-wheel drive, six-speed manual only

Seats/Weight: Five/1325kg

Fuel tank/type: 60 litres/premium unleaded

Litres/100km: 8.8 combined

0-100km/h: 6.5 seconds

Turning circle: 10.5m

Airbags/ESC: Six/Yes

 

Ratings

Value: * * * 1/2

Performance: * * * *

Overall: * * * 1/2

 

Pricing guides

$12,999
Based on 27 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$9,990
Highest Price
$15,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(base) 1.6L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $4,100 – 6,710 2007 Mini Cooper 2007 (base) Pricing and Specs
Checkmate 1.6L, ULP, CVT AUTO $5,300 – 8,250 2007 Mini Cooper 2007 Checkmate Pricing and Specs
Chilli 1.6L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $3,500 – 5,610 2007 Mini Cooper 2007 Chilli Pricing and Specs
Park Lane 1.6L, ULP, CVT AUTO $5,300 – 8,250 2007 Mini Cooper 2007 Park Lane Pricing and Specs
Terry Martin
Contributing Journalist

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