• Oct 18th 2007 at 12:01PM
  • 17
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MINI was kind enough to furnish a fully-stocked iPod in our 2007 Cooper S tester, and after a few days of enduring OPPs (other-people's-playlists), we swapped in our own to catch up on podcasts and to sample the Beastie Boys' second installment of instrumental stylings. We know our place in the world, so we're not going to pretend to be music critics, but after flogging the MCS over the course of a week, blaring The Mix-Up through the dual-zone moon roof, we found ourselves comparing both the old and new cars with the old and new albums. The verdict: both are superior in their own way, and only nostalgia tips the previous iteration into favor.

All photos Copyright ©2007 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.

While lazier reviewers disregard the MINI's new sheetmetal, any gearhead worth their cred will instantly recognize the R56 whether stationary or at speed. The new front end dispatches the former model's Brit Bulldog fascia in favor of a more sophisticated -- albeit chunkier -- appearance, while the northward-bound beltline gives the new-new MINI a more planted persona. The turn signals have found a home within the headlamps and although the hood scoop is no longer functional, MINI was smart enough to keep it blocked off so airflow wouldn't be disrupted when feeding the intercooler. As a whole, it's certainly not a coup in the styling department, but it's subtle in the same way the new-for-'05 Porsche Boxster was; one of our favorite mid-cycle refreshes to date.

While the outside remains understated-retro-chic, the inside is a totally different game – basketball to be exact. Our Cooper's interior was swathed in "Leather Lounge Redwood" ($1,900) and although it was trying hard to look like BMW's delectable "Coral Red" it came across more like a rock from Spalding rather than an enclave for serious-minded motorists.

The leather hue however, was the least of our gripes. MINI saw fit to increase the size of its central-mounted speedo to accommodate the integrated sat-nav and stereo controls. While our tester didn't benefit from GPS-guided assistance, the gaping sore in the middle of the dash proved to be the definitive design foible. "Large" is an understatement, and although we understand the nod to Coopers of yore, it proved entirely useless since the steering-column mounted tach gives you the option to display your current speed in a multi-function LCD.

On the upside, the Cooper's switchgear is considerably funkier than its predecessor, with a number of stalks to control everything from the windows to the rear fog lamps; the latter foretelling a trend that we hope catches on. While fit and finish is par for the BMW course, our only gripe with the materials was the water bottle-grade plastic used for the automated air-con controls and CD slot surround.

The Premium Package Cooper S benefits from a host of buttons on the steering wheel that allows manipulation of the cruise control and stereo inputs, and also includes the dual-pane panoramic sunroof and automatic A/C. While we've never been partial to some of the set-and-forget climate control systems, the MINI's proved to be the exception to rule, never causing us to choke on scalding air after sitting out in the sun.

In a vehicle with such diminutive dimensions, it truly is the little things that count. Some are manna from automotive heaven while others are off-putting at best. The aforementioned computer display integrated into the tach provides speed, real-time fuel consumption and how many miles you'll traverse before hitting the next premium-grade pump. But it doesn't provide coolant temperature, something we'd assume would be a necessity on any vehicle with sporting pretenses. The steering-wheel controls for the stereo are straight-forward enough, but the buttons and menus necessary to scan through playlists on our 'Pod are ill-conceived, as were the duo of knobs on the dash -- one integrated into the stereo (selection), the other fitted below the CD input (volume) -- which served to perpetually confuse both driver and passengers alike.

Most of the MINI's interior elements are well suited to the handsome hatch; the pedals are things of beauty, as is the piano black trim and overhead switchgear. Others, like the ability to change the hue of the ambient lighting emanating from the roof-mounted bulbs and above the front seat belt anchors stood as proof that MINI's interior designers have entirely too much time on their hands.

As expected, rear seat passenger room is laughable, even with the front seats moved as far forward as they could conceivably be comfortable. Similarly, the trunk offers just enough space for a few bags of groceries, some camera gear and little else. We now wholeheartedly accept MINI's choice to ditch the rear seats in the last generation's production run salvo GP model, and would consider similar surgery if we plunked down the cash for the R56 model. It would do wonders for weight savings in a vehicle whose small footprint has never quite matched its Big Mac and fries tonnage.

Slide the key-fob into its home in the dash, press the starter button and... oh, it's started. The former model's stentorian sound is as far away as the nearest used car lot. Dipping the brushed-metal go-pedal to the floor does little to excite the senses, something that the John Cooper crew have already cured -- we just wish we wouldn't have to pony up the extra cash for the upgrade.

After selecting first, easing out on the clutch and rowing through a few gears, we're assured that the new-new MINI hasn't lost its ease of use. Clutch take up is progressive and perfectly matched, the shifter slotting from gate to gate with minimal effort. The action of the six-speed manual is clean, if a bit on the rubbery side, while the electrically driven steering is as good as any boosted unit we've sampled before.

