Mini Cooper S Review

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  • Performance

  • Practicality

  • Reliability

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Shooter 1000's review of Mini Cooper S

★★★☆☆

“I am flabbergasted by the 18 slams on Mr. Oneill. ”

Written on: 05/03/2004 by Shooter 1000 (1 review written)

Good Points
Sporty handling
Nice to see another classic reborn

Bad Points
Weak supercharger instead of an intercooled Turbo
Much less then it should/could have been
Hype and mass consumer targeting "dumbed down" car

General Comments
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.

  • 2002

    Year Manufactured

  • Extended Test Drive

    Length of ownership

  • Performance

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Samm's Response to Shooter 1000's Review

Written on: 06/03/2004

Having tuned old mini's I think the main problem with the new Minicooper S is that it is a BMW. The old minis were so much fun to drive and one of the best cars to learn about handling, I had them sideways on a number of occasions. BMW's are refined heavy and well built, they are not usually associated with fun driving, other than the m3. So when you combine the two there are some contradictions that don't fit well.
<br>I have to agree-why did they not put a turbo on the car instead and did they really think 163bhp would be enough in light of the forthcoming 200bhp Civic, 206 180 and now 182 clio?
<br>I haven't driven the MCS but I have driven the Civic and it is mental, i'm absolutley convinved that there is no way the MCS will keep up with this car (or the clio cup) on any road.
<br>So now there are various tuning kits available (works) but they cost 2-3k, so if you want a really good mini you have to pay £18,000 which is also the same price as the 225bhp Leon Cupra r which will also trounce the mini.
<br>I think the mini looks great although perhaps it should be called a maxi cos lets face it it isnt very small anymore-my 205 1.9 is a much smaller car. Well I hear there is a second incarnation on it's way with improvements but the mk2 civic type r is already out and it's even more fantastic than the 1st one(which recently beat an s2000 round a track) and the clio 182 is recieving rave reviews as well. Watch this space??

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202844_Davenia7's Response to Shooter 1000's Review

Written on: 21/07/2005

Ok, so maybe it's because I'm a girl, but does anyone care that the Mini Cooper S is cute. I mean I know about cars a great deal and have test driven the alternatives, but honestly, the Mini was the car that made the most sense. Perhaps, it is bc I drive 50 miles a day, living in Atl, GA, but that car is sooooo darn cute and if you never have an opportunity to get the car over 20 mph due to traffic, then who cares about fast. Still, it is nice to have enough power to get out of the way of semis and crazy SUV drivers that feel they are the owners of the road. So, my next purchase will either be the Mini bc it's cute, or the Prius bc it's hybrid.

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Gavin1978's Response to Shooter 1000's Review

Written on: 20/06/2005

Got to the 3rd paragraph and got bored. Is it not a little difficult to rate a car after having just a week test drive??

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Exciteable's Response to Shooter 1000's Review

Written on: 04/02/2005

IMO a tuned Nissan 200 is a rocket ship, agreed, but not a pocket rocket like the cars discussed here. The combined boot space of a Mk1 Mr2 is not far off that of a prelude and I would guess an S14. But the handling or 'chuckability' factor would leave the little old MR2 near the top of the pile with the "touring car" Nissan at the bottom. As you can probably guess (by my possible bias) I own a classic MR2 and can even get a couple of seven foot surfboards on the roof rack! :)

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Samm's Response to Shooter 1000's Review

Written on: 02/02/2005

Not at all, it is a Nissan 200 S14 (S13 was around 86-93) the Touring model (98on) has "evil" headlights, leather interior and a few other goodies. It uses the legendary nissan Pulsar engine but in a detuned state and it is ridiculously easy to tune.

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Exciteable's Response to Shooter 1000's Review

Written on: 02/02/2005

Samm wrote: "Certainly a very good car but Touring s14's are coming in cheap these days and is a far superior car to even the legendary MK1 MR2"
<br>
<br>Excuse my ignorance but what's a Touring s14?

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Samm's Response to Shooter 1000's Review

Written on: 28/01/2005

Certainly a very good car but Touring s14's are coming in cheap these days and is a far superior car to even the legendary MK1 MR2 S. MCS has a 6 speed box and still only 135 top end because the Supercharger is connected directly to the crank shaft, you lose in top end what you gain at bottom end. The MCS is compared to these cars because it is a hot hatch and is in the same price bracket, marketing doesn't even come into it IMO. And no not even a clio cup or MCS will out handle a CTR.

