Written on: 05/03/2004 by Shooter 1000 (1 review written)
Nice to see another classic reborn
Weak supercharger instead of an intercooled Turbo
Much less then it should/could have been
Hype and mass consumer targeting "dumbed down" car
I am flabbergasted by the 18 slams on Mr. Oneill.
I don't own the Mini Cooper S due to my extended test drive of one and of the of various alternatives some with much more enthsiast appeal and the feeling that the S fell far short of what it could have offered the enthusiast. Cars are a big investment. Time should be spent testing as many alternatives as possible to be able to make a really informed purchase. Reading auto magazines will not help if they are receiving huge advertising revenues from a car such as the new Mini. Of course they live by advertising and will not bite the hand that feeds them.
My first test drive of the S occurred the first week it was introduced into the Washington, D.C. area. I had an immaculate test car to put through it's paces for an extended weekend. Having admired the original Mini so much and having driven my best friend's 60's version often in the early 70s, I had high expectations for the car.
I have driven most every iteration of the M3. This is included because, in present company, perception of BMW seems to be an important factor. I have found virtually every example a truly exceptional car and a nice parrallel to what the smaller and less expensive Mini Cooper S could have been. I consider the M3 to be one of the few 4 seat coupes that can also be truly considered a sports car. A rare crossover indeed.
Perhaps I expected greatness (in relation to it's cost) due to it's perceived heritage and the legendary legacy of the original. I was really pulling for it.
Pull, though, it did not. The gearing between 1st and 2nd gear was horrific. Just as Mr. Oneill infers, I was highly underwhelmed by and suprised by this seemingly major technical SNAFU. On reflection I realized it was not a mistake and was probably part of the company's bean counters' and marketing experts' intention to "dumb down" the car to help sell it to a much wider audience.
I believe that the non engineers who probably had the final say, believed that closer 1st to 2nd gearing would appeal to the enthusiast, but would much more importantly, in their perspective, loose too many of the all important potential buyers, by making the car feel too responsive and therefore too intimidating (especially during the crucial test drive) for the average nonentuhsiast driver/poser.
Another poster mentioned the car and an MX5. I do not detect any point of comparison so I will supply one. I have one of the first MX5s built (called the "Miata" here in the U.S.), made in 1989. It is a no frills, no power steering, no air conditioning, no radio, base 1.6 liter. I insisted on only one option: a limited slip differential.
By 1994, The car was equiped with a Bell Engineering (USA)11 PSI intercooled turbo with heavy duty Centerforce clutch. This setup boosted the horsepower from 116 to 190 BHP and best of all almost doubled the torque from 2500 RPM on. A major suspension overhaul was made to keep up with the upgraded drivetrain. The lightest one size up 15" minilites with Z rated tire(tyres) helped reduce the unsprung weight and further improve handling. (incidentally, similar, smaller and heavier yet light for the day versions of these early alloy wheels were often seen on the 60s racing Minis and many other race cars.)
The components were chosen very carefully to maintain the neutral and almost telepathic balance of the MX5's original suspension, which is legendary and a benchmark of what a company can accomplish when designing and creating a car from scratch and from the ground up. It calls for real passion in the company and for the engineers to work free of the major constraints almost always placed on them. They were allowed the freedom to become a close knit group that was able to share ideas freely in a non intimidating environment and call almost all the shots unemcumbered by the bean counters or pressure from the marketing division. In a very rare instance a new car was almost totally realized by a group of energized, bright and excited engineers.
The Mini Cooper and in some ways to a greater extent the S which had the chance of being an enthusiasts' car was hampered by the disproportionate clout of the people in the company in charge of maximizing profits and by default less by the design teams. Hence, a car of too many compromises unlike the MX5.
To this day the original 15 plus year old design has proven so well thought out, with a design far ahead of its time that few if any major modifications have been needed. What car still looks almost the same after so many years, besides the original VW beetle? It has been considered to be one of the ten great available cars every year running by most of the American Automotive Press. Automotive historians still applaud it as the quintesential example of how a great once in a decade mass produced car should be built.
The Mini Cooper (S) is a good car, but never a great or superior one. It had the most potential of any affordable car of this decade to be great. It's legacy alone almost demanded and seemly assured this outcome. Sadly too many compromises, corporate and technically were allowed.
In most of my test drives over different types of traffic situations I found the S not much better than most cars its size, many much less expensive. Of course it did excell most in high speed cornering. But compared to an old stock 1990 MX5 in good shape (not mine) for example, whose cost in current money would be 1/3 less...Think of what you could buy for a 1/3 more than the s. The new twin turbo allwheel drive Subarus and Mitsubishes are as if from an advanced technological era in relation.
The lack of power even in the S version make it almost impossible to steer by throttle in and out of a corner. This technique seems to have become a lost art and I am not sure that the suspension of the S would even be able to make use of this characteristic. The chice of a supercharger speaks volumes. A good intercooled turbo boosting horsepower to around 200 and increasing torque in a way no supercharger could dream of doing would have been wonderful to test. By comparison the parasitic far less sophisticated supercharger seems to be a poor way to attract the enthusiast. It just doesn't have the power a modified car of its intentions should have.
All in all the Mini Cooper S had all the important ingredients to have become a true smaller M3 and possibly a true future classic. It is not a bad car and better than the average with its intentions at similar costs. But with its sacrifice of interior space, lack of practicallity, questionable reliability and overall mediocre performance for its cost it really should have been much better. Look at the Subaru or EVO at a precentage more in cost with similar interior room and outstanding performance, all wheel drive and much of the popular following of the S falls relies on wishful thinking, major corporate hype and a heavy reliance on a misperceiced historical link to a wonderful, very affordable historical machine that it mimmicks only in name and shape.