SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., - - We love the Mini Cooper. And we tell you that up front so that you can put everything we say about the all- new 2007 Mini Cooper in proper perspective.
Although it looks almost the same as the model it replaced, the Mini Cooper is bigger, not by much, and it's better by a bunch. That's saying something since the old Mini was about as perfect as a really small car could be.
On the 2007 Mini Cooper, all the sheet metal has changed and the engine is all new, too. That engine is the key to the Mini's success. On paper, it doesn't seem to pack much punch: 118 horsepower for the normally aspirated four cylinder and 172 horsepower for the turbocharged version. That's up from 115 horsepower and 168 horsepower for the old model respectively.
But at 2,546 lbs for the Mini Cooper and the 2,668 lbs. for the turbocharged Mini Cooper S it doesn't take much power to move it with pizzazz. Those mighty- mite power plants are mated to either a six speed manual transmission or six speed automatic gearbox.
We had the Mini Cooper S with a six- speed automatic transmission. We found the car extraordinarily fun to drive. Acceleration was bullet like, cornering seemingly could be done at right angle, and when it came to handling we could almost think the Mini where we wanted it to go.
The interesting thing about the Mini is that although it is a very small car, you get a feeling of expanse when sitting inside. The greenhouse glass provided clear sight lines all around. Add a panoramic moon roof, like we had, and we just didn't get that cramped feeling of many small cars.
The ride was really cool, too. The Mini's wheels are, much like a Go- Kart, at the corners. With its low center of gravity the two- door coupe literally hugged the ground. For a car with a relatively flat top and a pretty vertical windshield, there wasn't that much road noise either.
Our driving partner noted that on a flat stretch of road, our mini was cruising at more than 70 mph, yet the readout said we were getting 40 mpg. Now, that ain't bad in these times of volatile gasoline prices.
About the only drawback of the Mini is that although it had four seats, the back two are to keep insurance rates low. Only small children, very small children, could be comfortable in them.
Our other quibble can be solved with familiarity. The Mini's center stack is loaded beginning with an oversized speedometer. Then there was the info read out center, the CD player, controls for the lights, the climate, the windows, heated seats, the door locks, and the phone and on it went. Our test vehicle didn't have a navigation system but controls for it would be there, too. It all was neatly, with some space that provided breathing room, but it was a lot. However, an owner would get used to what's where from everyday driving.
And that's just the beginning. The Mini has something like 40 options not including its 14 paint colors and eight different upholsteries. It might have been hyperbole but an executive here said that the Mini has 150 trillion different combinations. One goodie is a lifetime subscription when you get a Mini equipped with satellite radio.
There are four models: the Mini Cooper, the Mini Cooper Convertible, the Mini Cooper S and the Mini Cooper S Convertible round out the lineup. Prices start at $18,700 for the Mini Cooper and $21,850 for the Mini Cooper S.
We feel the same about the new Mini Cooper as we did about the old one. It has still got a reserved slot in our imaginary garage.