"Get in, turn off the traction control, press the 'Sport' button and have the time of your life." Editor Bidrawn's words echoed in my head every time I hit the throttle. He's right, this car is a riot.
As expected from a BMW brand, the suspension is balanced. The short wheelbase made me want to whip the car through any low-speed turn as quickly as possible. I felt I could out-handle anything this side of 60 mph. But it comes at a cost. High-speed cornering becomes a little twitchy and keeping the car in the center of the lane on a not-so-perfect highway involves some concentration.
For a daily commuter, some might find the car's ride quality a little too aggressive, but I like it. Despite the firm suspension, it's not clunky. It feels solid, similar to an E46 M3. The MINI makes a good compromise between sport and comfort.
The space inside this little car has always amazed me, and six-plus footers shouldn't have a problem in this thing. For my family-consisting of a wife and baby girl-seating room wasn't an issue either, and the baby seat fits without having to adjust the front seat by an uncomfortable amount. We could also fold down one of the rear seats and load the car with two weeks' worth of luggage.
What's really worth talking about is the new turbocharged engine, which begs the question why the MINI didn't have this setup in the first place. In stock form, this car already whips up more than the supercharged Project MINI Cooper S we built a few years ago, which netted 202 hp to the wheels. While it doesn't quite have the 5500 rpm-on top end our heavily modified Project MINI had, the low end and midrange is a night-and-day improvement. Turn off the traction control and this car spins its tires through redline in first gear from a roll, letting off a loud chirp going into second without even trying. It's already seeing 60 mph at just over six seconds.
The specs say 177 lb-ft of torque from 1600 to 5000 rpm, but that wouldn't apply to the load the turbo sees in the first three gears, which appears to peak around 3000, 2600 and 2300 rpm for first, second and third gears respectively. Cruise the highway at 80 mph in sixth, however, and there'll be no reason to downshift when passing. Even at engine speeds around 2000 rpm in either of the top three gears, the car really wants to get moving. The previous supercharged version just didn't have the grunt to do so at that engine speed.
The higher rev band is most useful in the initial two ratios, after which the torque seems to drop off so much that shifting before 6000 rpm brings on quicker acceleration at highway speeds. The peak 172 hp at just 5500 rpm helps confirm this, but I'd be curious to see on a dyno what the power drop is after that. Still, for an everyday driver, the powerband is perfect, all you could ever ask from a 1.6-liter out of the box.
Except for the perfectly placed tachometer, my only gripe about this car is its gauges, or lack thereof. The speedo looks to be about eight inches wide in the center console and (surprisingly) registers speed going in reverse (a recipe for disaster, but I hit 20 mph in my neighborhood). But where are the rest? I'd like to see water and oil temperatures at least, especially on a car with a turbo cooled by those very things. How about a boost gauge? Maybe that's where I'd call BMP Design and order one of its twin gauge clusters to sit behind the steering wheel. I'd also outfit it with a pair of dual digital gauges from SPA Technique-one to read oil and water temperatures, the other to read oil and boost pressures. That would be perfect.
At A Glance Superb handling, perky engine - How about a few more driver-oriented gauges?
Mileage: 7506 Fuel Economy: 29.1 mpg