I know what you're thinking: This is the new Mini? It looks just like the last new Mini.
And so it may. In giving the most recent Mini Cooper a facelift, just as when it adapted the old design to the modern era, BMW was playing with a fairly sensitive issue. Building the first new Mini as a thoroughly modern car while paying proper homage to the original was a bigger job than most would ever consider. But all was well; the car was an unmitigated success. How, then, do you update it for the next slew of potential Mini buyers?
The '07 Cooper may look nearly identical to its predecessor, but there's reportedly no single exterior design feature that's gone untouched. Among the changes are an elevated window line, the slightly raked and splayed headlamps, a bit more muscle in the `shoulders,' and a bit more nose up front to comply with pending `pedestrian protection' legislation.
This Mini is two and a third inches longer overall than the last one, but stowage space beneath the hatch isn't significantly better; pack light. The expanded dimensions were meant to improve on interior space, and I have no complaints. Even the back seat is reasonably comfortable.
Subtle yet significant design changes have been made to the interior as well, including completely new seats, a more slender center console which offers improved front-seat legroom, integrated cupholders in place of the ridiculous tack-on `Big Gulp' holder on the current car, and a totally reinterpreted Center Speedo array which incorporates audio controls as well as optional entertainment and navigation functions.
But the new new Mini Cooper isn't just about the facelift. For one, the Cooper S is still powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, but the new engine uses a twin-scroll turbocharger instead of a supercharger. At 5500 rpm, it makes a maximum 175 bhp, and max torque of 177 lb-ft from 1600 to 5000 rpm. On hard acceleration, performance is enhanced by an overboost function, which briefly pushes torque to a maximum of 192 lb-ft. The base Cooper uses a naturally aspirated 1.6, making peak 120 bhp and 118 lb-ft of torque.
The new engine on the Cooper S is every bit as powerful as the outgoing unit and then some. At full throttle, torque steer is a force to be reckoned with, but that's par for the course on any moderately powerful front-drive vehicle. When the turbo starts to spool, hold on tight.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard on both the Cooper and Cooper S. A six-speed automatic is optional, and offers its users the benefit of a Sport button that allows faster shifts. Paddle shifters are also present on the steering wheel, should you find yourself in an automatic Mini and want to get your F1 on.
On the road, the Mini is predictably solid and fairly silent at cruising speeds. It's billed and built as a premium compact car, and you really get that sense everywhere you look. As far as ride quality and balance goes, it's one of the sharpest front-drivers on the street, and that says a lot. Though, some may not appreciate the fairly stiff ride (essential to its sporting character).
The build quality is several notches higher than one might at first suspect, considering the car's diminutive size and cutesy exterior. Controls are weighty and significant and the materials are primo, including high-quality tactile composites, optional genuine wood trim and hand-stitched leather. Sitting in the cockpit, it sure feels like a BMW. Don't tell Mini I said that.
A base Mini Cooper starts at $18,700 with destination and handling charges, while the S will run you closer to $22,000--still a pretty good deal if you ask me.
2007 Mini Cooper S
Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
1.6-liter inline four, dohc, four valves per cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled
Six-speed manual; optional six-speed automatic
MacPherson spring-strut front axle, rear Z-axle with longitudinal struts and centrally pivoted control arms
Hydraulic two-circuit system with ABS, EDB and Cornering Brake Control
Length x Width x Height (in.): 146.2 x 66.3 x 55.4
Wheelbase: 97.1 in.
Curb Weight: 2491 lb
Peak Power: 175 bhp @ 5500 rpm
Peak Torque: 177 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm
0-62 mph: 7.1 sec.
Top Speed: 140 mph
Why we love it:
The most fun you'll have in a FWD
Why we don't:
Peaky turbo motor induces unpredictable torque steer
The Price Tag: $21,850