Eenie MINI mighty motor

2007, MINI, Cooper S

If the thought of spending a lot of time in small, enclosed spaces creeps you out, it's a cinch you've never motored in a Mini. It's hard to recall the appearance of any industrial product, let alone any automobile, that has so profoundly insinuated itself into the public's attention span as the Mini Cooper 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 of industrial design to become what business-school dweebs call "category killers."

If you close your eyes, it's easy to write off the Mini for what it is: a hollow cabin on four wheels, motor in front, seating for four. Now, open your eyes. That's not a car! Itvs, it's...well, it's something you just want to hug. And it has been that way ever since Sir Alec Issigonis first conceived of the thing for the 1959 model year, or more recently since BMW resurrected the thing for 2001.

How fitting, then, that the 2007 Mini "Mark II" should debut at the tag end of 2006 to commemorate the 100th birthday of its now departed creator. And here's a little secret: the 2007 Cooper and Cooper S Coupes are the biggest Minis ever; but the mind still perceives them as small enough to fit on a charm bracelet. (A pair of soft-top Mini Cabriolets remain for 2007, but they'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's this: Change is as profound as it is unapparent. To meet European pedestrian collision standards, for example, the new Mini stands taller. But you can't tell without a ruler. The interior is slightly roomier, but if you were cramped in the rear seats before, you'll still be in 2007. The new center console for HVAC and sound systems is still dominated by that pie-plate speedometer, but the logic of the layouts for buttons and switches is so much 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're entirely unaware of the new, all-electric speed-sensitive steering. And when you floor the electric, drive-by-wire throttle, your heart will still pound at the same "oh boy!" tempo; but now the joke's on you. The motors in both the Cooper and the Cooper S are completely new. Who knew?

It bears paying attention to what has happened underhood, in fact, because the results are significant. Aficionados will realize that displacement remains the same at 1.6 liters, and the overhead cam also stays. But for 2007, there's VANOS variable valve timing for the base Cooper motor, and it bumps up both horsepower and torque by about four percent (to 118 hp and 115 foot-pounds) even while achieving 32 mpg/city and 40 mpg/highway (with premium).

With the new Cooper S, you get 177 hp (up from 172 hp), but this time, it's not due to valve timing. Instead, where a supercharger once whined, now there's a new twin-scroll turbocharger that reacts so instantaneously to the throttle foot, you'll wonder whatever happened to that old nemesis "turbo lag." 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-pounds of acceleration torque (up from 168 foot-pounds), and it parks the powerband at a stable 177 foot-pounds for the entire spread between 1,600 rpm to 5,000 rpm. 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 will certainly understand what's going on. When you mash the Mini's throttle, you scoot. No matter whether you're launching from a complete stop or cruising along at 65 mph. When you mash that throttle, you might as well be scalding a cat. This new Mini motor is maxi marvelous in all sorts of ways the original '59 and the revival Mark I models never dreamed of being.

Adding to the pleasure is a pair of new transmissions, both of them six-speeds, one manual, one automatic. Purists, of course, will want the manual, which is standard for both Cooper and Cooper S. It is, indeed, a wonderful pot-stirrer. Gear shifts are crisp; pedals are perfectly laid out for heel-and-toe ballet. For barnstorming the twisties, the second-third-fourth gear range seems ideal, and on the highway, overdrive-sixth feels like auto-pilot. But pay attention: reverse is at the hard upper-left corner; and if you're used to slapping into first with a hard tap, say, at a stoplight, there's scarcely any warning when you overshoot 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. On the commute, just set it and forget it. But on the playground, the manual-shift system is so prompt and direct that only grizzled ex-racers can out perform this automatic's sequential-tap gear shifts. Plus, you'll never inadvertently pop into reverse. The auto is optional with both new Mini coupes, and it's worth considering no matter how hot-shot you think you are with a manual.

So what does "teddy-bear cute" go for these days? For a Mini Cooper, the tally-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 versus need" dividing line. And, of course, just because the Mini looks great, drives like a slot-car, and parks virtually anywhere doesn't mean every lifestyle can shoehorn into one. But if this new Mini shoe does happen to fit, you probably owe yourself a Cinderella moment.

3-door compact hatchback, 4-pass.; FWD; 1.6-liter DOHC inline-4 w/ vvt, 118 hp/114 ft.-lbs., 32 mpg/city & 40 mpg/highway w/ premium; or 1.6-liter DOHC inline-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

By Marc Stengel
2007-02-28

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Images of the 2007, MINI Cooper S

2007 MINI Cooper S
2007 MINI Cooper S
2007 MINI Cooper S
2007 MINI Cooper S
2007 MINI Cooper S
2007 MINI Cooper S
2007 MINI Cooper S
2007 MINI Cooper S