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Exciteable's Response to Shooter 1000's Review

Written on: 27/01/2005

Sounds like you guys would enjoy the good old MK1 MR2s. Even the standard NAs are great but check out the imported 1.6 supercharged models which can be tuned to 180-190 bhp, which from a rear wheel drive ~900kg car is awesome! The only down side is that there are two small boots instead of one not so small boot.
<br>At a couple of thousand pounds for a mint example I think you'd agree there is no competition!

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Samm's Response to Shooter 1000's Review

Written on: 29/09/2004

true, the mini has very different charecteristics to an m3, but regardless of the fact that it is not rwd or naturally aspirated it is still the closest to any other bmw to drive. Despite mx5's having a bit of a girlie image, they are still one of the most fun cars I have driven, the handling and gearchange are just superb.

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167864_Peterb05Mini's Response to Shooter 1000's Review

Written on: 30/08/2004

Seems like comparisons are being made which should not be made. Seems like someone is mad at BMW, superchargers, and other things. We are getting history lessons on technical aspects which 'really do not matter, or are not relevant'.

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Hobzy's Response to Shooter 1000's Review

Written on: 23/08/2004

To drive the same as the M3, surely it would need rear wheel drive? A minor point i thought...
<br>
<br>Its only a 1.6 - a supercharger gives a much better torque spread than a Turbo in such a small engine. This allows you to feather the revs around corners throughout the range giving ample chance of good speed through the corner - getting the back end out is not the quickest way round a track.
<br>
<br>For it to be as track ready as a civic type r, but with the same solid BMW feel, interior etc, the price would be ridiculous - the mini in both incarnations (and ive had both) is subscribing to about a certain style of car - and not everyone tracks them like you or i do.
<br>
<br>The S has never been marketed like the Type r, RS etc, so why do people keep expecting it to outshine them?
<br>
<br>(although my MCS JCW did stuff a civic type r the other day at the track :D ;) )

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Adamlondon69's Response to Shooter 1000's Review

Written on: 20/08/2004

Unfortunately there is one rather important factor that you seemed to have missed in your otherwise comprehensive review, which is insurance. I’m 23 and can just afford the £1,500 per year that my Cooper S costs me in insurance. I couldn’t afford to insure a Civic Type R, let alone an Evo or WRX, and I can’t modify the car either. From this standpoint the Cooper S is rather good value. For a young driver such as my self the Cooper S is one of the best cars in its (insurance) class. As for a MX5, my girlfriend has one, and you couldn’t pay me to own one...

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Samm's Response to Shooter 1000's Review

Written on: 17/03/2004

I have to say- i think my favourite is the clio cup- for 13k it is brilliant and if you just spend 2k on it (the same as a standard mcs) you will have 220bhp no problems, but I have read a number of reviews and the Civic Type R always beat the rest around a track including an s2000!
<br>Basically it comes down to you'r driving style.
<br>I havent driven the Leon but know that 270+ bhp can easily be had with just a chip, exhaust and air filter, and I find it hard to believe that even a 220bhp mini would beat it.
<br>Personally I will keep my 185 bhp 205 mi16= approx 203 bhp per tonne for now although I am tempted to do a little project with a Clio cup or get a 6 speed ibiza tdi up to 200brake and 300 pounds of torque.
<br>.It's a shame they don't make cars like the 205 anymore, that are a real handful and take a really skillful drive. I drove a modern Impreza and it was so well set up that even at really fast speeds it just feels too easy to drive. a 220 bhp mcs will have about 176 bhp per tonne. I think this will cost a similar amount to a 250bhp Focus rs or even a standard Impreza.

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146762_H4Yabusa's Response to Shooter 1000's Review

Written on: 08/03/2004

the mini cooper s will easily keep up if not surpass a civic type R, ive recently test drove the type R, mini cooper s, clio cup & leon cupra r.
<br>
<br>the clio cup feels the best on the road out of the lot but the lack of features and comfort turned me off the car, the mini cooper s was a close second behind the cup but offered more creature comforts, then followed the civic type R & then the leon cupra R.
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<br>seems everyone compares top end BHP & 0-60 times but thats not the point, the civic is quick but drivability is not so good same as the leon, with the civic you need to thrash the engine around 4000rpm before the cam profile changes & the car starts to move & the 225bhp in the leon is nothing special, its a larger car than the mini so the power/weight ratio is only slightly better.
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<br>the civic is a normally aspirated engine that gives a turbo feel, and the leon is a turbo so they do feel faster in a straight line, but come to corners & the clio cup & mini feel much more solid & composed, and because there's no need to thrash the engine, exit speed from corners is alot better.
<br>
<br>so after driving them all i chose to get a mini cooper s, and with the 220bhp conversion by BBR or hartge then the leon & type R are left behind.

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