2008 Cooper S New Car Test Drive
The Mini Cooper is fresh from a complete redesign that was launched for the 2007 model year. To meet European environmental and fuel-economy requirements, BMW designed a completely new engine in cooperation with Peugeot. It produces approximately the same horsepower as before: 118 in the Mini Cooper and 172 in the Mini Cooper S. But now a turbocharger in the Cooper S, in place of the old supercharger, delivers 177 pound-feet of torque from 1600 to 5000 rpm, significantly improving the sportier model's performance.
This second-generation version continues to generate smiles on the faces of passersby. That's an impressive feat given the first-generation models have been with us since 2000 and the current version looks very similar.
The Mini Cooper brings smiles to the faces of its drivers because it's a lot of fun to drive. It's also a practical car, with comfortable seats, useful cargo capacity, and an EPA-rated City/Highway 28/37 miles per gallon.
Inside, it's large enough to accommodate all sizes of drivers and front passengers in comfort. The rear seats are actually functional, if not capacious, allowing four adults. With the hatchback and folding rear seats, the car can haul reasonable amounts of gear.
The engine, styling, and the interior were redesigned for 2007, and there have been no further changes for 2008.
BMW offers a large range of styling options, with choices not only in upholstery style, material and color, but also in trim panels, accent panels, and ambient lighting. Check too many options and the Mini's price can rise quickly from economy-entry to near-luxury levels. But all Minis are well equipped for what you pay.
The Mini Cooper's heritage dates back to the late 1950s, when it was conceived by the British Motor Corporation in response to the Suez crisis to provide efficient, bare-bones transportation. It was roomy and comfortable. It was cheap to build, cheap to buy, and cheap to run.
But the Mini's fundamental cuteness lent it a sort of chic. Soon it was adopted by celebrities such as Peter Sellers, who drove one on screen as well as off. Like the U.S. Jeep, the Mini survived multiple corporate mergers and disasters; and by the time production finally ended in the 1990s, its pioneering transverse engine (mounted sideways, rather than longways, to save space) had been imitated by most automakers. The Mini was sporty and fun to drive.
Of some 6 million original Minis, the best-known were the high-performance variants tuned by race-car builder John Cooper. Multiple rally and touring-car championships, including overall wins at the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964 and '67, assured the Mini Cooper 's reputation as a small but formidable force in motorsports. BMW now owns the Mini, and revived the marque with an all-new car for the 2000 model year. It was redesigned for 2007.
The 2008 Mini Cooper is available as a two-door hatchback called the hardtop, a four-seat convertible, and the convertible, and a longer-wheelbase wagon called the Clubman. Two trim levels are available, the standard Cooper and the higher-performing Cooper S.
Yet while the hardtop is a second-generation car, the convertible is still carried over from the previous generation. So they really are more different than they might at first appear. And we've covered the new Clubman in a separate review.
The Mini Cooper hardtop ($18,050) is powered by a normally aspirated 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine rated 118 horsepower. It comes standard with air conditioning; AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with six speakers, RDS, and pre-wiring for satellite radio; power windows with auto-down; power locks; remote keyless entry with electronic signal transmitter in place of the ignition key: leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel; six-way adjustable driver's seat; split-folding rear seat; leatherette upholstery; a rear wiper and defogger; and other appointments you'd expect from a more expensive car. Standard wheels are 15-inch alloy with 175/65R15 all-season tires; 16- and 17-inch wheels are optional.
The Mini Cooper S hardtop ($21,200) is equipped with a 172-horsepower turbocharged version of the same engine, stiffer suspension, ASCT traction and stability control, performance exhaust system, and 16-inch alloy wheels with 195/55R16 all-season tires; 17-inch wheels are optional. Exterior design details, including a black grille insert, hood scoop, rear bumper inserts and prominent rear spoiler wing (optional on the Cooper), distinguish the Cooper S from the Cooper.
The Cooper Convertible ($21,950) is powered by the previous-generation conventionally aspirated 1.6-liter four, rated 115 horsepower. The top is fully automatic and features a heated glass rear window, and Park Distance Control is standard. Otherwise standard equipment is similar to the base hardtop.
The Cooper S Convertible ($25,400) runs the old-generation engine supercharged to 168 horsepower; and adds a sport suspension with 16-inch wheels, ASCT traction and stability control, body-color front grille, and other visual cues.
The hardtop and Cooper S convertible come standard with a six-speed manual transmission; a six-speed automatic transmission with Steptronic controls is optional ($1,250). The base convertible comes with a five-speed manual, and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is optional ($1,250). It also features Steptronic control.
Personalization is a big part of the Mini marketing program, and the list of available options is far too long to repeat here, from electronics and amenities to aero kits, stripes, and chrome baubles. An extensive array of alternative trim features is available to customize the interior to personal tastes, in terms of colors, textures and materials.
Option packages include the Sport Package ($1,500) with Sports suspension, 16-inch wheels, stability control, and bonnet stripes; the Convenience Package ($1,500) with rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, Bluetooth, and multi-function sports steering wheel; a Cold Weather Package ($500) with heated front seats, power folding mirrors, and heated washer jets; and a Premium Package ($1,500) with a panoramic sunroof, automatic climate control, and high-fidelity radio. Significant stand-alone options include Sirius satellite radio ($1,000, including a lifetime subscription), two different Bluetooth setups ($500-$1,000), and navigation ($2,000). Many if not most of the items from the various option packages are also available as stand-alones.
Safety features on the hardtop models include six airbags, anti-lock brakes (ABS), Electronic Brake Force Distribution, and Cornering Brake Control. The Brake Assistant on both models detects emergency operation of the brakes, and builds up maximum brake pressure as quickly as possible. Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) is optional ($500) on both models, and Automatic Stability Control plus Traction (ASCT) with on-off control is optional on the Cooper and standard on the Cooper S. Hill Assist start-off assistance is a feature of DSC, activating the brakes when starting on an uphill ascent to prevent the car from rolling back.