Eenie MINI mighty motor
Marc K. Stengel, Wed, 28 Feb 2007 08:00:00 PDT
If the thought of spending a lot of time in small, enclosed spaces creepsyou out, it's a cinch you've never motored in a Mini. It's hard to recallthe appearance of any industrial product, let alone any automobile, that hasso profoundly insinuated itself into the public's attention span as the MiniCooper has done. Well, alright, there's the iPod. But that's the point:these two products seem to have evolved out of the same primal soup ofindustrial design to become what business-school dweebs call "categorykillers."
If you close your eyes, it's easy to write off the Mini for what it is: ahollow cabin on four wheels, motor in front, seating for four. Now, openyour eyes. That's not a car! Itvs, it's...well, it's something you just wantto hug. And it has been that way ever since Sir Alec Issigonis firstconceived of the thing for the 1959 model year, or more recently since BMWresurrected the thing for 2001.
How fitting, then, that the 2007 Mini "Mark II" should debut at the tag endof 2006 to commemorate the 100th birthday of its now departed creator. Andhere's a little secret: the 2007 Cooper and Cooper S Coupes are the biggestMinis ever; but the mind still perceives them as small enough to fit on acharm bracelet. (A pair of soft-top Mini Cabriolets remain for 2007, butthey're still based upon the earlier "Mark I" version.)
If there's a theme that runs through the design of the 2007 Mini Coupe, it'sthis: Change is as profound as it is unapparent. To meet European pedestriancollision standards, for example, the new Mini stands taller. But you can'ttell without a ruler. The interior is slightly roomier, but if you werecramped in the rear seats before, you'll still be in 2007. The new centerconsole for HVAC and sound systems is still dominated by that pie-platespeedometer, but the logic of the layouts for buttons and switches is somuch improved that you'll swear they must have always been this instinctive.
When you corner in a Mini, you'll feel as giddy as ever, even if you'reentirely unaware of the new, all-electric speed-sensitive steering. And whenyou floor the electric, drive-by-wire throttle, your heart will still poundat the same "oh boy!" tempo; but now the joke's on you. The motors in boththe Cooper and the Cooper S are completely new. Who knew?
It bears paying attention to what has happened underhood, in fact, becausethe results are significant. Aficionados will realize that displacementremains the same at 1.6 liters, and the overhead cam also stays. But for2007, there's VANOS variable valve timing for the base Cooper motor, and itbumps up both horsepower and torque by about four percent (to 118 hp and 115foot-pounds) even while achieving 32 mpg/city and 40 mpg/highway (withpremium).
With the new Cooper S, you get 177 hp (up from 172 hp), but this time, it'snot due to valve timing. Instead, where a supercharger once whined, nowthere's a new twin-scroll turbocharger that reacts so instantaneously to thethrottle foot, you'll wonder whatever happened to that old nemesis "turbolag." Still...all that trouble for just five extra ponies? Hold your horses:Mini's new Cooper S turbo now delivers a galloping 191 maximum foot-poundsof acceleration torque (up from 168 foot-pounds), and it parks the powerbandat a stable 177 foot-pounds for the entire spread between 1,600 rpm to 5,000rpm. And it does so while rating 29 mpg/city, 36 mpg/highway (with premium).
All this "rpm talk" may sound meaningless, but the seat of your pants willcertainly understand what's going on. When you mash the Mini's throttle, youscoot. No matter whether you're launching from a complete stop or cruisingalong at 65 mph. When you mash that throttle, you might as well be scaldinga cat. This new Mini motor is maxi marvelous in all sorts of ways theoriginal '59 and the revival Mark I models never dreamed of being.
Adding to the pleasure is a pair of new transmissions, both of themsix-speeds, one manual, one automatic. Purists, of course, will want themanual, which is standard for both Cooper and Cooper S. It is, indeed, awonderful pot-stirrer. Gear shifts are crisp; pedals are perfectly laid outfor heel-and-toe ballet. For barnstorming the twisties, thesecond-third-fourth gear range seems ideal, and on the highway,overdrive-sixth feels like auto-pilot. But pay attention: reverse is at thehard upper-left corner; and if you're used to slapping into first with ahard tap, say, at a stoplight, there's scarcely any warning when youovershoot into reverse. I bet replacement rear bumpers don't come cheap.
The automatic is another story, where the aficionado is concerned at least.Although purists generally sniff at autos, they're gonna love this one. Onthe commute, just set it and forget it. But on the playground, themanual-shift system is so prompt and direct that only grizzled ex-racers canout perform this automatic's sequential-tap gear shifts. Plus, you'll neverinadvertently pop into reverse. The auto is optional with both new Minicoupes, and it's worth considering no matter how hot-shot you think you arewith a manual.
So what does "teddy-bear cute" go for these days? For a Mini Cooper, thetally-sheet starts at $18,700, before options. The Cooper S starts at$21,850. These prices, combined with very agreeable fuel-mileage ratings,should help prospective Mini customers straddle that irritating "want versusneed" dividing line. And, of course, just because the Mini looks great,drives like a slot-car, and parks virtually anywhere doesn't mean everylifestyle can shoehorn into one. But if this new Mini shoe does happen tofit, you probably owe yourself a Cinderella moment.
3-door compact hatchback, 4-pass.; FWD; 1.6-liter DOHC inline-4 w/ vvt, 118hp/114 ft.-lbs., 32 mpg/city & 40 mpg/highway w/ premium; or 1.6-liter DOHCinline-4 w/ turbocharger, 172 hp/191 ft.-lbs., 29 mpg/city & 36 mpg/highway;6-sp. manual or 6-sp auto. transmissions; cargo space: 5.7-24 cu. ft.; std.equip.: 4-wheel ABS & ind. suspension, 16-in. wheels, traction control,front/side/head airbags; base prices: Cooper/$18,700; Cooper S/$21,850