Once we were finally able to open the taps on an abandoned stretch of road, any issue about a less-than-enthusiastic exhaust note turned into superficial complaints left 100 yards back. The MCS' power delivery (particularly after pressing "Sport") is startling at first and never gets old. Above 2,500 RPM, the turbo spools up quickly, huffing sacrificial air molecules into the 1.6-liter BMW-PSA four pot. While 175 hp is nothing particularly noteworthy, the way the turbo'd Cooper delivers its peak torque is. Normally, 177 pounds of the stuff twists the front wheels through equal-length half shafts, but when the MINI's brain detects your wanton desire to hoon, an "Overboost "function, fueled by the mill's direct injection and variably geometry turbo, produces 192 lb.-ft. of twist pummeling the pavement with prejudice. Shocking for a mill that has less displacement than a beer boot at Suppenküche.

But in keeping with the MINI-ness of its elder sibling, the new Cooper S isn't all about power. Hairpin turns, off-camber bends and anything that tests the Cooper's lateral gumption are to be treated with respect. The multi-link rear suspension handles anything you can chuck at it, but the extra weight hanging over the rear makes for an entertaining steer. The initial input into the wheel translates quickly to the front tires, but in a few miniscule – but perceivable -- moments, the back end follows suit. Turn the wheel quickly... wait... and the back end will begin to come around. We'd never advocate four-wheel drifts on public roads, but know that the Cooper is capable, right down to the moment your bowels give out.

Sure, the R56 MCS is a little longer, a little fatter and a bit disjointed inside, but everything else that makes it a MINI is intact, and in some cases embellished. The combination of potent power, a competent chassis and small size is everything many motorists want. But for the kind of coin MINI demands for its highbrow hatch, it had better deliver – and it does.

All photos Copyright ©2007 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      >>variably geometry turbo
      • 7 Years Ago
      This is a surprisingly lukewarm review, but it pretty much lines up with what I've thought of the Mini- a bit pricey and not a particularly good handler.

      For the same money, give me a mazdapseed3 or GTI and I'd be happy as a clam.
        • 7 Years Ago
        YourFace, since when are Mazdas not hold their value?

        Just because Ford owns 33% of the company doesn't mean it falls in the same category as the outgoing Focus, ugh.

        Besides, the Mini is a premium subcompact while the other two are compacts. The Mazdaspeed trashes both hatches hands down and is the most pleasing/fun to drive 'economy car' (depends where you live, I guess) you can get at the present moment. And need I mention the typical Brit/Bimmer mechanical components... At least the 3 isn't expensive to maintain.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Looked at both.

        Mazdaspeed3 is pbscenely loud, twitchy, doesn't have free service, doesn't have good resale and it's really long and heavy.

        GTI is a bit of fun. Very polished but again, expensive maintenance and numb handling/steering mean it's not that much fun. The excessice weight and soft springs make it a nice car but more of a freeway cruiser than a corner-chewing menace. Low resale also hurts my view and it's a VW so I'm leary. Finally we already own a Mrk 5 in the A3 and I won't have two cars with the same platform. i like variety.

        Back to back, the MS3 will take out a mini. The mini will munch on a GTI easily. For me it's about fun per mile, having something that can be somewhat adult (the MS3 is hopelessly orange county, like the Civic si) and something I can sell in 2009 for near what I paid. The Cooper gives me all of that - low cost to own, high resale, lots of fun. A good car before we start a family and I'm, stuck going back to a barge like a 335i.
      • 7 Years Ago

      You make some valid points about the car, but a whole bunch of your list is screwy. For instance:

      1. The window switches are ONLY reachable in 1,3, and 5 with your hand on the shifter... 2, 4, and 6 puts the lever in the back position.

      2. The "Pizza" speedo is electronic and linked to the same digital readout as the one in the tach ... no error.

      3. Valid, though the car does have a built-in "remaining mileage" feature built into the tach which is way more accurate than any mechanical float sensor.

      4. Valid

      5. Aslo Valid

      6. The key's the same as any other car. Take out of pocket, put in dash, turn to start. In this case, take out of pocket, put in dash, push button to start. Same thing.

      7. My trunk release fob works anywhere inside and outside, as long as you don't have it plugged into the dash. Why should it matter anyway? Since when do you need to pop the hatch from inside the car? Whoever's outside can just pull up on the handle.

      8. Semi-valid. Still getting used to it as well, but not bad for a FWD car.

      9. Gone through a whole lot of cars in my day, only one had any sort of detent. Even then, it wasn't enough to hold the door open on a hill.

