Review: 2007 MINI Cooper
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Playing it smart, BMW has left the revised version of its MINI Cooper hatchback largely alone because the car has been well-received and retains iconic status.
The front-wheel-drive MINI's small size, high fuel economy, cute styling and maneuverability make it ideal for younger urban area dwellers. And most know by now that it comes from prestigious BMW, although it was a British car for approximately 40 years.
The MINI convertible remains unchanged for 2007, but the hatchback trim level is marginally larger and has a little more horsepower.
Different Body Panels
It's a good bet that few will recognize changes to the 2007 MINI. Not that BMW will care much—it's sold a large number of MINIs through 2006 since the car arrived here for 2002.
Race car builder John Cooper convinced British Motor Corp. to turn out some performance versions of the Mini— initially an innovative economy car—and thus the Mini-Cooper and even hotter Mini-Cooper S models were born.
The British Mini was inexpensive, rather crude and uncomfortable—but a blast to drive. BMW builds a far more refined MINI, while leaving its basic 1960s design alone. However, it's rather costly for its size, priced from $18,050 to $21,200, (The convertible costs from $21,950 to $25,400.)
Hanging On Too Long
For example, the oversized speedometer in the middle of the highly stylized interior's dashboard has been made even larger. A smaller tachometer that is far less used than the speedometer is directly in front of the driver. Fine for a race car—rather silly for a road car.
Small dashboard toggle switches for such things as the power windows have loopy, slippery "safety bumpers." Outside door handles are large, but the semi-circular interior door handles aren't easy to grab quickly. Also, dashboard switches and knobs and radio controls should be easier to use. It took me 10 minutes to figure out how to use the radio. (No mention of radio operation is in the owner's manual.)
Tight Rear Seat
There is hardly any cargo room with the split rear seat in its normal position, but seatbacks flip forward and sit flat to allow decent cargo room. Doors have map pockets, but there is little interior storage space.
Blast to Drive
The snappy clutch engages so quickly that a MINI owner must get used to it to avoid jerky starts. The ride is choppy, except on smooth roads.
Handling is excellent, with a short wheelbase and wheels put at the far corners of the body. An anti-skid system is optional, but traction control is standard. The brake pedal is touchy, although stopping distances are short. Anti-lock brakes are standard.
The base hatchback's new small (1.6-liter) 4-cylinder engine's horsepower is up from 115 to 118. It works with a crisp 6-speed manual transmission. That combo provides decent acceleration after you get rolling if you don't mind shifting gears a lot to keep the engine in its power band.
Newly offered for the base MINI is an optional 6-speed automatic transmission, which replaces a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). (Last year's higher-performance MINI S trim level also had a 6-speed automatic.)
Hotter Turbo Version
The S is quick, doing the 0-60 mph dash in 6.2 seconds with the manual gearbox and its 65-75 mph passing time is surprisingly good in sixth gear, although downshifting several gears allows faster passing.
The turbocharged engine's greater torque allows less shifting for good performance with the manual transmission and also lets it work better with the automatic.
The base trim level's estimated fuel economy is 32 mpg in the city and 40 on highways with the manual and 30 and 37 with the automatic. The S provides 29 and 36 with the manual and 27 and 34 with the automatic. Premium fuel is recommended for both engines.
The MINI's long, heavy doors are awkward to use in tight spots, but there is good front seat travel for taller occupants. The S front bucket seats provide especially good lateral support. MINI seats are too low for easy entry and exit, but have manual height adjustment.
The British Mini Cooper was in the enviable position of having no direct competition. The unique design of the BMW version also lets it stand pretty much alone despite greater small car competition.