      10. Common user mistake. The auto AC system measures the inside air temp versus what you set it for. Say its 98 degrees outside and you set the auto AC for 74 degrees. The car's been sitting in the shade and the sensor (hiding behind the insulated interior) is measuring 72. Of course, it doesn't tell you that. Guess what, heat's going to come out until the sensor equalizes things. You'd think 2 degrees wouldn't take long but it does, the air has to circulate for awhile before the air passing over the sensor gives it an acurate reading. It's why I always get the manual system.

      11, 12, & 13 VALID!

      14. Not sure where you're coming from with this one. The '07 brakes are actually the pre-2007 JCW brakes without cross-drilling. Fade is extremely minimal and pedal feel is linear and non-grabby. They could use a better pad compound with a higher temp range and lower dust, but for a stock setup, these are not "mushy".

      15. I'm trying soooo hard not to bash you on this one. Any stiffer than the sport suspension and you're looking for a dedicated track setup. Almost ALL articles written about the Gen 2 AND Gen 1 MINIs state that the suspension is way too stiff. They usually go so far as to recommend not getting the optional sport suspension due to it's harshness. Too stiff and the car begins to buck like a dropped Civic. Keep in mind, my last setup was a Z3 lowered on H&R's, Koni adjustable inserts and Eibach racing sways. This car is definitely not soft.

      It's odd that you love the car early in your comments, then you proceed to pick it apart later on. I'm not sure what you're getting at with your posts, but a little consistency would be nice. BTW: I'm sorry, but I was linked over from another site and really won't be coming back to read your reply, if any. Keep on motoring.
      • 7 Years Ago

      Sounds like you may be from sunny California. How many thousands of $ in a premium charge did you have to cough up above and beyond MSRP to get your 07 Cooper S?
        • 7 Years Ago
        I paid MSRP on the nose. That alone made me ill. Paying a premium for a car and MSRP is a huge premium - made me sick after getting my last BMW via european delivery.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'm not going to get into this fight. I bought my '06 MCS in '06 knowing full well the R56 was just around the corner. My logic was that the R53 was already a great car, and the chances of the R56 completely outclassing it were quite low. Better? Maybe, but not in a way that would make current owners cry. IMO, I'll keep my slightly more visceral, slightly less refined Mini and drive it into the ground.

      But I wanted to comment on the whining about trunk space. Thank you, Autoblog, for perpetuating the myth that Minis can't carry more than a 7-11 bag.

      Just flip the backseats down, and you've got a cavern back there. I regularly take ours to Costco, Petsmart, etc. Hell, we crammed four antique dining chairs into it last year fall.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The only line that matters (which previous posters seem to support): "The verdict: both are superior in their own way, and only NOSTALGIA tips the previous iteration into favor."

      Oh, and the STOCK R56S eats the 1st gen JCW's for breakfast! The added torque from the turbop makes for a dominant car on the track an on the autocross course. Take it up a notch with the JCW kit and there's nothing better for the twisties. Per Mike Cooper himself the new R56 JCW is "the fastest JCW MINI ever produced" and that's including the JCW GP.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Oh, almost forgot - When making price comparisons, don't forget to consider that the MINI comes with 3yrs/36K miles of included SERVICE (in addition to the 4/50 warranty). Including things like brakes, oil changes, filters, wipers, etc. - just no gas or tires.

      So make sure to add all the service costs for 3 years onto the sticker price of whatever other cars you compare.
      • 7 Years Ago
      i have never liked the r56 minis. I only recently purchased my R53 in June while faced with the option at both. The look of the r56 drove me crazy with disgust. I hate the exterior bulbous look and the playskool interior was really awful. I really balked at the largER speedo too, and opted for a chrono/nav in mine. Could never hve dealt with the uber-speedo in the r56.

      I chose an R53 JCW and havent looked back, except at the R56s in my rear view.(j/k, i know they are much faster than stock R53, so no need to get bitter)
      • 7 Years Ago
      Please, no price comparisons with the Cooper S or my blood will boil. In Canada, with the dollar at par approximately, the Cooper S starts at almost $31,000. The Cooper starts at $25,600. Thanks BMW.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I gave up my 2006 e90 330i for an 07 MCS and I don't regret it. The Cooper is fun, agile and very visceral - totally unlike the banal BMW 3 series. It jostles, bounces and let's you know it's light, liud and fun. 30 MPG running it hard all the time, great size for dealing with traffic...it's a wonderfully fun car.

      Don't know why people bring up the center speedo - it's a decoration for passengers. It has no function for drivers as everything you need is on the tach pod.

      Press the S button at start up and away you go...grin plastered on your face.
      • 7 Years Ago
      It has a FAKE front air dam. FAKE! Ugh. What a design faux-pas. I drove it - nice, but it's hood scoop is inspired by the baren Mustang's. I liked my 04 better.
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